In 2020, a government-funded healthy school lunch program was introduced in a quarter of New Zealand schools, selected due to high levels of socio-economic barriers. This study assesses the impact of the introduction of the school lunch program from family (whānau), student and school principal perspectives. Across four schools, we conducted five focus groups (two with secondary students and three with family members) and four school principal interviews. Participating schools represented a range of contexts: primary and secondary, schools with cooks in on-site kitchens and schools receiving meals delivered by external caterers. Thematic analysis was used to develop themes describing the health, wellbeing and nutritional impact of the program. Family participants were 82% Indigenous Māori and self-identified as having ‘borderline’ (73.5%) or no financial security (8.8%). Seven positive impact themes were identified: improved food security, enhanced equity, increased appreciation of healthy foods for students, enhanced mana (wellbeing) for all, reduced financial hardship/stress for families, opportunities for nutritional learning and recognition that appreciation and uptake happen over time. Four negative impact themes were identified: low uptake that created food waste, perception that healthy food is not palatable for students, lack of knowledge of the program and loss of agency for students. This is the largest intervention in nutrition and food security for children implemented in New Zealand since the 1930's. The first 2 years have offered wellbeing and financial benefits for students and families, particularly when school environments promote uptake. More involvement of students and family members in the program planning is essential.

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