- Sixth Form
Health and wellbeing are at the forefront of everyone’s minds as we navigate through a global pandemic; our diet has an important relationship with those two things. As an independent school nutritionist with catering provider Chartwells, and the very first to live on a school campus, Millfield’s nutritionist Niall Davison outlines the school’s unique ‘EatToExcel’ initiative and how he is helping students to make healthy choices now and in their lives after Millfield.
Nutritional requirements are unique, complex and highly individualised for students here at Millfield. They are at the beginning of their journey with food and are also in the stage of their lives where they will experience the most demanding physiological development.
Luckily, students at Millfield have access to some of the finest nutritional support in the country, with award winning catering provider Chartwells delivering balanced meals every day. They also have access to specialist coaches and support staff with the Millfield Institute of Sport and Wellbeing to help guide them to make the right choices during mealtimes. As they say, the proof is in the pudding: in autumn 2020, Millfield was nominated as having the best school food in the country by the Tatler Schools Awards team.
As a relatively recent MSc Graduate Sport Nutritionist from Liverpool John Moores University, Millfield has provided me with a great opportunity to really find my feet as a practitioner and begin to translate my learnings into practical support within the field of both health and performance focused nutrition. My primary objective here at school is around creating effective dietary behaviours within our students so they can independently support their performance (both academic and sporting), as well as their development and health, through food.
“Having a nutritionist on-site has been really beneficial, it’s allowed us to get under the skin of the school and delve into the different needs of the students. Music scholars must fuel their brain to aid the high level of concentration required; a prerequisite for sports scholars is the right amount of protein, carbs and hydration. But, equally as important is our philosophy ‘food is mood,’ and it is our role as caterers to support the diverse Millfield community by in creating positive experiences with food.”
Chartwells Executive Chef Nick Dorber
I work closely with Millfield Institute of Sport and Wellbeing to help integrate their nutrition strategies into the demanding day-to-day lives of students at school, including speaking to students in their houses about their diets and lifestyles in and outside of school. Below are some of the strategies we’re using at Millfield to educate and encourage students to think more about their nutrition choices.
Last year, we focused on creating a nutrition culture called “EatToExcel", which is focused on highlighting the role of nutrition for all students in school, and how good dietary behaviours can support them in achieving whatever their main objectives are here at Millfield. Therefore, everything I do is underpinned by EatToExcel!
Navigating the Dining Hall
We have an educational environment in the Dining Hall using the screens that are placed all around the space in view of students. These screens flash up easy-to-read graphic reminders of our unique food labelling system, which categorises the foods on offer in the Dining Hall into the key nutrient groups. For example, while students are queuing, they will be able to plan their meal based on a ‘plate builder’ screen which is hard to miss as they approach the serveries. We also have portion control graphics using hand and spoonful measurements to help guide how portion sizes change across each of the different plate designs, with colour coding and categories to easily identify food groups.
Conversations in house around food
This year, I will be working directly with students in a more informal environment in their boarding and day houses to learn more about their relationships with food. We aim to treat every student as an individual and avoid a blanket style approach to our support; I prefer to let the students dictate the direction and content of my sessions. I want to create an environment which promotes open discussion of the challenges / barriers faced around food and students’ nutrition practices. Boarding house environments are the perfect spaces to talk about these challenges and discover effective solutions, and it’s been a really insightful experience for both students and myself as a nutritionist so far.
Giving students a voice
Millfield students are fully immersed in the nutrition programme at Millfield, with a selection of students representing their cohort on a Catering Committee that meets regularly to discuss changes and improvements. The most recent ‘People’s Vote’ saw an amendment passed to serve a fresh fruit platter of exotic fruits and berries, for dessert after Thursday’s ‘Pizza Night’.
Nutrition in the classroom
It’s more than just the food, though. Chartwells works with the teaching departments to create stimulating ways to learn about food. In the last 12 months, we’ve had a ‘Foods of the Future’ counter looking at different types of proteins, from bugs to meal worms! There’s been ‘Masterchef’ style cooking competitions with student and teacher teams, bake offs, kitchen tours and nutritional talks, starting in Year 6 at Millfield Prep School.
COVID-19 and nutrition
Covid-19 has been challenging, but some of the solutions that we have put in place have actually improved the way Millfield dines. Some solutions are here to stay! Our pre-boxed salads have also proved popular.
In order to make the dining areas Covid-secure, lunch and dinner times have been extended to spread the sittings out. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for breakfast, so we now deliver to alternate boarding houses in the morning. This is definitely something which will continue post-Covid, as take up has increased as students enjoy the more relaxed nature of breakfast.
What’s next for nutrition at Millfield?
Some exciting projects that we’ve been working on recently have focused on improving the food provisions away from the Dining Hall through snacking options and boarding options available to students. We’ve started to create a relationship with GetBuzzing, a company focused on providing great tasting, high energy and nutrient dense flapjack bars, which the students love, and we’re looking at other ways we can provide healthy snacks for before and after fixtures and while students are studying.
Other exciting plans moving forward will include providing support at Millfield Prep School around building balanced plates and the importance of food to support younger students’ growth and development.
Equally with an interest in behaviours, I am currently planning the ways we can demonstrate ‘ideal behaviours’ around food here at Millfield. This will begin with me sharing a series of blogs around how I make food choices on a daily basis, how I fuel myself, and will hopefully branch into specific areas within nutrition, which I hope will help our students apply these types of behaviours during their school day.
Working with youth athletes who are keen to learn and develop is a really interesting part of my role, and I thoroughly enjoy helping students to discover the ways they can enhance and improve their eating habits to help them achieve their daily and long-term goals. Students at Millfield are incredibly lucky to benefit from world-leading teachers and national and international level coaches, and I’m proud that we are also able to provide a first-class nutritional environment that helps young people build positive, lifelong relationships and behaviours with food.
Learn more about Millfield’s dining options here.