Why did you decide to become a CDM?
I had been working at the Dallas County Hospital for a few years as lead cook and knew that in order to move up within the department I needed to become a CDM. Even with a Culinary Arts degree, I knew that becoming a certified dietary manager would provide me with even more skills and resources to help better myself and grow the department. I took classes at Des Moines Area Community College to prepare for the exam. The day that I finished those classes, the manager of my department at that time resigned her position. I knew that it was the perfect opportunity to for me to lead the department once I passed the national exam.
What are your main responsibilities in your current position?
Menu planning for patients, the Bistro (cafeteria) and various caterings; ordering food and supplies, oversight of preparation and meal service, scheduling, orienting new staff and training, helping prepare meals and co-leading our employee wellness program.
How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?
Having an organized schedule helps keep me on track! But we all know in foodservice that things don’t always go according to schedule, especially in healthcare. I try to set up my day where the morning is spent making sure my team is set up for success throughout our busiest time-lunch, and meetings/office work are scheduled in the afternoons. Having several huddles a week helps the department know what is going on and what I am busy working on at the moment. It all comes down to prioritizing. The patients, staff and Bistro guests always come first, and I can make time for everything else later.
I also rely on my team. We have a wonderful group working in our department and I trust that they can handle their responsibilities and that they will ask when they need help and work together to get all tasks done.
What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?
Our DCH HEART (Healthy Employees Are Really Terrific) employee wellness program wanted an easy way for staff to know what healthy options they have when eating in the Bistro. We have implemented a Green, Yellow, Red program in our Bistro to identify healthy options for staff and guests.
Green = Go (a serving of a fruit, vegetable or whole grain)
Yellow = Slow (lean protein, low fat starches, etc.)
Red = Woah (items with more than 10 grams of fat per serving)
Every menu item is color coded on the printed menu daily and has a coordinating colored serving utensil. For example, all vegetables and fruits on the salad bar have green tongs, lean protein and low fat cheeses have yellow tongs and any pre-made salads or other items have red utensils. This carries over to the hot station as well. We have posters in the Bistro explaining the color-coding system and a Bistro’s Best Bite daily special that has less than 500 calories, 10 grams of fat and includes the nutrition information. We are always looking for new ways to bring healthy options to the staff. Along with our Green, Yellow, Red system we offer infused water weekly, limited desserts, and offer half portions at half price on almost everything we serve.
We have also worked with our Service Pillar here at the DCH to provide take-home meals for patients being discharged from the hospital. The thought was our patients have so much going on when they leave the hospital with their discharge instructions and medications, that it would be a great service for us to provide them and their caregiver their next meal at home. It takes some teamwork between the nursing and nutrition departments, but this has been very well received in the community and we are proud to offer this program to our patients and their families.
What was your first job in the foodservice industry?
My first job in the foodservice industry was at Breadeaux Pizza when I was 14 years old. Since then I have worked in almost every type of foodservice establishment, including fast food, fine dining, banquets and hotels, catering and healthcare. I think I have found the best of everything in my current position as we get to be creative with our Bistro menu and try new things, yet we also get to make a difference for our patients and guests that come into the hospital.
Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?
I attribute my love for cooking to my high school Family and Consumer Sciences instructor, Mrs. Carhill. She saw in me a passion for baking/cooking and helped me develop my skills and made me realize I could turn that passion into a career. I have also worked for some wonderful chefs throughout my career. Each one has gifted me a little of their “style” of cooking/leading and tips/tricks along the way. I am grateful to all who have taken their time to teach.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?
I think the biggest challenge we have is recruiting talent for our team. Foodservice tends to have higher turnover than other industries and we have had to get creative in how and where we look for team members. Some things we trying at DCH are partnering with the local community college to provide internships for students in a culinary or hospitality program, posting different types of ads with different tag lines to attract more people, and being flexible with scheduling to accommodate the needs of our team members.
Another challenge we see is that fine balance of preparing enough food but not so much that we have waste. As with most establishments, we never know day to day what our patient census and Bistro traffic will be.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The people. We are like a big family here and the best part of my day is seeing all the staff and our regulars come into the Bistro. The community of Perry is so supportive of our Bistro and it makes me smile knowing that people choose to come to the hospital for lunch because it is the best food in town. We always strive to provide the highest quality, most delicious and best variety of foods. I love it when we hear (almost daily) “There are too many good choices today. I can’t decide what I want!”
How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?
I love reading magazines, finding new cookbooks and trying out new recipes. There are many resources online but I think the ANFP does a great job of keeping us informed. I especially like getting together with other CDMs in the state to share ideas and tips at our spring and fall meetings. Having that network and support system is extremely helpful.
How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and foodservice?
I feel that establishments will really need to tailor their offerings to more specialized diets, including allergens and other health needs. People want customizable options to have foods made to order and made their way. I think we will continue to see people being more aware of nutrition information and looking for healthier options for all meals, snacks and beverages.
What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?
Work hard and always remember that there is something to learn from each job or position that you have. Even if it isn’t your favorite job or task, do it to the best of your ability and with a positive attitude. Keep an open mind about different places you could work; when I started culinary school, I imagined I would end up at a fancy restaurant or traveling to work at different hotels/resorts. I never thought I would find my home and my calling at Dallas County Hospital. There are many, many different types of foodservice jobs available with varying schedules and benefits.