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A couple of years ago, on a flight from Tel Aviv to JFK, I beheld a sight that has been stuck in my mind ever since – a young mother (my bassinet row buddy) trying to pacify her 7ish-month-old baby by sticking an enormous lollypop into her mouth. Yikes.  I mean I know that in Israel people feed their kids Bamba before they can crawl, which is just weird, but I really thought that the lollypop thing was morosely counterproductive.  Under which of the food group categories do lollypops fall anyway? Insert more ranting and raving here. Yup, you guessed it. I don’t give my kids processed sugar.

Some of life’s episodes are simply too precious not to write about, and so before I get started on the obvious topic of what I do feed my children, I just have to tell the story of my trip to Australia earlier this week…

When we found out that my husband would be slumming it in the Holy Land this summer, running back-to-back trips for our IU students, after some discussion we decided that it wasn’t really a viable option for me and and the munchkins to tag along this time. Instead, we figured that it was as good a moment as any for us to go visit Grandma and the rest of the clan in Melbourne. My husband would meet us there after he was done with his trips, and so I would only have to manage the journey alone with my kids one way.  No big deal.  Or so I thought.

Apparently taking a 26-hour trip that included a 4.5-hr flight, a 3-hour connection and a 15-hr flight alone with a 15-month old and a 2-and-3/4 year old is kind of a big deal, or at least that’s what people started telling me. I even started to believe it myself – to the point that weeks before the trip I would find myself lying awake in the middle of the night picturing all the scenarios in which things could potentially go wrong. (Examples – cancelled flights, missing our connection, non-stop screaming kids, delays, lost luggage, a jammed stroller, being suspected of kidnapping and attempted child-trafficking, confiscated/lost blankies – so many possibilities.)

Rather than remain paralyzed with fear, however, I decided to just prepare myself as best I could. I read everything I could find about air travel with infants and toddlers (It’s funny, most of these articles covered the 2:1 parent-to-child ratio, not the other way around, like the concept of one parent traveling with 2 small children was too much for even the experts to get their heads around), went out and bought a new stroller, wrote and revised packing list after packing list and enlisted help getting to the airport since my husband had already left for Israel 5 days before our own departure. I also prayed extensively, had several other people I know pray extensively, and tried to glean bits and pieces of inspiration from Torah wherever I could. For one, the night before we left, I received advice from our Sages via Pirkei Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers) to greet everyone I met with a cheerful countenance.

You gotta love those Sages and their sagely advice. Smiling at everyone from Indianapolis to Melbourne plus all my other planning (especially the praying) really seemed to pay off: Here is some of what happened:

  • Checking in at Indianapolis airport, my two great friends and IU students Leah and Becca who had driven with us to the airport were offered “gate passes”, which meant that they could walk/help us all the way through security and to the gate. Has anyone ever heard of this? This was a massive help, since going through security even without 2 small children, a double stroller and lots of carry-on baggage can be stressful at the best of times.
  • Stepping off the plane in LA, I noticed an airline representative (Eliyahu HaNavi?) holding up a sign with my last name on it. I think it was my last name anyway; there was one letter missing, but who’s counting, right? In any case, we were the last ones off, and there was no one else behind me, and so I was able to enlist this man’s help shlepping my carry-on and wheeling my stroller between terminals 5 and 3 at LAX – almost a mile of walking, I would guess.
  • Next, checking in at the V-Australia counter for our flight to Melbourne, I was sent yet another sherpa to carry my belongings and walk us all the way through security.
  • My flight from LA to Melbourne was virtually empty, and so aside from securing a bassinet for my son, I also managed to have the row behind us blocked off so that my daughter could lay down and sleep more comfortably that she surely would have if forced to sleep sitting up. Generally I’m not a big fan of the exit row, being that there are no seats in front of you under which to stow your bags (and they are therefore up top and out of reach during take-off and landing)  – this and the fact that the armrests don’t budge and the tray tables are really inconveniently located. So this was perfect.
  • Arriving in Melbourne, I was handed my suitcases from the baggage claim dispenser, offered help getting through arrivals, and spared having my bags x-rayed at Customs, even though I declared a bunch of food. (Australian Customs are generally known to be very strict, and most of the time you can’t bring in any food at all.) That was it.

Journey Complete.

So, in short what actually happened? What happened was that out of all the things that could have gone wrong, none of them actually went wrong. The trip at times was even rather enjoyable – we had fun – and it was all such a big lesson for me – not to WORRY! I mean, Hashem is literally always flying the plane!

—–

In terms of food, I wanted to bring a nice selection so that my children would have some of their regular favorites to choose from. I brought:

  • washed, cut up strawberries (our favorite )
  • grapes
  • whole apples
  • oranges (my daughter loves to peel them)
  • cheddar cheese cut into chunks
  • fruit straps
  • cheese crackers
  • Trader Joes’ mini bags of potato chips
  • homemade mini spelt schnitzels (recipe below)
  • mini cups of applesauce

As the trip progressed I gradually threw out things that were getting squashy, crushed or warm, but there was definitely enough to choose from the entire way, and I was even able to supplement with the kosher ‘rolls’ supplied by the airline plus some peas and carrots from the dinner selection that my son gobbled up.

Aside from food, I also brought:

  • coloring books
  • lots of stickers
  • cheap crayons
  • my iPad loaded with 99-cent episodes of Dora, Diego and Sesame St.
  • 2 changes of clothes for each child
  • night-time diapers, wipes, tissues and diaper-sized garbage bags dispersed throughout my 3 carry-on items
  • a bag of ear plugs to share with the people around me, just in case

It turned out I had pretty much everything I needed to get us through, short of enough juice and water which I was anyway able to pick up on my way through LAX.

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I will be the first to tell anyone that I know less than nothing about child-raising. I was in fact so focused only on my pregnancy with my first, that the first night in the hospital after giving birth, I couldn’t believe the chutzpah of the nurses who woke me up to see if I wanted to feed this child.  Hadn’t I just experienced something like a train wreck? Wasn’t I a patient in a hospital? Growing up, I was also never the babysitting-type, and never really super close to anyone with babies or small children.

One thing I always knew instinctively, however, was that I would do whatever I could to raise my children with good eating habits, just as I was. Or try to anyway. And so for the first 2 years of my daughter’s life (and now my son’s), we kept her away from processed sugar. Also no homemade cookies, cake, cupcakes, etc. Nothing. And do you know what? Now, when she sees desserts etc., we don’t make excuses why she can’t have any, or try to deny her what she wants. We let her take one, and she’ll take a sniff or a tiny bite and give it right back or throw it out. She just has no interest. Mission accomplished. For now anyway…

Once I’m back on track with cooking and normal life, I want to add more recipes and meal ideas for healthy, gourmet food that is great on the Shabbos table and that kids love too. Just to get a taste though, here is my very popular schnitzel recipe:

Mini Spelt Schnitzels

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts bashed and cut into strips (veal is also a personal favorite, if you can find it)

For every 1 cup of spelt flour (or any other kind of flour or matza meal that you choose to use):

  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1/4 cup garlic granules
  • 3-4 tablespoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • (Optional: 3/4 cup crushed Walnuts or Almonds)
  • Eggs cracked and beaten into a bowl (amount of eggs depends on your amount of chicken)
  • Canola oil for frying

Method:

Coat chicken pieces in egg mix, then flour mix. Fry in hot oil on both sides until brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels.

Leftovers (if you happen to have any) can be turned into this easy Schnitzel Salad:

  • Sliced Schnitzel pieces
  • Romaine or Iceberg Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber Chunks
  • Mayo, Salt, Pepper and a squeeze of Lemon Juice.

Yum!