Fresh fruit and vegetables are on the menu at 561 of New Zealand’s lowest decile schools, as the country’s most successful and effective school-based nutrition initiative gets underway for 2021, delivering millions more pieces of produce to tamariki in need.
Now in its sixteenth year, the fresh produce supplied to tamariki nationwide by the Fruit and Vegetables in Schools (FIS) initiative is a lifeline for those struggling to put food on the table. The impact of COVID-19 means this year will be the largest on record for FIS with a
total of over 26 million servings of fresh fruit and vegetables provided to 124,888 tamariki and staff in some of our most vulnerable communities.
Tamariki coming to school without breakfast is a daily occurrence in many schools around Aotearoa. Without a proper breakfast, children struggle to concentrate in class and fail to achieve their potential.
Marilyn Ash, FIS Co-ordinator at Te Hapara School in Gisborne, reports the nutrition provided by the fresh produce is often the first meal of the day for many.
“We have been receiving the free lunches since February and really value the fruit, we have it for morning tea and some children don't have breakfast, so the fruit is really important to us,” she says.
United Fresh President Jerry Prendergast says the scheme’s record number of deliveries this year couldn’t come at a more critical time.
“The hardships facing many in our most impoverished communities have intensified significantly since COVID-19. With one in five children living with food insecurity, the importance of receiving fresh, nutritious produce every school day is even greater.”
FIS is funded by the Ministry of Health, managed by United Fresh and supported by
The 5+ A Day Charitable Trust. The initiative sees each child and staff member given one piece of fresh seasonal produce to eat with their classmates daily, providing essential nutritional goodness as well as the opportunity to try over two dozen varieties of fruit and vegetables during the school year.
The initiative is highly valued by tamariki, principals, teachers and whānau across the country and complements the Government’s new school lunch service, Ka Ora, Ka Ako, which is set to provide around 3.3 million lunches to children nationwide. Schools that started the Ka Ora, Ka Ako programme last year have advised that the two programmes are essential to the wellbeing of their tamariki and work particularly effectively when implemented together.
Anna Steed, FIS Co-ordinator at Aorangi School in Rotorua, says Fruit and Vegetables in Schools is fantastic.
“Our lunches are working well but they are later in the day, so it is great to receive fruit and the children have something to eat in the morning,” says Steed.
The Government’s Child Poverty Monitor report released in December highlighted the alarming levels of hardship faced by thousands of tamariki, many of whom lack the resources needed to thrive. Those living in areas of high deprivation rely on initiatives such as FIS to reach their full potential. Josephine Gage, the Tumuaki at Te Kura Toitu o Te Whaiti-nui-a-Toi near Murupara in the Bay of Plenty says fresh fruit is a real treat for their tamariki.
“Fruit is going well; the children enjoy the fruit, especially the oranges. We will be part of the free lunches with Murupara Area school and certainly see the value in continuing with fruit because children do not have fruit at home, and it carries them through until the free lunches.”
FIS reaches every decile one and two school in Aotearoa, more than any other food and nutrition health promotion initiative and was recently recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an exemplary programme with a case study presented by the international group AIAM’5 to the WHO in August last year.
“United Fresh has worked tirelessly to provide fresh fruit and vegetables daily to improve the health and well-being of New Zealand’s most vulnerable children. FIS is a world-class, innovative response to food insecurity and the recognition from WHO confirmed that,” says Prendergast.
Deliveries are organised at no cost to schools or local communities, and the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust provides free curriculum-linked resources to help promote healthy eating and teach students how to grow their own produce.
“In the 16 years since its inception, the FIS initiative has become an essential, daily part of school life. We are instilling healthy eating habits for a whole generation of Kiwis which will have enormous benefits in the long-run,” says Prendergast.