Become a School Cafeteria Cook: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Mar 09, 2020

Learn how to become a school cafeteria cook with this video. The job description and education and certification requirements will all be covered over the course of the video.

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Cafeteria Cooks

Degree Level None; vocational training programs available
Experience Previous work in a commercial kitchen could be required
Licensure and Certification Safe food handling and sanitation certification; voluntary certifications are also available
Salary $26,860 (2018 median for all institution and cafeteria cooks)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Cafeteria cooks prepare large quantities of food, including hot meals, sandwiches and desserts in advance according to a predetermined menu for students during the school day.

Besides preparing food, cooks ensure that all food is handled in a safe and clean manner in order to prevent illness. Cooks must also be able to use a variety of kitchen equipment and be familiar with a vast amount of ingredients in order to prepare meals properly. Professional training, official certification and experience are all that is needed to become a cafeteria cook.


Some cooks obtain training on the job, but vocational courses and training programs are available. Some school districts even offer their own training programs and workshops in cooking and food safety. Cafeteria cooks may also complete training in food-ordering practices, meal planning, inventory control, budgeting, record keeping and report preparation. Business courses may cover leadership or management techniques for those managing school kitchens and employees.

Food service production courses can teach the techniques used to prepare large quantities of food. A food preparation course may also provide students with a basic education in cooking techniques and safety and sanitation practices. Other areas of focus include professional communications and business math. These courses may be offered in a food service certificate program, typically at a community college.


State and local governments require school cafeteria workers to complete sanitation and safety training. Food safety and sanitation training provides students with information on food storage, safe temperatures, cleaning and hand washing techniques. Cafeteria workers may be required to take additional safety courses while working.


Employers may require cafeteria cooks to have experience working in a large facility's kitchen. Cooks may gain experience working in school cafeterias as assistant cooks, cashiers or servers. Experience in a school cafeteria can provide the skills to work with students and prepare for the flow of customers during meal times. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, institutional and cafeteria cooks earn an average annual salary of $26,860 as of May 2018.

Career Advancement

Becoming certified through the American Culinary Federation can demonstrate achievement and lead to higher level employment as a chef. The federation offers chef certifications at various skill levels, including a Certified Culinarian designation for entry-level cooks with two years of training and/or work experience. Cooks can also advance to supervisory positions based on their work experience, training and level of cooking skills.

Prospective cafeteria cooks should obtain training in cooking and food preparation, pass state certifications for safe food handling and sanitation and gain related experience in order pursue a career in a school cafeteria, which may be furthered through specific career advancement opportunities.

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