Dietary cooks primarily work in the health care industry in a hospital or institution where food and nutrition is strictly monitored for the welfare of the patient. Some dietary cooks work in other types of health and wellness fields, such as spas and retreats, where highly nutritious and healthy meals are part of the service with added flexibility required of the cook staff to attend to the particular dietary needs of the guests.
Cooks working in the health care field must exhibit knowledge of healthful cooking methods and ingredients, and prepare foods within the nutrition guidelines prescribed by the attending physician or oversight staff. Dietary cooks understand a variety of food allergens, restrictions and sensitivities and provide healthful substitutions without negating taste, presentation appeal or variety.
Dietary cooks often manage scores of patients with different nutrition needs and must maintain an orderly kitchen ensuring each patient or guest receives their desired meals. Cooks must adhere to strict portion control, monitor ingredient lists carefully and check in often with the administrative staff regarding the menu. Cooks also must keep costs down by preparing and cooking food properly to cut down on waste.
Keep It Safe
All kitchens required a high standard of safety practices when it comes to food preparation, equipment operation and the sanitary conditions of the kitchen. This is particularly true when serving a base whose immune systems may already be severely compromised. Dietary cooks must further take responsibility for maintaining high personal standards of health and hygiene when preparing food.
Experience May Trump Education
Entry-level cooks in the dietary field, such as prep cooks, will not always require an advanced degree although some restaurant or catering experience may boost the candidate’s chances for hire. Higher-level dietary cooks, such as those applying for management positions, often need either extensive experience with menu planning; special diets and managing a kitchen staff. At the management level, dietary cooks might also have training through a culinary academy or other specialized nutrition training.
The Daily Bread
The average annual salary for dietary and institution cooks was $24,670 in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries ranged from a low of $17,000 to $35,600. Those who worked for the federal executive branch earned $41,060.
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