Principals give fresh produce initiative top marks amidst soaring food insecurity

Posted on May 29, 2023

Karleigha Rimene Thompson Watt Wairarapa Lakeview School

Student from Lakeview School, Wairarapa

Data released this week reveals the Fruit and Vegetables in Schools (FIS) initiative, which provides fresh produce to over 120,000 tamariki and school staff each year, continues to be the most popular healthy kai programme in Aotearoa.

An independent evaluation conducted by Quigley and Watts* on behalf of the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust which supports the Te Whatu Ora funded initiative, found that FIS rated as the most effective initiative at supporting a healthy kura/school environment.

Project Manager, Carmel Ireland says the feedback from principals is hugely affirming, but is concerned at the desperate need that still exists in the community.

“Food insecurity has reached even greater heights than before the pandemic. The review shows just how hard it has become for whānau to put nutritious food on the table every day with 93 percent of principals saying FIS supported them to feed hungry tamariki,” she says.


Principals interviewed for the evaluation highlighted that FIS helped them assist whānau with the high cost of living. Not only was some of the stress of providing fresh produce for tamariki removed but kura were also able to assist struggling whānau by sending home excess fruit from time to time.

The 2023 review follows similar evaluations in 2014 and 2018. This year it takes into account new schemes such as the government’s Ka Ora, Ka Ako – Free Healthy Lunches.

“While there is more support now arriving in kura for hungry tamariki, the evaluation demonstrated that FIS still has a vital role to play in the school day,” says Ireland.

The review found that 95 percent of the principals surveyed believed the combination of both free school lunches and FIS were essential. Many stated their fears about what they would do without either initiative.

“Kura appreciate the option to use fruit in a way which suits their community. Whether it’s sharing morning tea, supplementing lunches, available all day or handed out as a snack to eat on the way home – FIS is easily adapted to fit any environment,” says Ireland.

“Principals reiterated that FIS not only feeds their ākonga/students, but also provides a safe environment based on healthy choices and cultural concepts such as manaakitanga, rangatiratanga, kaitiakitanga and connection with the wider community. Tamariki get the nutrition they need without feeling whakamā/embarrassed.”

Nine out of ten principals reported that the integration of fruit into the school day was an effective tool which encouraged healthy eating. Some noted the consumption of highly processed snacks has either greatly reduced or stopped altogether since the start of the initiative.

“Our goal with FIS is not just to feed hungry tamariki. We want to encourage a life-long appreciation of the value of nutritious food and we’re able to do that by providing a real variety of tasty fresh produce, some of which tamariki haven’t had a chance to try before,” says Ireland.

In the survey, 72% of principals agreed or strongly agreed that ‘if Fruit in Schools ended, academic outcomes would suffer’ explaining that the main way fruit provision contributed to academic outcomes was by providing ‘brain food’ that enabled children to concentrate and stay on task.

Alongside the fresh produce, FIS provides kura with curriculum resources produced by 5+ A Day to teach healthy lifestyles. The review found the 5+ A Day resources were the most commonly used in comparison with the Te Kete Ipurangi New Zealand Curriculum (TKI) resources produced by the Ministry of Education.

“Supporting learning is a vital component of FIS. We’re pleased they have been rated the most effective with 60 percent of principals saying they were a great support.

External Evaluation of Fruit in Schools*

93% of principals said FIS is a great support for feeding hungry children with healthy food.

92% of principals said FIS supported their school/kura greatly to promote a healthy food environment.

91 percent of principals agreed the overall health of tamariki would decline if FIS ended.

9 out of 10 principals said FIS is a great support to promoting healthy eating.

95% of principals said the quality of the food from FIS was good or great.

97% of principals rated FIS as good/great.

95% of principals said both FIS and Ka Ora, Ka Ako are necessary.

84% used 5+ A Day resources provided to support FIS.

The majority of key interviewees agreed that Fruit in Schools was successful because:

it is meeting a genuine need and making a real difference

it is very well managed, and easy for schools/kura to participate

the fruit and vegetables provided are varied and of high quality

it has been consistent and reliable over many years