National is questioning priorities of the school lunches programme after a school that had nearly half its students in need turned it down because every student was required to take part.
Another school requested lunches for more than a quarter of its 1411 students, but decided to opt out because to accept would have resulted in a huge amount of food waste.
The lunch in school programme - Ka Ora, Ka Ako - is offered to schools and kura that fall within the highest 25 per cent of socio-economic disadvantage nationally and where students face the greatest barriers that can affect access to education, wellbeing and achievement.
Ka Ora, Ka Ako requires schools to provide lunches on a universal basis, which the Ministry of Education says is to "minimise any stigma associated with food insecurity".
"Everyone receives a lunch and there is no need to single out those who need it more than others," the policy says.
But National's education spokesman Paul Goldsmith said these students were already likely experiencing a form of stigma, and if there was genuine need they should be provided lunches.
As of March, there were 832 schools taking part in the programme involving 199,503 students. That would expand to 964 schools and kura by the end of the year, covering more than 25 per cent of school students.
Information provided by the Ministry of Education to Goldsmith showed three schools applied for the scheme but ultimately decided not to join the programme because not all their students needed to be provided lunches.
One school requested 300 to 400 lunches for its 820 students. Another asked for two to three for its 97 students.
Waitākere College in Auckland had requested 400 lunches for its roll of 1411 students.
Principal Mark Shanahan told the Herald it was a "really good initiative" but did not suit the school's needs at the time.
The 400 students were being supported through other programmes the school was involved in, including the charity KidsCan.
"It is a good initiative for the Government and the last thing I'd do is criticise it, we just didn't want to take the risk up to 1000 meals a day would not be needed."
Goldsmith said he was not opposed in principle to resources going to give school lunches to those in genuine need, but the Government's approach was "very poorly targeted".
There were other areas in the education sector in critical need of funding, such as addressing the rise in truancy and support for children learning with disabilities, meanwhile $676m over the next four years was being spent on lunch in schools and still not reaching those in need, Goldsmith said.
"They should do away with the universal policy and target it to those in genuine need.
"There are limited resources in education, areas where there is genuine shortage.
"This is not small change, this is a lot of money and takes resources from other areas."
Education Minister Chris Hipkins referred the Herald to the ministry for comment.
Ministry deputy secretary sector enablement and support Helen Hurst said stigma and bullying were "significant barriers to children's engagement in education and willingness to access support".
The universal approach also removed the risk of young people in need missing out, as determining material hardship was "not always obvious".
Research had shown many hungry or at-risk children did not participate in targeted meal programmes but did in universal ones, she said.
The programme also increased participation and benefits in other areas, such as in dental health, better concentration, and reducing risks of non-communicable diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
"We are receiving feedback from schools that the tikanga of children eating together is helping build social cohesion/a sense of community."
Schools that opted not to enter the programme ultimately knew their communities and how to serve them best, she said.
Schools were encouraged to share any surplus lunches they received, she said.