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Healthy food for busy families

It looks like a normal kitchen. But it isn't. And it is not because it is located within Downtown Days Daycare, and so is filled with a cacophony of joyful, young voices.

It looks like a normal kitchen. But it isn’t.

And it is not because it is located within Downtown Days Daycare, and so is filled with a cacophony of joyful, young voices.

This is an organic kitchen. Just look over the shoulders of Echo Johnson, as she makes fruit cups, and you will see the proof.

First of all, of course, they are organic fruits. And there are three different fruits in today’s cups.

“Contrasting colours, too,” says Johnson. “It makes it look pretty.”

She is chopping away with a knife while her mother, Lynda Peters, who co-owns It’s Lunch Time! with her, is in the other corner of the kitchen making croutons.

The two are making organic bagged lunches to be dropped off at Whitehorse schools in just three more hours.

Parents place their orders a la carte style through their website - - and then look forward to at least one morning a week that they do not have to bag a lunch for their children.

So, that is a lot of fruit cups that need to be prepared ... and a lot of chopping.

Isn’t there a machine that can do that for you?

Peters answers for her: “There is an artisan factor to this.”

“It’s nice to know someone made your lunch,” Johnson adds. “It’s home made.”

She stresses the word, “home,” to underscore her meaning.

The fruits were bought the day before for freshness. But some fruits keep for a while, so they can still shop for bargains.

“The mangoes cost $4 each,” says Johnson. “But they look so good.”

But none are from Mexico, says Peters.

“Mexico has some of the least-regulated produce out there,” Johnson explains. “But we do get organic tomatoes from Mexico this time of the year.

“I just trust the higher powers that it’s good.”

That is the frustration faced by anyone wanting to eat organic: Are some manufacturers just jumping on the bandwagon? Can government inspectors be everywhere? Is an organic option even available sometimes?

This is why It’s Lunch Time! promises parents that they will provide organic or “the most natural and/or local ingredients of the highest quality.”

For instance, says Johnson, “it is hard to find organic cheese in the quantity we need, and the price is outrageous, so our cheese is Canadian and no modified milk ingredients and no colouring.

“It is the best you can get without going organic.”

This is important, according to a $25-million study by Britain’s Newcastle University, sponsored by the European Union. Researchers found that organic food has up to 40 percent more cancer-fighting and heart-beneficial antioxidants - 60 percent more in organic dairy products.

And organic foods are more nutritional, equaling an extra serving of fruit and vegetables each day.

This study contradicts some other studies, including one by Stanford University, that shows organic and non-organic foods have identical nutritional value. When it comes to pesticide, which has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, researchers found organic foods have only 30 percent less detectable pesticide levels.

Still, for Johnson and Peters, organic meals are the best they can offer: “I am a firm believer that nutrition is a behavioural modifier for all of us,” says Peters.

“The better we eat, and the more thoughtfully we eat, the healthier we are.”

This devotion to healthy food means grocery shopping in all of the city’s stores.

Peters holds up a small container of pumpkin and sunflower seeds: “The only place you can get them is Riverside Grocery. We roast them in organic canola oil and put on some chili powder and salt.

“One child always orders a couple of them to bring home to his mother.”

Meanwhile, the croutons are almost ready for the oven. Peters has finished cubing the ends of the homemade organic bread loafs, lightly peppered them and is now pouring on butter -“real butter,” she points out.

“It smells really, really great; and all of the kids line up to get one,” says Peters.

“We brag about having the best-smelling daycare in town,” adds Johnson.

“The Safety Network, upstairs,” says Peters, looking up toward their upstairs neighbours, “eat your hearts out.”

Johnson laughs, and then admits, “We just turn on the air exchanger and the smell goes straight up.”

For those who are keeping track, you can count the number of ingredients in those croutons on one hand.

“The food is so basic,” says Johnson. “To people, that tastes so good; it is real stuff; it seems to make all the difference.

“The teachers who buy it (at the schools they deliver bagged lunches to) just rave about it and give us really good feedback.”

Besides school lunches, they offer catering services - birthdays, weddings, funerals - with the same philosophy of good, simple foods.

“We did Mardi Bras,” says Peters. “It was awesome.”

“There were 300 people there,” adds Johnson. “They had called us because they were looking for healthy options.”

Johnson and Peters pick up their coffees - organic blends from Bean North - and ponder the bigger questions.

“I keep wondering what is so special about this,” says Johnson.

“We are foodies,” answers her mother.

“Yeah, we cook like this at home all of the time. This is not special to us.”

The two of them hope that parents will educate themselves about nutrition because it is so important to the development of their children.

Johnson is close to finishing her diploma in advanced nutrition. She hopes she can then speak with more authority when she says things like, “Don’t feed your child a Nutri-Grain Bar and think it is healthy because it says ‘Nutri-’ on the package.

“Read the label; see what’s in there. You might as well give them a chocolate bar.”

“Unless it’s dark chocolate,” chimes in Peters, adding, “We have one of the highest ratios of two-job families here, and fast food restaurants thrive on them picking something up on their way to another activity.”

“Look at me,” says Johnson, “I have a job, three kids who are uber-involved, a husband, and I work out.

“I can do it.”

Darrell Hookey is a freelance writer living in Whitehorse.