Ottawa

Feeding tiny diners for almost 40 years

Sylvia Simpson, 65, has been preparing snacks and hot lunches for her tiny clients for almost four decades at the Centretown Parents' Co-operative Daycare.

Menu has changed, but kisses and hugs make for yummy benefits

Sylvia Simpson, 65, holds a picture from her early years working at the daycare. ((Hallie Cotnam/CBC))

Sylvia Simpson, 65, has been preparing snacks and hot lunches for her tiny clients for almost four decades at the Centretown Parents' Co-operative Daycare.

On any given day, she prepares a variety of meals and modified dishes for sensitive stomachs — including vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free and sometimes no eggs.

She loves the challenge of finding new recipes for special diets, but it is a big difference from when she started decades ago.

"Oh my goodness — we were allowed to have peanut butter in those days."

So why has Simpson stuck with her job, which she admits is far from lucrative?

"There are not that many jobs where somebody will give you a kiss and a hug when you come in in the morning. Or would you want them to. But they do here. And that's a good way to start your day."

Simpson still has some of the same utensils she started with 40 years ago. ((Hallie Cotnam/CBC))

Enjoys looking for new recipes

Simpson remembers the day she first walked in. She was a believer in the co-operative model, which values each staff member equally. As a single mom, she appreciated the benefits of the unionized shop.

"There are intangible benefits to having a job that you love. I think that my health has been better as a result. I think my attitude has been better."

Simpson's kitchen is in the basement of the daycare. Above her, she hears footsteps.

"Actually sometimes they sound like elephants up there … especially if they're jumping and dancing."

She still uses the Moosewood Cookbook, with "hippy-dippy" recipes that call for a lot of brown rice. But now her repertoire has expanded, including dishes such as a potato pancake recipe that calls for chickpeas, tamarind, and date sauce.

"It gives them a little taste of that Indian spice."

Menus have changed over four decades, and many of the kids have food allergies or sensitivities, but Simpson enjoys finding new recipes that fit the bill. ((Hallie Cotnam/CBC))

'It's snaaack'

The kids call her Sylvia except for the littlest ones.  

"I was bringing snack up regularly to the infant room and when I would arrive the staff would say, 'it's snaaack' and so the kids started calling me Snack."

This September, Simpson will mark her 40th anniversary as the chef at the Centretown Parents' Co-operative Daycare. She expects there to be a celebration but hopes she doesn't have to make the cake.

At 65, will she continue? Or hang up her apron?

 "We'll see. I'm not quite ready to give it up yet but I'm getting there."

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