Culinary Nutrition Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info

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Associate and bachelor's degrees in culinary nutrition can lead to careers in dietetics or food service. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your culinary nutrition degree
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Studying Culinary Nutrition: Degrees at a Glance

In a culinary nutrition program, you study the components that make up a balanced diet as well as methods for preparing healthy meals. These programs aren't readily available at the associate degree level, though there are related degrees in dietetic technology and nutrition. Curricula can train you for a career as a dietetic technician or prepare you to transfer to a bachelor's degree program in culinary nutrition. Similarly, these 4-year degrees can qualify you for the internship programs required to become a registered dietitian (RD). You could also pursue a culinary career upon graduation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 20% increase in employment opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists between 2010 and 2020, an outlook which could also prove favorable for dietetic technicians. However, employment of food service managers, chefs and head cooks was expected to decline slightly over the same period.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in pursuing entry-level dietetics positions or transferring to bachelor's degree programs in culinary nutrition Individuals interested in culinary or dietitian careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Dietetic technician ($40,000)*- Chef or head cook ($42,000)**
- Private household cook ($28,000)**
- Food service manager ($48,000)**
- Food writer ($35,000 - based on salaries for writers in all fields)**
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Prerequisites High school diploma Varies by program; could include a high school diploma, 60 credits of prerequisite coursework or an associate degree in a related field
Online Availability Yes No, but related programs are available

Sources: *Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (April 2011 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Dietetics Technology and Nutrition

You'll be hard pressed to find an associate degree program in culinary nutrition. However, some schools offer similar curricula in their nutrition and dietetic technology programs. Although only a few of these programs offer instruction in cooking, their math- and science-intensive coursework can serve as stepping stones towards a culinary nutrition bachelor's degree program. Moreover, a 2-year program approved by Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) can qualify you for the registered dietetic technician (DTR) credential. These professionals are trained to assist RDs with such tasks as meal planning and client health assessments.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • With a DTR designation, you can work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, public health agencies and assisted living facilities
  • Due to an aging baby boomer population, there will be an increasing need for dietary professionals in nursing homes between 2010 and 2020*
  • Associate degrees only take 2 years to complete, as opposed to a 4-year bachelor's degree program

Cons

  • Associate degree programs offering both nutrition science and culinary instruction are rare
  • Dietetic technicians must work under the supervision of a registered dietitian, which may lack the autonomy you desire
  • Many employers require dietetic technicians to hold DTR credentials, which requires 450 hours of internship experience and passing scores on an exam

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Introductory courses in these programs combine topics in biology and chemistry with general education coursework. Core courses are designed to teach you how nutrients affect the body. Sample courses found in an associate degree program include the following:

  • Community nutrition
  • Nutrition through the lifecycle
  • Food service management
  • Nutrition and disease
  • Food sanitation and safety

You're also expected to complete a practicum or work-study course, especially if you're enrolled in a program approved by ACEND. Additionally, a few programs provide food preparation courses and labs where you can get hands-on experience cooking.

Online Degree Options

Online programs in nutrition and dietetic technology are fairly common. Program curricula include online courses on how nutrition relates to health and wellness as well as internship components that must be completed on site. However, not all online programs are designed to prepare you to become a DTR. If your goal is to become a registered dietary technician, check to make sure that your program is accredited by ACEND.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

In order to meet your career goals, make the most of a program's practical experiences and elective coursework. Here are some ways to get ahead in this field:

  • Associate degree programs that qualify you for the DTR credential include 450-hour internship requirements. While completing these program components, look for opportunities to complete rotations in settings that interest you. For example, if you're more interested in preparing food than educating or consulting clients, look for opportunities to work with a food management company or in a school cafeteria.
  • Some of a dietetic technician's job duties include scheduling employees, supervising food service and monitoring production costs. Consider taking business or management courses to learn about the most effective methods for performing these tasks.

Bachelor's Degree in Culinary Nutrition

Bachelor's degree programs in culinary nutrition combine topics in food preparation techniques and nutrition science. These are often available as culinary nutrition majors, nutrition degrees with a culinary arts emphasis or culinary arts degrees with a nutrition concentration. Programs are designed to teach you how to cook meals that take clients' food allergies, nutritional needs and dietary restrictions into consideration.

Upon completion of your program, you could be eligible to transfer to a dietetics internship program required of registered dietitians (RD). Graduates with a bachelor's degree in culinary nutrition are also able to work as food service managers, cooks and chefs for restaurants or in research and development for food companies.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Employment opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists were projected to increase by 20% between 2010 and 2020*
  • Healthy children's meals and were expected to lead restaurant trends for 2012**
  • Earning a bachelor's degree opens up a variety of career opportunities (cook, chef, restaurant manager, dietitian)

Cons

  • Chefs and head cooks work long days
  • To work as a dietitian, you'll need to complete a separate internship program before becoming registered through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or licensed by your state of residence
  • Poor job growth was projected for food service managers (3% decline) and chefs and head cooks (1% decline) from 2010-2020*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Restaurant Association.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework for a culinary nutrition bachelor's degree program is often a combination lecture courses and lab sessions in on-campus kitchens, where you learn how to prepare such foods as soups, sauces, meats, pastries and even vegetarian meals. You also take several nutrition courses. Examples of topics you might study in one of these programs are listed below:

  • Chemistry
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Nutrition assessment
  • Lifecycle nutrition
  • Food safety
  • Baking
  • Ethnic or multicultural cooking

Business courses in culinary accounting or human resources management could also be included. It's quite likely that you'll be required to complete at least one internship as well.

Online Degree Options

Although online programs in culinary nutrition aren't available at this time, you will find related online bachelor's degree programs in food nutrition or dietetics. These programs can also prepare you for the supervised internship experiences required to earn the RD credential. While some programs allow you to complete coursework entirely online, others are hybrid programs combining core courses with prerequisites completed on campus or at another institution.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

The culinary fields is highly competitive. Take advantage of the following opportunities to stand out among your competition:

  • Spend time in the kitchen. Many schools have state of the art cooking facilities. Remember that it's equally important for you to have technical cooking skills as it is for you to understand the science behind it.
  • According to a report from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, both DTRs and RDs report having to supervise employees. Build your leadership skills while pursuing your degree to become more marketable upon graduation.
  • Many states regulate the practice of dietitians by requiring them to become licensed or certified. Review these qualifications while enrolled in your degree program. They may or may not coincide with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' registration requirements.
  • According to the BLS, earning voluntary certification from professional organizations like the American Culinary Federation can help you advance in the field. The credentials available to you depend on your education and work experience and range from the Certified Culinarian to the Certified Culinary Administrator designations.

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