In the spirit of complete transparency, I’ve never actually considered daycare as a potential child care solution for my child with multiple food allergies. When my son had his first anaphylactic reaction at 5 months old, my mind was made up that no one would be able to prepare food safely or notice signs of allergic reactions better than I could. The many horror stories I had heard from other mothers of children with multiple food allergies looking for allergy-friendly daycares helped validate my thoughts. My decision was made without stepping foot in a single daycare.
Then I met Allison, a mother of a child who also had multiple food allergies, many of which extend past the common food allergens. She had her child in daycare since he was an infant, and she constantly raved about the care he got and the fact that she never had to worry about him while he was there. I couldn’t believe it. I decided that this was something I needed to see for myself.
I visited Campus Coop Daycare with an open mind, but also carried my pre-judgements in my back pocket. It was going to take a lot to change my mind…. And they did!! By the end of my tour and after meeting the team, including Chef Laura Pitchford, I’m seriously considering enrolling my child in Campus Coop Daycare this year.
Virtual tour of Campus Coop Daycare
Located in the heart of the University of Toronto in downtown Toronto, Campus Coop Daycare blends right into its’ surroundings. It’s a nondescript, beige victorian building located right beside the main library of the university. No one could ever guess that a special kind of magic happens behind the highly secured front doors. This “magic” involves a team of caring and open-minded people that create a positive and inclusive space for everyone, including many children with multiple food allergies.
Food and nutrition are taken seriously at Campus Coop Daycare
Once you walk into the daycare, the first sign you see before you’re able to proceed further into the building is “No outside foods please” in big bold letters.
Walk a little further in and before you can get to the toddler room, there is another big bold sign reminding patrons that Campus Coop Daycare is a nut-free facility.
Meet Chef Laura Pitchford
I had the pleasure and honor to meet the multi-talented Chef Laura Pitchford, who is responsible for planning and making the nutritious and delicious meals and snacks for all of the children at the daycare.
Chef Laura has a wealth of experience in food service and special dietary needs, specializing in vegetarian, vegan and raw foods. She began her career in food preparation 19 years ago at Fresh on Bloor, a popular vegetarian restaurant in Toronto, and quickly moved up to Assistant Manager. Laura then went on to food production at Sweets from the Earth, a vegan gluten-free bakery followed by New Moon Kitchen, a vegan nut-free bakery. She also worked at Live food bar, a raw vegan restaurant in Toronto. Most recently, Laura worked as a chef at Lola’s Kitchen where everything is made fresh in house, with no hidden ingredients which allows them to be very allergy conscious and aware of cross-contamination risks.
Laura also has her own personal experience with allergies and specialized diets. She is allergic to shellfish, scallops and clams and had a dairy allergy as a child. Working in a vegetarian atmosphere helped her increase her vegetable intake and discover an appreciation for tofu, which eventually led her to choose a vegetarian diet for 5 years and a vegan diet for 3 years.
Like many great collaborations, Laura’s career started at Campus Coop Daycare as a product of good timing. When asked how she feels about working in this atmosphere, Laura stated “I love kids, and it makes me feel really good to make them high quality food.”
Magic in the kitchen: Food allergy friendly meals
Campus Coop Daycare is a vegetarian facility with at least 9 children enrolled that live with food allergies. Chef Laura admits that “because of my varied experience, it actually feels very easy for me to accommodate many allergies … I try to make things that look similar (for the children with food allergies). I also don’t put ingredients in food just for the sake of adding ingredients,” for example, adding milk to soup just to thicken it.
Avoiding cross-contamination is a major priority in Chef Laura’s kitchen, and taken very seriously by all staff members. To avoid cross-contamination or any errors, things are stored in very different places and bright red labels are placed on everything that is related to food allergies. There is a dedicated dairy-free refrigerator; in fact there is no dairy kept in the main kitchen. Inside the dairy-free refrigerator, I noticed identical containers of soy milk and soy butters which were labelled for specific people. Chef Laura explained that these children had allergies to different foods and this was the best way to avoid cross-contamination as staff could be handling different allergens while preparing individual meals.
All children with food allergies have their own plates, cutlery and cups. There is a dedicated cupboard in the kitchen with labeled baskets, so all dishes are stored separately.
All food from suppliers are verified for cross-contamination at the manufacturer level. Chef Laura is actually in the process of calling individual manufacturers herself to ensure all food is allergy safe in order to source new foods.
Chef Laura also plans the weekly menu. Daily meals are planned to be nutritious, delicious and fun. She is aware of what’s popular with the kids, and will balance the day so that less popular meals are followed by fun snacks. The children are served meals like 3 bean vegetable chili with quinoa and snacks such as blueberries and feta. Accomodations are always made for children with food allergies so that their meals are equally nutritious as the other children. For example, on pizza day, a child with a dairy allergy gets white beans pureed into their pizza sauce.
I happened to be visiting during snack time, so I was able to see their policies in place. Older children with food allergies eat side by side with the other children, but have their own labeled placements. Infants with food allergies have their own dedicated high chairs. Staff is highly involved in supervising meal time, and the eating area as well as all of the children get wiped down and fully cleaned after all meals.
The team at Campus Coop Daycare truly represents a gold standard in child care, allergy management and safe food preparation. Everyone on staff is willing and happy to help make children with food allergies feel secure and included. As a mother of a child with multiple food allergies, I left the daycare feeling very hopeful and positive. It is possible to trust others with the care and safety of your children … it just needs to be right team.
To learn more about Campus Coop Daycare, check out www.campuscoopdaycare.ca