At the Thornhill Brownridge YMCA Centre, lunch means whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, hearty soups, and healthy takes on classic comfort foods. There’s no mystery to the meat or, for that matter, any of the food that ends up on the plates of toddlers and preschoolers. Just fare with an emphasis on nutrition and flavour.
The made-from-scratch meals are nourishing, but they’re also sprinkled with love. “Everything I cook is made with love, because I adore children,” says Gina, the centre’s on-site cook. “It doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like I’m cooking for my own family.” For the past 8 years, this whiz in the kitchen has used her passion for cooking delicious meals to help young children develop lifelong healthy eating habits.
Gina’s journey at the Y began as a supply child care worker at Brownridge. After occasionally filling in for the on-site cook, she yearned to put her culinary skills and knowledge to good use. So, when the chance to cook full-time arose, she jumped at the opportunity. Since then, Gina has whipped up thousands of snacks and hot meals, influenced by family recipes to feed hungry tummies and minds. Her dishes aren’t only a hit with the kids; parents can’t get enough of them. Every so often, they’ll call up Brownridge with a surprising request: “Can I get the recipes?”
Inside Gina’s kitchen
“The majority of the meals I cook are homemade with fresh ingredients,” explains Gina. Whether she’s preparing whole wheat spinach wraps or her famous meat ravioli with tomato basil sauce, all dishes are well thought out and made from quality ingredients to ensure nutritional standards are met. When planning the seasonal menus, she considers the children’s food preferences and Canada’s Food Guide recommendations. Once complete, they’re often sent to a registered dietitian to review.
And when it comes to preparing meals, Gina has an unwavering belief that food should be fresh from the oven. “I serve the food upon lunchtime,” she says. “I don’t cook it ahead of time and leave it sitting for hours.” Every morning, she’s busy in the kitchen chopping, dicing, and simmering ingredients. Shortly after 11 a.m., lunch is ready and, as Gina explains, it’s “hot and fresh” for the children.
When kids get their lunch, they chow down immediately. From “Mmmmms” to sounds of spoons scraping across plates as children gobble up every bit of food, it’s obvious that the children are digging lunch. “When the kids eat my food and they’re happy with it, that makes me happy,” Gina said, “because they need nourishment to grow and learn.”
The Thornhill Brownridge YMCA Centre is now accepting registrations for Toddler and Preschool programs. Our academically sound curriculum and highly qualified child care educators will provide your child with the foundation for success in kindergarten and beyond. Inquire today!