Picture it: It’s Day 3 of March Break, and you’ve exhausted your staycation ideas (and patience). You consider the usual suspects: the movies, the museum, etc, etc… but the thought of fighting crowds and wading through a sea of highly excitable children makes you slightly less enthusiastic. And, with the kids at home now, you realize that you already need groceries mid-week.
If you’re lucky enough to live in the Greater Toronto Area – or if you’re a short drive away – here’s how to kill two birds with one stone. Presenting the perfect staycation idea plus a wonderful way to complete your grocery shopping…
It’s Toronto’s crown jewel of food stores – Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Now you may be thinking, seriously Lena? What could my kids possibly get out of visiting a grocery store? Well, simply put, Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens is not just any grocery store.
Says Loblaws: “Witness the amazing 18-foot high wall of cheese. Revel in the bounteous takeaway options of the Fresh Food Hall. Buy chocolate chiselled by the chunk, explore a variety of tea from around the world and see sushi creations made to order before your eyes. Breathe in the smell of good things baking. Peruse a huge selection of sustainable seafood, ogle meat options beyond compare, and choose from our freshest produce.”
I had the wonderful opportunity to tour the store yesterday with Chef Mark Russell, Executive Chef at Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens, and Nema McGlynn, In-Store Dietitian. (Yes, being a blogger is a really cool gig.) The purpose of the tour was to identify food superstars and ways to make new and exciting healthy choices – and trust me, I’ve got more than enough products and tips from Chef Mark to share in another post – but during the tour, it suddenly became apparent that shopping at Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens is the perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon with your kiddos during March Break.
How so? Let me count the ways….
1. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Browse through sugary concoctions that are sure to please the child in all of us. (Just don’t touch the 3-ft Easter Egg – it’s kind of a big deal!) The Patisserie also features a mouthwatering selection of cakes and cupcakes, ice cream cakes, cheesecakes, donuts, muffins, Bruce County Fudge, chocolate pops and so much more – including their famous handcrafted chocolate, lovingly made with natural ingredients. Choosing a sweet treat is the perfect reward for well-behaved shoppers, so admire the goodies as you come in, but save the prize for the end. My pick? The delectable macarons ($2.60) or a luscious maple bacon donut ($1.29).
2. Greens Galore
There’s a school of thought which states that children who are involved in purchasing foods such as fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat (and enjoy) them. Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens is the perfect place for an education in produce; with unique and hard-to-find varieties from all over the world, introduce your children to exotic mushrooms, purple cauliflower and my personal favourite – the watermelon radish.
Above: A recommendation from Nema – the Gourmet Grape Tomato Trio, and kid-friendly Mini Cucumbers from Chef Mark. Once your cart is topped up with veggies, don’t forget to stop by the juice bar – where you can grab a freshly-prepared juice to go, or have one prepared for you on the spot.
3. The Answer to the Dinner Dilemma
“What’s for dinner?” takes on a whole new meaning when you literally have every protein at your disposal. Both my little guys would take an irrational interest in the seafood section – especially with all those fish eyes staring up at us. And how many supermarkets boast a raw shrimp and fresh oyster bar? None that I know! Simply scoop, sauté and serve… dinner in a flash.
Above: I’m most impressed with these handy little meal-starters I found in the freezer section; from Marina Del Rey, why not tempt your family’s taste buds with these seasoned, healthy fish portions – ready in 8 minutes. Varieties include Mediterranean Salmon, Teriyaki Salmon, Orange & Mango Tilapia, Curry Basa and more. Below, Nema shows off one of her favourite PC Blue Menu products: Wild Hoki Skinless Fillets. (Sustainably sourced wild hoki is a delicate white fish with mild flavour and a flaky texture.)
Of course, not all kiddos adore fish, and most tend to gravitate towards chicken or beef. Speaking of beef – need inspiration for tonight’s meal? Take a peek at one of the flawless cuts, or kick-start your meal with a marinated filet or flank. Have the kids pick out their favourite flavour combination, and bag it to go!
4. The Wall of Cheese
Fact: There is only one wall of cheese in the GTA, and it resides at 60 Carlton. At a towering 18 feet, the wall of cheese is quite a sight to see! Featuring an extraordinary selection of cheeses available by the full wheel, half wheel or chunk, you can have a piece of cheese cut specially to size if you like, or even get advice from one of the in-house cheese specialists.
Says Loblaws: “We carry a wide selection of unique and exciting varieties that cheese lovers won’t be able to resist. There’s the sensational 100-pound wheel of Stilton, for example – one of only 100 in the world. There’s also dripping Brie, pungent blue cheese, razor sharp cheddars, and the rare artisanal Louis d’Or – the Quebec-made Grand Champion of the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. All in all, Loblaws boasts over 400 varieties of cheese from around the globe, with a special focus on local Canadian products. Some of these are made as recently as the same day, giving you an extraordinary opportunity to savour the freshness!”
March break is the perfect time to drop by with your mini cheese lovers to experience the scents, textures and tastes of decadent cheeses. Both my boys are quite addicted to Applewood Smoked Cheddar – and, while once difficult to find, Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens boasts 3 varieties. Experts are on hand to dole out advice, suggestions, and of course, samples! And don’t forget to grab a container of Parmesan crisps – they’re the ultimate luxury snacking food, or perfect crushed on salads.
5. Pack a Perfect Picnic
So what do you do when you’ve got the freshest, most delectable foods at your fingertips? Pack a perfect picnic to take back home, of course! Kids will have such a great time selecting their own fruits, vegetables and prepared salads from a vast selection of bright and colourful produce.
Et Voila! The very best way to treat your children to new experiences and get your grocery shopping out of the way this March Break! Special thanks to Executive Chef Mark Russell and Ms. Nema McGlynn for the most satisfactory supermarket tour, and for sharing their knowledge and time.
Did I mention that throughout the tour, I placed some amazing food items in my cart? I’ll be back with a review of the products I selected (and those that were suggested by Chef Mark – thumbs up on the PC Black Label Hatcho Miso Marinade! Thank you!).