At least three-quarters of New Zealand's low-income primary and intermediate schools have joined charitable schemes to feed pupils.
A Herald survey has found many schools have signed up with several charities to cover breakfast and other food needs during the day.
All primary and intermediate schools in the lowest fifth of schools are also eligible to get at least one piece of fruit a day for every student under the Government's $12 million Fruit in Schools scheme.
The Ministry of Health says only 12 of the 496 eligible schools have declined to accept fruit.
But a few schools have stayed out of the schemes, or limited their involvement, because they do not want to undermine parental responsibility.
Some schools have provided breakfast - or lunches for children who came to school without food to eat - through churches and volunteers at least since the 1990s.
The first nationwide programme was KidsCan, founded in 2005 by a former sponsorship executive for The Warehouse, Julie Helson. It provides muesli bars, fruit pottles, raisins, bread and spreads through teachers to 20,000 children each week in 189 decile 1 to 4 schools.
It also provides shoes and raincoats to most of its schools. Last year, it spent $1.7 million and received a further $732,000 in donated goods.
It gets $361,000 a year from the Government and the rest from gambling and philanthropic trusts, sponsorship and fundraising, including a new child sponsorship scheme asking donors to pay $15 a month to feed one hungry child.
The Red Cross began a breakfast programme for decile 1 schools in 2007, but its scheme closed this month after sponsor Countdown withdrew.
Most of the 63 Red Cross schools will transfer next week to Kickstart, founded in 2009 and funded by $1 million a year from Fonterra and Sanitarium. It provides breakfasts two days a week, aiming to teach children about the value of breakfast without undermining parents.
From next week Kickstart will serve 484 decile 1 to 4 schools, feeding on average 18,400 children a week.
The principal of decile 1 Bairds Mainfreight School in Otara, Alan Lyth, said his school decided not to run breakfast programmes and gave out KidsCan food to an average of less than one of its 370 students a day, because all students received fruit and he did not want to completely take over the parents' role.