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Public Health Nutr. 2016 Apr;19(5):946-54. doi: 10.1017/S1368980015002086. Epub 2015 Jul 2.

How cooks navigate nutrition, hunger and care in public-sector foodservice settings.

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City University of New York School of Public Health,Lehman College,Department of Health Sciences,250 Bedford Park Boulevard West,Gillet Hall,Room 431,Bronx,NY 10468,USA.



To examine the perspectives and practices of cooks responsible for carrying out healthy meal programmes in publicly funded foodservice, in order to better understand what they consider to be 'good' food and where nutrition and nutritional standards fit into this conceptualization.


A qualitative, exploratory study involving in-depth interviews that were conducted with cooks and their supervisors about their work practices and perspectives on providing healthy food for clients.


Participants were recruited from child-care, after-school, senior-centre and shelter settings that had participated in healthy menu training in New York City, USA.


Eighteen cooks and nine supervisors working in the aforementioned settings.


The views and practices of both cooks and supervisors about what constitutes 'good' food extend beyond a purely nutritional view of goodness to include the importance of addressing hunger and clients' food preferences, among other factors. Cooks address these by interacting with clients and altering recipes and menus in a range of ways to maximize the likelihood of food consumption and enjoyment. These approaches are often, but not always, compatible with setting-specific nutritional guidelines that may be set at the national, state, local or organizational level.


Cooks play a key role in translating nutritional guidelines into what is served. In doing so, they engage in skilled labour and forms of care that increase the ability of public-sector foodservice to address food security and other goals, but these aspects of their work are not widely recognized.


Cooks; Food security; Institutional foodservice; Qualitative research

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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