David Seymour’s pushback against the efficiency and value of the school lunch scheme has aroused the ire of tech entrepreneur and self-confessed Labour sympathiser Sir Ian Taylor.

Seymour, after originally wanting to dispense with them completely, now wants school lunches to be cheaper and have less waste from their distribution. As a senior Minister in a Government facing severe economic headwinds, his desire to save money is understandable.

But Sir Ian is having none of it.

He started by having a crack at Seymour’s description of sushi and hummus in school lunches as “woke.” To be honest, describing those foods in that manner was not politically clever.

Seymour would have been better advised to describe them, in the context of school lunches, as “unnecessary.”  Because they are.

We all know what should be in a school lunch. Generations have survived on a few sandwiches, a couple of biscuits, and some fruit. Why can’t that be the bulk standard in 2024, whether it’s made at home or provided.

But Taylor reports his own grandchildren, whose father is a doctor, as sometimes enjoying rice, salmon and avocado in their sushi school lunches. Well, good for them.

Sir Ian then quotes the famed Dunedin Study. It found “the importance of a healthy diet optimal for cognitive and educational outcomes” and “improving children’s nutrition has a positive impact on their learning and development, leading to better academic performance and long-term health benefits.”

Frankly, you don’t need a long-term academic study to know that. Any parent and any teacher has known the value of well-fed children forever. 

Then comes the rebuttal to the most important question in all of this discussion.

Seymour asks “is it really the role of education to feed kids?”

Taylor’s answer to this is Finland. Despite sharing a long border with Russia and being bloody cold in the winter, Finland — or rather her population — are the happiest people in the world, according to some survey.

That’s nice.

They have a highly regarded education system and a growing economy but they also have a net average tax rate per worker of 31.6 percent, a full six percent higher than the OECD average.

(New Zealand’s equivalent number is 21.1 percent.)

The Finnish Government’s 88 billion euro annual budget provides school lunches to every student every day. That’s the sort of activity a highly taxed economy can afford. It’s the way Finland has looked after its school children for over 80 years.

Therefore what Finland does is irrelevant. We pay less tax here, and New Zealand children have traditionally taken their own lunch to school.

The answer to Seymour’s question about whether it’s the role of the Education Ministry to pay for a child’s lunch is a resounding no.

The Ministry has been a spectacular failure delivering learning outcomes so it’s hardly surprising  it couldn’t provide an efficient school lunch service either.

What we have, and have had for two or possibly three generations, is an increasing number of hopeless parents.

Anybody who has done it for any length of time knows that making kids school lunches doesn’t take much time and doesn’t cost much.

A quick check of New World prices this week reveals Pam’s White or Wholemeal bread is $1.19, 500 grams of butter is $5.69, a pottle of honey $6.59, Vegemite is $4.59, a kilogram of cheese is $10.19, chocolate chip biscuits are $4.39 and a bag of apples $5.99.

Therefore the ingredients for the kind of lunches that kids have eaten for years cost $38.63. There’s enough in that list, with the addition of another packet or two of bread, to feed one child for at least two weeks.

What those prices prove is that a child’s school lunch can be made at home for about $4.

You have to be a rather pathetic parent if you can’t afford that. All it takes is a bit of planning and about 10 minutes of your time of a morning or the night before.

Seymour is right to ask the question about whether education should pay for school lunches. He’s lost the argument for now and there will be $478 million of taxpayer money set aside to pay for the job that parents should be doing.

The funding is locked in till 2026 — election year — and school lunches will no doubt be an issue when we go to the polls that year.

Labour supporters like Sir Ian believe it is the role of the government to feed children at school.

But if you can’t feed your child, you have no right to be a parent.

For more from Peter, listen to Pete's Ponderings on RCR.

Our Contributor

Peter Williams
Peter Williams scarcely needs an introduction. He is a veteran of New Zealand broadcasting with more than 40 years in the industry. Peter has worked for various media outlets, including TVNZ, Radio New Zealand & Sky Sport, and is considered one of New Zealand's most talented and experienced broadcasters. More recently Peter has made a return to speaking on the national stage to highlight issues that he sees as critical to the future success of New Zealand .

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