Cooks employed at preschools and daycare centers are ultimately responsible for maintaining full oversight over their institution's food program in all of its various aspects, including meal preparation, hygiene, food distribution to classrooms, and sanitation. Cooks work under general supervision while ensuring compliance with all existing public-health regulations and child-care food guidelines. Additionally, cooks are charged with creating and maintaining all food-related purchasing and inventory records.
Persons applying for the position of preschool cook must be at least 18 years of age and in possession of a high school diploma or its equivalent. Applicants should have at least one year of experience in meal planning and preparation, knowledge of early-childhood nutrition, and experience working with groups of children. Candidates may also be required to undergo criminal background checks and TB skin tests, as well as preemployment and random drug screens.
Cooks must be able to work in a cooperative manner with other staff members, students, parents and funding agency personnel. They should be in possession of basic mathematical skills and must be able to accomplish accurate recordkeeping. Further, cooks must be able to work safely around stoves and chemicals while having the physical endurance to spend many hours standing, walking and lifting heavy objects.
The preschool cook's daily activities involve both menu development and the preparation of nutritious meals and snacks for all students. Menus are developed through collaboration with nutrition consultants; cooks must be able to provide substitute meals for children with special dietary requirements. These individuals are also responsible for maintaining cleanliness in both the kitchen and storage areas. Some items, such as ovens, pantries and refrigerators, need to bee sanitized at regularly scheduled intervals.
Preschool cooks prepare recipes, slice vegetables and work over hot stoves. The mishandling of cooking utensils, knives and machinery can result in severe burns or injury. Meal preparers often transition between hot kitchens and much colder outdoor temperatures. Additionally, food-preparation areas pose hazards due to slippery floors, moving objects and uneven surfaces. Kitchens are often noisy places where workers must shout over the roar of machinery and equipment.
Outlook and Salary
"Employment in child day care services is projected to increase moderately, but a large number of jobs will open each year from the need to replace the large numbers of experienced workers who leave the industry for other jobs," according to a 2009 report published by the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency points out that daycare workers make considerably less than employees performing similar tasks in the private sector. Preschool cooks average $18,970 annually, while their counterparts in private industry make approximately $22,210.