By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
Imagine trying to feed yourself three nutritious snacks and three decent meals a day for $5.24. Most people would promptly dismiss the suggestion as an impossibility.
Fortunately for the people in Colleen Murphy's care she's not quite so quick to dismiss the idea, although she concedes it's extraordinarily difficult to stay on the government imposed budget of just 524 cents.
Bonnie Jasper is co-ordinator of Centennial College's Food and Nutrition Management Program, a two-year full-time course that accepts 50 students each September.
Murphy, a native of St. John's and a nutrition graduate of Memorial University in the Newfoundland capital, is the food service manager at Leisureworld Caregiving Centre - Lawrence in Toronto, a long term care facility. She has to plan menus, order supplies, assess residents' dietary requirements, hire staff, and generally stay on top of the thousand and one food-related things her 224 mostly elderly charges expect.
"I ensure they get the proper food, make sure they get the right diet," Murphy says. "There are lots of residents with diabetes, so we have to be careful."
She also has to be careful in other ways, too. After all, Murphy points out, the men and women in Leisureworld - Lawrence have chosen their own food for a good many years and will soon bridle at something they don't like or don't want.
Murphy learned many of the skills she uses day to day at Centennial College's Food and Nutrition Management program, a two-year full-time course that accepts 50 students each September.
Bonnie Jasper, co-ordinator of the program, attributes its increasing popularity to a widening public interest in food and nutrition and students' and career changers' recognition that there's a growing demand for workers in long term and acute care.
"I had to set up an in-house recruiting system, with the college's permission," says Jasper. "I've had headhunters call me. I don't think the industry has ever experienced such demand."
Centennial College offers the only full-time food and nutrition management program in the GTA.
The college accepts 50 students a year and admission is becoming more competitive.
Almost all graduates of the program work in long-term or acute care facilities.
Dietary managers and food services supervisors must be members of the Canadian Society of Nutrition Management.
Entry level salaries begin at $35,000-$45,000.
Teresa Ferren, a dietary manager for Extendicare and a part time instructor in the program, concurs. "I've had great success finding the students jobs," she says, and characterizes those she teaches as "go-getters," a personality type food service managers have to be if they're to succeed, Ferren warns.
To get into the program at Centennial requires a high school diploma or status as a mature student. Applicants who have a background in nutrition -- such as Murphy -- can be fast tracked through the program in one year. All applicants have to complete an unpaid seven week work placement. Tuition is about $1,800 a year.
Jasper says the usual class composition is 40 per cent high school graduates and 60 per cent with other qualifications, formal or informal. Most students are women, with the age range starting in the late teens. One student, Jasper recalls, was 65 and took the program so she could work in her son's nursing home.
Graduates of a government approved program such as Centennial's become members of the Canadian Society of Nutrition Management, a must-have if they want to work as a dietary manager or food service supervisor.
About 90 per cent of her graduates go into long term or acute care, Jasper says, with the others opting for jobs in retail, research, food manufacturing and the like.
The pay as a food services manager is fair to good, but it isn't a ticket to spiffy lofts and expensive toys. Entry level salaries run from $35,000 to $45,000 a year and after five years of steadily increasing responsibility can reach $45,000 to $55,000, Jasper says.
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