At least one school has said "thanks, but no thanks" to the Government's free school lunch trial due to the cost of kitchen upgrades, with several principals feeling "pressured" by caterers for their business.
Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau is a primary school of 85 Māori students outside Rotorua which has refused the free lunch trial because of the cost of upgrading its kitchen to commercial standards.
Principal Pem Bird told the Herald a potential $10,000 upgrade to their kitchen had to be covered out of the school's own budget and, unlike for larger schools, it is not realistic.
• Government launches free school lunch trial which is expected to eventually feed 21,000 children
• Kerre McIvor: Free school lunch great idea, now how to deliver
• Government plans to give free lunches to some schools in Hawke's Bay
• Premium - Andrew Becroft: Free school lunches is a good start but more is needed
"I think it's a good idea, but there are issues about the costs schools will incur," Bird said.
"The issue is a pretty simple one of affordability to cover the necessary changes to meet commercial kitchen regulations.
"You wouldn't want your kids getting sick would you? We have our own standards. But the commercial requirements make it unfeasible for us. We don't have the capital.
"I sent an email to the director of the Ministry of Education to say thanks, but no thanks."
Thirty schools in Rotorua and Hawke's Bay were offered the Government's free school lunch trial for Year 1-8 pupils, beginning term one 2020, at a cost of $45 million.
The Ministry of Education's deputy secretary for enablement Katrina Casey said "early indications are the majority of schools are keen to participate".
Yet, Casey said Rotorua and Hawke's Bay schools have requested further meetings with the Ministry of Education at the beginning of Term 4 "to talk through what is expected in more detail before they make a commitment".
Casey clarified that the Government would be covering the operating costs of the lunches, including admin, but upgrade of infrastructure to commercial kitchen facilities was not covered.
"During the trial programme, we expect that preparation and provision of lunches will occur in ways that do not require additional capital investment in school property," Casey said.
"For schools that do not have commercial kitchens already, there would be the option of contracting external providers to provide lunches that were prepared offsite."
Kaitao Intermediate was where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launched the school lunch programme in August, and principal Phil Palfrey said it's "not going to take very much" to turn their kitchen into a "commercial enterprise".
Palfrey praised the programme's flexibility to outsource catering, and said he had no qualms spending the money to upgrade the school's facilities.
"If we had to, of course we would, we want our kids to be fed. I would be hypocritical to have endorsed it years ago if I said 'oh it's going to cost us $30,000, we're not doing it'. That would be terrible."
Palfrey also said schools in the area had been pressured by catering businesses for the free lunch contracts.
"We're not going to get pressured by people," Palfrey said.
"There was a time when people thought principals could be pushed around because they weren't business people, but I think we've proved we can foot it with anyone if we have to."
Sunset Primary School principal Eden Chapman said he "not in the least concerned about the logistics" and he was "incredibly grateful for the opportunity to feed our kids every day".
He said the petitioning for Sunset's free lunch trial business was just part of his job.
"I take pressure from photocopy companies, rubbish companies, book companies," Chapman said.
"I wouldn't say there's been any undue pressure placed on us. I had a hard sell from one group but they'll just have to line up with everybody else."
National education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said the programme lacked consultation with existing free lunch charity KidsCan - which already feeds 30,000 Kiwi kids each day across 740 schools.
"We are concerned that the Prime Minister's programme has not been designed well in part due to inadequate consultation and there are reports that advice was ignored from officials about using existing providers," Kaye said.
"The lack of thinking around capacity, suppliers and kitchen infrastructure is clearly an issue for some schools and we understand there are schools who have decided not to take up the programme."
KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said they, in conjunction with Kick Start Breakfast, already feed 100 per cent of decile 1-4 schools.
Chapman says KidsCan was only notified of the free school lunch programme the day before the PM's announcement.
"What schools are telling us is that they will still need KidsCan food because the scale of the issue is so big," Chapman said
"Schools have been extremely worried about the loss of KidsCan as a result of this programme so we have had to reassure them they will still be able to order from our range of products, including food."