Some Rotorua principals are seeing higher attendance and better-behaved pupils as the Government's free school lunch pilot rolls out.
Since day one of term one, 20 schools across Rotorua and Kawerau have packed out their kitchen and lunch halls to trial free lunches for their pupils five days a week.
The two-year pilot programme was announced by the Government last October as part of its Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy with hopes to triple its reach by next year.
The schools invited into the programme had the highest concentration of disadvantaged pupils, according to the Ministry of Education.
From Nacho Wednesdays to Hangi Fridays, local students have embraced the new initiative with full tummies.
Kaitao Intermediate School principal Philip Palfrey said the benefit he was seeing already was more significant than "he had ever thought it would be".
His school's attendance had spiked, children's behaviour had improved and parents were feeling the financial strain lifted, he said.
The food was nourishing for the children and many were getting the chance to sit down for a meal with their friends and teachers, which was socially vital, he said.
"The whole thing has been overwhelmingly powerful."
One pupil told Palfrey that she used to have to skip school on Mondays as they could not afford lunch, while another said her parents stopped having to take loans out for the power bill anymore since the children were being fed for free.
Creativity and community at Art in the Park
Eden Chapman, principal at Sunset Primary School said he was "hugely grateful" and "hugely impressed" with how fast and effective the programme had come together.
Due to the Government's school donation scheme, Sunset Primary School had been entitled to $18,000 in funding.
As a result, the school was able to offer free stationery and combined with the free lunches, the pressure was coming off many low-income families.
The first day of school normally saw about 60 per cent of pupils attend, however this year they saw well more than 90 per cent.
He said it was "too early" to comment on the effects the free lunches had on behaviour, but he believed it was going to be a "gradual improvement".
Kaitao Intermediate School caterer Peri Marks said grating carrots into nachos and putting fried cabbage and mixed vegetables in butter chicken were just some of the ways he was ensuring the pupils were getting good nutrition.
He said he was feeding about 330 children a day and the feedback had been hugely positive.
He had noticed that the children craved routine and after taking on board their requests, he had made a plan for nacho Wednesdays, butter chicken Thursdays and hangi Fridays.
Only two schools declined the invitation to take part in the pilot programme.
Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau principal Pem Bird made headlines last year when he rejected the offer to trial the programme because the cost to upgrade the school's kitchen was not realistic.
Months later and Bird said the school still had no desire to join the programme.
The school already worked with KidsCan to provide breakfast and lunch food, but also grew all their own fruit and vegetables.
"We have always fed the kids."
He said they taught the pupils how to grow their own food as it was traditional practice to do so and had deals with local shops that provided things such as meat patties for a discounted price.
"A full stomach makes all the difference to a child's learning," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
She said they were making good progress on tackling the long-term challenges that caused child poverty but none of the solutions were instant.
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said he had always been supportive of school children getting access to nutritious food where needed and had championed the Breakfast in Schools programme.
However, he said he believed there were issues with the school lunch pilot like cost and extra workload for staff.
The Ministry of Education outlined that the programme was costed at an average of $5 per child, per day basis to cover food, preparation, and delivery.
Local schools delivering free lunches this term:
Murupara Area School
TKKM o Hurungaterangi
Kaingaroa Forest School
Western Heights Primary School
Kawerau Putauaki School
Kawerau South School
Tarawera High School
Kea Street Specialist School
Malfroy Primary School
Ngongotaha Primary School
Owhata Primary School
Rotorua Primary School
Sunset Primary School
Selwyn Primary School