Free lunches a win-win

Free lunch . . . Menzies College canteen manager Rachel Durry watches Lisa Yorke and Deniz te Lindert tuck in to a corn beef sandwich made in the canteen as part of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunch Programme. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

It is hard to find someone to complain about the free lunches served at Menzies College.

The school is part of the Government’s Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School lunches programme and while the programme has been criticised in other parts of the country, it is working well at the school, principal Kath Luoni said.

About 350 meals are prepared daily in the school’s canteen.

The pupils are divided into 12 mixed-age whanau groups and eat lunch together. The programme has been running for about 15 months and was a ‘‘win-win’’ for the college and its community, Mrs Luoni said.

‘‘We get to employ people from the community, mothers who’ve got students in the school.

‘‘Parents don’t have to make lunches, so that is a massive saving on time and those grocery bills.

‘‘Profits come back into the school so that’s has been a healthy earner for us.

‘‘The whanau way of delivering the lunches means students are sitting together during the day and getting to know each other and experiencing eating as a larger family type situation.’’

Initially about 80% of the pupils chose to eat the lunches.

‘‘Now I would say that is in the high 90s,’’ Mrs Luoni said.

In one whanau group all the pupils eat the meal.

‘‘That wasn’t the case to start with.’’

The programme has been fine-tuned using pupil feedback. The pupils knew what was on the menu each week.

‘‘Then they’ve got the ability to bring food from home on a day if they are going to be a little bit picky about what they eat.’’

Mrs Durry co-ordinates the lunch programme and is part of a team of five who prepares the lunches.

She has worked in the canteen for the past 15 years, including managing it before the programme started.

She planned the menu and submitted recipes to a nutritionist to ensure the meals met the healthy lunch criteria — “Minimal fat, sugar, salt, high fibre’’.

“Every recipe I write turns into about five, because we’ve got to do dairy-free, gluten-free and vegetarian nut-free,” she said.

There was a summer and winter menu, comprising four weeks of menus that were rotated.

Meal choices on the winter menu included corn chowder, butter chicken, cottage pie, Hawaiian pizza, lasagne, nachos and pasta dishes.  

“We cater for [the pupils’] dietary needs but not for their likes and dislikes,” Mrs Durry said.

Fresh fruit was also available.

Some pupils were initially hesitant to eat the free lunches but changed their minds when they saw their friends enjoying the food, she said.

“Not everybody likes the food [but] the majority do.”

She said the food was served on plates and with cutlery and there was very little waste.

“We package up most of what comes back and freeze it for emergency food or to go out into the community or the kids can come and collect it at the end of the day and take it home.

“Part of the programme is to have minimal waste, minimal rubbish.”

Canteen staff member Toni Moir has a separate work station and oven to prepare the food for pupils with allergies.

Pupils Lisa Yorke, 18, and Deniz te Lindert , 18, appreciate the meals.

‘‘I really enjoy the meals and I think it’s great for those kids who don’t necessarily have lunches to bring to school,’’ Lisa said.

‘‘My favourite is the nachos.’’

‘‘The food’s absolutely delicious,’’ Deniz said.

‘‘Those ladies put so much effort into it. ‘‘You can’t beat free food.’’