Nutrition: A building block for success

Date: 03 Mar 2023

Fueling the bodies and minds of rapidly growing young men is more than just a job for Dilworth School's Catering Manager Craig Johnston.

Having previously spent 12 years at the school (eight as Rural Campus Head Chef and four cooking up a storm for our junior and senior students), Craig knows better than most the powerful role healthy eating plays in unlocking success.

That’s why after a three-year hiatus he’s back, pouring his energy into what he loves most – cooking great food, changing lives and transforming futures.

Craig Johnston, Catering Manager at Dilworth School

 “My passion has always been Dilworth. It’s so rewarding seeing younger people succeed and grow, and ultimately that’s what fills my cup,” says Craig, who has 30-plus years of cheffing experience and has also worked as a corrections officer.

Now leading a team of 23 hardworking staff across Dilworth’s three campuses, Craig’s top priority is  providing the nutritional building blocks our students need to thrive.

“We work together to provide the nutritional needs for our three different campuses. Everybody’s needs are different, we’re all on our own journeys, and my hope is that by the time students leave Dilworth they know what good food looks like, they understand the importance of balance and moderation, and they’re well-equipped to make wise, sensible decisions about their health and wellbeing.”

Producing 600 delicious, nutritionally-balanced meals three times a day is no easy task. Less active junior students may only require 8000 kilojoules a day, while a student in the 1st XV may need at least 14,000. Add to that dietary requirements around religion and culture, throw vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free into the mix and there’s a lot to contend with.

Students enjoying one of the many food options at Dilworth School

 “We focus on making food exciting with lots of variety. We keep meals a bit simpler for our junior students – they particularly love the home comfort of a roast dinner - but our seniors have a more refined palette so we can experiment a bit more. At the end of the day though, they all love butter chicken!”

Boosting protein and minimising refined sugars is key. They bake not deep fry, use higher protein milk for growth and sometimes even sneak vegetables in their brownies.

“When I was Head Chef of the Rural Campus, AUT’s Dr Caryn Zinn and I developed a low sugar, whole food meal plan that took 15 kilograms of refined sugars out of our students’ diets. We learnt a lot from that journey, and now all our students will be getting most of their sugar intake through whole fruits. When we do serve sweet treats they’ll be two bites in size, and mainly reserved for celebrations. No student at Dilworth will ever go hungry but we want to make sure they’re putting the right fuel into their bodies for their needs.

“Health and wellbeing is a key focus at Dilworth, not just in the kitchen but also through the educational programme, in the health and science department, and in the new Flourishing curriculum. My team is just one cog in the wheel, but we’re a very important one.”