A record 26 million servings of fresh fruit and vegetables will be given to low decile school children next year, with calls to expand the initiative in light of last week’s alarming Poverty Monitor 2020 report.
Fruit & Vegetables in Schools (FIS) is New Zealand’s most successful and effective school-based nutrition programme and has become a salvation for many decile one and two primary and intermediate schools. Each child is given fresh seasonal produce to eat with their classmates daily and will try over two dozen varieties of fruit and vegetables during the school year.
A record 559 schools caring for over 123,000 tamariki and staff will receive fresh, locally-grown produce next year, with many schools saying they couldn’t cope without it. In the Lakes region, one Kaingaroa Forest School staff member describes FIS as simply “brilliant”.
“The children are very lucky and they know it. The fruit is vitally important to the teaching and learning and fills the gap between breakfast and lunch. I definitely know the difference the fruit makes as I’ve taught in schools without it,” they say.
Sadly, this week’s Poverty Monitor 2020 Report confirms one in five children are living in poverty, with low household income strongly associated with the likelihood of food insecurity.
The report shows that 56% of children living in families receiving financial assistance don’t always have enough healthy food to eat, sparking calls for the Government-funded FIS to be expanded.
The FIS initiative is funded by the Ministry of Health, run by United Fresh and supported by The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust. It aims to improve both health and education outcomes, as healthy food helps children to concentrate and learn.
United Fresh FIS Manager Stephanie Wrathall says expanding FIS into decile three schools would be an easy and positive step forward in addressing issues raised in the Poverty Monitor 2020 report.
“Feedback from teachers at FIS schools overwhelmingly shows that even with the expansion of the Government’s lunch in schools programme, FIS is essential to meet the food needs of their school communities.”
The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust provides resource support for FIS and also wants to see the initiative expand. Carmel Ireland, 5+ A Day Project Manager says even with record numbers of children involved in FIS in 2021, it is important that it continues and grows to reach more of our vulnerable tamariki.
Research has shown FIS helps boost students’ knowledge about nutrition and health, and promotes positive attitudes towards eating fruit and vegetables. It also helps students engage more at school, reduces the incidence of school sores/skin infections, and improves dental health/hygiene outcomes.
“Feeding hungry children remains the number one benefit,” Ireland acknowledges. “A heart-breaking number of children are going without, and FIS is often the only chance they get to eat fresh produce on a daily basis. It makes complete sense to expand this initiative and we hope the Government will seriously consider doing so.”