There's high demand for health care cooks in Moose Jaw and the surrounding area.

In response, Saskatchewan Polytechnic has developed a Health Care Cook certificate program in partnership with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

"The program is specifically designed to train cooks to work in the Saskatchewan Health Authority. They're going to learn general cooking skills along with a lot of other things that will be useful for their career like menu planning, nutrition, kitchen operations, those kinds of things," said Leanne McFarland, program head for Sask Polytech’s Food & Nutrition Management and Health Care Cook programs.

The program trains students how to modify diets to meet specific texture and nutritional requirements related to medical conditions.

"That's really key, is these cooks understanding the nutrition side of things and particularly the special diets that a lot of patients are going to be on," added McFarland. "They have diabetes diets and renal diets. There's a lot of specialized diets that it's really important that cooks understand how those diets are going to positively affect patient outcomes."

The SHA also recently undertook an initiative to learn about local Indigenous foodways and how the organization can better address the health and healing needs of Métis and First Nations patients, clients and residents through food.

"They have particular diets that they would prefer to follow the food that they are familiar with that they are used to," said McFarland. "It's not just necessarily Indigenous patients. We're a very multicultural province and so our students learn a lot of knowledge about Indigenous meal planning and multi-cultural meal planning and how to slowly start to incorporate these foods into hospital menus so that they're pleasing for everybody who is there."

The initiative was made possible through support from a team of SHA partners, including First Nations and Métis Health and patient family partners.

The SHA provides 75 hours of work experience for all students enrolled in the full-time certificate program.

In addition to the full-time program, SHA employees can apply to receive credit towards the Health Care Cook program for their practical experience through Prior Learning and Recognition (PLAR). Through PLAR there are options for SHA employees to learn virtually, which allows them to continue working in their home community.

The 39-week full-time course is currently being offered in Moose Jaw (24 seats) and Prince Albert (12 seats). The program runs from September to June. This is the second year the program is being offered.