What’s the difference between knowing that broccoli is a healthy food…and being able to empower your clients to prepare it in a way that they truly love eating? The answer might be your skills as a culinary nutritionist.
What is a culinary nutritionist…and how is that different from a “regular” dietitian?
In this blog post, we’ll cover what a culinary nutritionist is, where they might work, resources and trainings to hone your own skills, and even what you might expect to get paid.
We’ll also include quotes from culinary experts in the field – I mean, kitchen – that are making strides in exciting ways with their diverse clientele.
First stop: what is a culinary nutritionist?
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What is a culinary nutritionist?
Historically, dietitian training was meshed with home economics and included cooking skills. Over time, as dietitians have developed highly specialized niches some of the culinary focus has been lost (1). These days, programs may not have adequate facilities to teach future dietitians how to be comfortable in the kitchen (2).
Many dietitians do not feel confident teaching their clients how to actually prepare the healthy foods that they would like their clients to try…but they might, if they were a culinary nutritionist.
These days, there are abundant opportunities for interesting and unique work as a dietitian, including working as a culinary nutritionist.
So what is it? While there is actually a lot of overlap between being a “regular” dietitian and being a culinary nutritionist, there are a few key differences.
“A registered dietitian understands the science of food and nutrition, the culinary nutritionist understands how to transform the science into foods people enjoy eating.” -Dr. Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND Founder of Menopause Better
Culinary nutritionists are able to translate health benefits into delicious meals that clients feel comfortable tackling on their own and are excited to actually eat.
“A culinary nutritionist has more training in the background of preparing and seasoning food as well as modifying recipes and meals to meet dietary and cultural needs. A culinary nutritionist is like a combo platter of a chef and RD.” -Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Owner, Sound Bites Nutrition.
A culinary nutritionist may choose to work on their own or with a partner, depending on the nature of their specific role and their ideal clients and For example, a registered dietitian may partner well with a formally trained chef (3).
Next up: what skills might set you apart from a traditional dietitian?
Skills of a culinary nutritionist
A culinary nutritionist can be equipped with a wide range of skills, learned through different training pathways (we’ll cover those in a later section).
The training can be received through college electives, collegiate culinary nutrition programs, continuing education courses, or on-the-job training.
The basic knowledge and skills needed include:
- Culinary terminology and food science principles
- Food selection, substitution, shopping, safety, and storage
- Basic preparation skills including knife skills, measuring, and mixing techniques
- Basic cooking techniques
- Recipe development
- Recipe analysis
- How to read, interpret and follow recipes
- Meal planning
With unique and valuable skills, what kind of work settings might be a good fit for a culinary nutritionist? Let’s explore those next.
Where does a culinary nutritionist work?
“The possibilities are endless! The value of the culinary nutritionist’s expertise is incredibly far-reaching across all areas of dietetics. Not only do culinary nutritionists have a deep understanding of culinary arts and science but they also have the unique ability to break down technical research into easy-to-digest, real-world cooking advice for patients.
This perfectly equips these RDs to work in a broad range of settings and includes everything from clinical practice to business.” -Andrea Kirkland, MS, RD, owner, and founder of Culinary Med Ed.
Your uniform might include a crisp white lab coat, a branded apron, or even pajamas (if you’re consulting virtually!). Job roles across these settings include (4):
Individual nutrition counselor
As a culinary nutritionist, you may be working with people one-on-one to manage a new diagnosis, meet specific goals, or simply empower them with foundational cooking skills. Your clients might be children, families, working professionals, or retired couples.
In the US, most states require the registered dietitian credential as well as licensure in order to provide individualized nutrition advice. You can explore the rules of each state on this map.
But providing one-on-one advice is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what a culinary nutritionist can do and who they can help.
Food brand partner
“If you are interested in working with food brands, having culinary training can help you create ideas to use their product easier and more effectively. This could be a recipe, but also another type of content. For example, a culinary nutritionist can help a food brand develop a guide about different ways to use their product.” -Dr. Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND Founder of Menopause Better
(If this option is getting you excited, you’re not going to want to miss our comprehensive business post about this. How to Sell Meal Plans: The Ultimate Guide for Dietitians!)
Restaurants, food brands, meal planning services, and more all need recipes. Good recipes. Ones that meet a long list of requirements. A culinary nutritionist is able to create recipes that are culturally appropriate, cost-effective, and nourishing for a multitude of circumstances and priorities.
Plus, your skills in recipe development may put you in a position to become an author: a cookbook author, that is!
There are different opportunities to lend your expertise in a restaurant setting.
“As restaurants are becoming more aware of the competitive advantage of meeting the growing consumer demand for nutrition transparency – as well as the need to comply with menu labeling legislation (i.e., restaurants that have 20 or more U.S. locations must provide nutrition information for their customers) – culinary dietitians will continue to play an integral role in supporting the restaurant industry in these efforts.
As a culinary dietitian, I work closely with restaurants and chefs across the country providing nutrient analysis and allergen and gluten identification services. I also provide menu labeling consultation to ensure restaurants are compliant with menu labeling legislation. In addition to this, I provide vegan/vegetarian verification, as well as any other lifestyle and dietary designations applicable to the restaurant customer base (for example, keto-friendly menu items).” – Nancy Snyder, MS, RD
As a culinary nutritionist, you could represent food brands, kitchen appliance brands, or cooking tools. Your role would be to host cooking demonstrations and classes that get your audience eager to begin using the brand that you represent.
Do you love being on camera…or being behind the scenes, developing effective social media campaigns, email sequences, and engaging graphics? Being a media expert might be right up your alley!
And as in any niche, there is always the opportunity to launch your own business to provide the culinary skills that you exhibit best. This also has the potential to leverage a greater income. Let’s talk about salary potential, next.
If food blogging is of interest, be sure to bookmark this post for later: The Best Nutrition Blogs by Dietitians (and Why They Work).
How much does a culinary nutritionist make?
While the salary for a culinary nutritionist can vary quite a bit based on the work setting, years of experience, and geographical location, Glassdoor says that the average salary is about 68,000 per year, with a (wide) range of $47-125k.
Compensation might also be on a contract basis, such as being hired once to write a cookbook or on retainer to create effective blogs, emails, and other marketing materials.
If you have an interview coming up – congrats! We have a post here to help you prepare and feel more confident before the interview begins: 15 Dietitian Interview Questions to Prepare You for Job Hunting.
Or, if you’re ready to launch your own business to be able to pick your own clients and set your own prices, we have the guide for you: The Dietitian’s Guide to Starting an Online Nutrition Business.
No matter where you work, there are a range of pathways to choose from with learning to become a culinary nutritionist.
How to become a culinary nutritionist
Culinary training boosts your skills in the kitchen. Not to mention your confidence!
What’s first? There are a few different paths toward becoming a culinary nutritionist. The best path is the one that suits your lifestyle, goals, and budget.
Some professionals may start with their registered dietitian credential. From there, they go on to boost their culinary skills with one of the trainings included in just a bit.
However, the opposite order can also be true; professionals can complete formal culinary training and then pursue their dietetics degree to be able to legally provide individual nutrition counseling.
The steps to becoming a registered dietitian (abbreviated RD and RDN) include the completion of the following:
- Culinary terminology and food science principles
- An internship (sometimes referred to as a “supervised practice”)
- The national board exam
- State licensure, if applicable
For the nuts and bolts of becoming a registered dietitian, check out this post: 5 Steps to Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
So, what’s involved in learning to become a culinary nutritionist? Sophia explains:
Culinary nutrition training programs
While there are several worthwhile opportunities for virtual education, Andrea encourages you to also include in-person training wherever possible. “The hands-on teaching experience will teach you cues that you can’t learn from just reading a book. For example, you can see the real difference between a simmer and a boil, hear what sound your skillet should make when searing chicken in a hot pan, and smell the fragrant aroma of nuts release when they’re perfectly toasted.”
Andrea further encourages dietitians who are interested in culinary training to take it one step at a time. “Don’t let the learning curve intimidate you. Your kitchen confidence will come with practice. Just get started by having some fun perfecting the basics in your own kitchen. All you need to be successful from the beginning is to master a few key techniques before you share them with others. You’ll be surprised at how quickly different skills will build upon each other over time.”
What that: here are a few options, big and small, to sharpen your culinary skills, starting with Andrea’s course.
Solutions to Diet Adherence shows dietitians how to use culinary medicine to get patients to access real-world nutrition and cooking guidance to make long-lasting changes. (This course is made by RDs for RDs).
Another option to learn about culinary nutrition from a fellow registered dietitian is The Culinary Nutrition Studio. Co-founded by Chef Abbie Gellman, MS RD CDN and Julie Lopez, RD, Culinary Nutrition Studio is your one-stop-shop for virtual, in-depth training towards becoming a culinary nutritionist. Depending on what you choose, you also have the option to earn 36 – 53 hours of CEUs to boot.
The National Restaurant Association has training for folks in the restaurant industry including ServSafe which teaches participants how to minimize the risk of food-borne illness.
The Institute for Culinary Education (ICE), based in New York City, offers a Culinary Nutrition Certificate Program with in-person, hands-on training. ICE also offers a Food Therapy Certificate Program which is more geared toward using food as medicine to manage health and wellness and manage disease processes.
Culinary Nutrition Collaborative provides practical tips and tools to integrate nutrition science with innovative culinary techniques. Co-founded by registered dietitians Kristy Del Coro and Jackie Topol, the CNC offers virtual and in-person training, many of which include CEUs to boot.
Culinary school is the most formal and robust pathway to learn culinary skills. Programs can be 1-4 years long and are offered through many state universities and community colleges. Culinary majors include culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, and professional cooking. Examples of culinary schools include the Midwest Culinary Institute in Cincinnati Ohio and the CASA Chicago Culinary School in Illinois.
And in a less formal way, food tours and culinary travel and even eating out at international restaurants are all ways to continue to explore global dishes and flavors.
Quick skills for dietitians
Whether or not you pursue a formal culinary training program or certifications, there are still ways to implement culinary nutrition strategies into your current practice. Here are a few quick suggestions.
Open up a conversation with your clients about their cooking habits and equipment. Some clients may lack a kitchen full of tools and appliances, or feel uncomfortable with their cooking skills, but are embarrassed to bring this up. You can normalize this in the conversation – for example, stating, “I love meals I can make in the microwave – no heating up the house and so quick and easy. Is there a way you like to cook meals?”
You can use our cooking skills assessment with clients to understand what their current comfort level is with food prep.
Ask what kinds of foods they enjoy eating the most and find ways to make nutrient recommendations that include their cultural and personal preferences.
It is also important to understand what their living situation is; someone with a well-stocked kitchen is able to prepare foods far more easily than someone who has limited tools.
Note: If you work with anyone who might be at risk for food insecurity, Food Dignity is a valuable resource to learn counseling skills. You’ll learn how to identify barriers and food access and to provide recommendations that better fit their life circumstances.
Where to network
If you have a budding interest in culinary nutrition, you’re going to want to join The Food & Culinary Professional practice group (find them on Facebook, too).
This DPG offers professional development opportunities including live webinars, workshops, and their Tastings newsletter that’s packed with recipes and helpful cooking information. They also offer traveling continuing education opportunities.
Resources available on RD2RD
Right here on RD2RD, we have a round-up of resources to support you in your practice. While there are too many to share in this article, here are a few of our favorites:
- How to Write a Cookbook in 10 steps – This toolkit is an easy-to-follow blueprint. From defining your audience and concept to how to design it and sell a cookbook.
- How to Cook: The Basics – designed for the novice cook, it provides basic how-tos for kitchen confidence. This e-book is a client education must-have.
- Kitchen Inventory & Organization Guidebook – Conquer the clutter in your pantry, fridge, and freezer, and save money at the grocery store with this 25-page guide. Complete with printable inventory lists, this resource will help you keep a well-stocked kitchen and lower your grocery bill.
The Bottom Line: Is this path right for me?
Helping our clients discover new ways to prepare and enjoy the foods that support their wellness is important work.
So whether we work with clients one-on-one, manage food brands, work in agriculture, a supermarket, as a cookbook writer, or as recipe developers, culinary skills have a way of opening up doors for dietitians.