Food Writing that Pays Well, with a Nutrition Degree

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Dietician Diane Quagliani started out as a freelance food writer but eventually turned to the corporate side.

At an Oldways conference where I spoke recently, I met a dietician who is also an accomplished corporate food writer, Diane Quagliani. I wondered how her writing work is different from general food writing, and what advantages her degree gives her.

Diane, a registered dietician, has worked for many large food companies including Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Campbell’s Soup, Nestle, General Mills, and many public relations firms. She has also been a freelance writer and media spokesperson. She specializes in nutrition communications for a consumer and health professional audience.

Here’s what she had to say about how her degree as a dietician helps her with corporate work:

Q. What are your degrees?

A. I have three: a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and an MBA. To become a registered dietician, I had an internship and then took a national exam.

Q. How is being a dietician different from being a nutritionist?

A. People call themselves nutritionists who may not have the national credential. Last year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics approved a new option for dieticians to call ourselves RDNs, which is Registered Dietician Nutritionist. “Nutritionist” is the word that people recognize and respond to.

There is also a certification called called a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN).

Q. What does your credential qualify you for as a food writer?

A. I must be a qualified expert in the field to write accurately about nutrition. It helps me understand the complicated science and the contradictory studies about what’s good and bad for you. My goal is to translate what’s going on in nutrition because it’s always evolving. The field is only about 100 years old. I try to bring a practical, clear context for people I write for in terms of “what does this mean to my daily life, for what I put in my mouth?”

Keeping up on nutrition science is what differentiates me too.

Q. You have to take classes, right?

A. We have to take a minimum of 75 hours of continuing education every five years.

Q. Did you see the story in Mother Jones about the McDonald’s sponsored lunch at one of these continuing ed events?

A. There’s a lot of controversy about industry-sponsored events at conferences. But dietitians are a smart bunch, and know how to interpret information and make decisions and judgements for themselves. On the other side, the reason corporate and industry clients hire me as a consultant is that they want to present everything in a scientific way.

Q. What kind of food writing do you do for corporate clients?

A. I do so many different things: Web content, developing a blog, writing blog posts, and developing extensive nutrition education kits for other registered dietitians, like handouts for consumers and a leader guide to go in the kit. I write speeches and develop presentations for other dietitians to give to the public or to present to other audiences.

Q. You’ve also been a freelance writer.

A. I did a lot of freelance writing earlier in my career. I wrote for Meredith cookbooks, such as those related to weight management and diabetes, writing the introduction and giving tips and advice. I also wrote articles on nutrition topics for publications like Better Homes & Gardens Special Interest Publications and Weight Watchers.

Q. Why did you decide to go corporate?

A. The corporate work kept growing, so I went in that direction. I do consumer writing for my corporate clients, which is similar to freelance writing.

Also, while writing is a fundamental part of my business, I also do project management, give speeches, develop and manage professional education programs, and exhibit on behalf of clients at professional meetings.

Q. I assume part of your decision to work with corporate clients is because it is much more lucrative.

A. Yes that’s true!

Q. Do you feel you can charge more because of your expertise as a dietician?

A. If I were writing for a magazine, probably not. But I am a package of skills because I am a registered dietician and a nutrition communications person with more than 25 years of experience, so I make a good living.

Q. How do you charge?

A. I charge based on the hour. Generally it’s the same rate for hourly work no matter what the project. Sometimes I have a day rate if I am traveling to exhibit at an event.

Q. What about recipe writing?

A. I don’t create them for clients. It’s a skill I’ve never acquired.

Q. What advice would give to a food writer who wants to work with corporate clients on writing with a nutritional focus?

A. Some corporate internal dietitians have hired food writers for general articles and web writing. But when it comes to a nutrition focus, they’re going to turn to a nutrition expert who can also write.


  1. says

    Love this post, Dianne. As a fellow RD and food writer, I appreciate hearing about the evolution of Diane’s career. Sorting out fact from fiction in the food world is tricky. And in a day and age when everyone is an “expert, having someone who is truly trained and experienced in interpeting the science and communicating it in a way the public can understand, is a wonderful skill.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks. Having an RD gives you a leg up in our field, Katie, not only as a writer but in terms of credibility. It’s a differentiation factor for sure.

  2. says

    Thank you for this post, Dianne. I have a bachelors in Foods & Nutrition and a masters in Nutrition Education, Yet I am always careful to distinguish myself from registered dieticians. My background, even without the RD, has given me added credibility with food companies over the years, and therefore more work (I think). I just wish more “nutritionists” would clarify whether or not they are RDs.

    • diannejacob says

      Rita, you are most welcome. What is the difference between your degrees in nutrition and a degree as an RD? Those of us not in your field need some clarification.

      You are similar to Diane in that your credentials have helped you get corporate work. You have had a long and illustrious career working with corporate clients as well!

  3. Bette says

    Without divulging this one particular food writer’s salary, I’m curious what “pays well” means! What is an appropriate salary range for someone with this particular food writer’s credentials?

    • diannejacob says

      That is a good question. I read somewhere that if a writer makes $30k per year, that is considered a good income. The bar is set pretty low! I’m sure Diane does a lot better than that, but she would not say.

      • Bette says

        Wow. That is low. I guess I’m doubly glad now that I focused on technical writing — I may be surrounded by geeky men, but I’ve come to love what I do. 😉

        • diannejacob says

          And if you think that’s bad, I saw a story in the Guardian in England that showed the average blogger makes around $2,000 per year.

  4. says

    Great post, Dianne. I’ve got a similar situation. I’m trying my hand at freelance writing, and being a Registered Dietitian is helping in terms of credibility.

    To become an RD, you can go beyond your nutrition degree to complete an internship and pass a registration exam. I think it’s similar to the difference between getting your nursing degree and becoming an RN.

  5. says

    In my long years of working as a Freelance writer, I only few who does the the food writing. I admire them seriously, for it is not that easy to get on the Job they’ve chose since they have different aspects and subject to write on. Wishing to get to know more like her. Keep it up!

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