Food For Savvy Family Travel

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14 Aug 2008

My younger sister and I still talk about our first family trip to Miami when we were in our teens. We were traveling from Winnipeg with its frigid, frosty temperature of 40 degrees below to the sunny south. As soon as our car turned the corner, we immediately declared, “We’re hungry! When can we eat?”

My mother reached into the overstuffed cooler that she had packed with 40 sandwiches for our trip. She always made 40 sandwiches for any trip we took because she didn’t want anyone to be hungry!

Her standard selection included corned beef and pastrami sandwiches with tomato (my father’s favorite), salami (everyone’s favorite), egg and olive (Mom’s favorite), and chopped egg with green onions (my favorite). She sometimes included sandwiches with cold sliced hamburger or chicken, once again with tomato slices – Mom wanted to be sure we ate our vegetables. Salmon salad sandwiches with sliced cucumber and onions were often included, but rarely tuna – no one in our family liked tuna very much.

Mom also packed apples, oranges, bananas and of course, a selection of homemade cookies such as her komish broit, kichel and chocolate chip cookies. Cinnamon buns were another big favorite with our family. The sandwiches lasted for nearly 2 days and luckily no one got food poisoning with the lack of refrigeration! Memories of that terrific trip still linger in our collective memories.

In the summer, we usually traveled to a rented cottage at the beach but that was a short trip, only 50 miles away. It seems like my mom took our whole kitchen in the car! Our beach cottage had no running water and no refrigeration but there was an icebox and a wood stove. There was no shortage of fresh pickerel from the nearby lake, fresh vegetables and fruit from the local farmer, meat from the kosher butcher and we ate to our heart’s content. Friday nights my father would come by train for the weekend and we would often go to the local boarding house where we would have a beautiful Shabbos meal served by Mrs. Chmelnitsky in her white-clothed dining room. We would enjoy her gefilte fish, crusty challah, chicken soup with luscious homemade lokshen, plump potato knishes and succulent roast chicken. I can still remember the taste of her fabulous food even though more than half a century has passed.

Today travel is somewhat different, but some things remain the same. When I asked some of my friends what they take with them on their family travels, they told me that they usually pack an insulated bag with bagels and cream cheese or tuna salad, or assorted sandwiches such as chopped egg, cheese or peanut butter. Deli sandwiches are a favorite for a meat meal, with sliced deli turkey or chicken offered as healthier choices, sometimes done as a wrap. Juice boxes and concentrated juice containers can be frozen to act as ice packs and then the defrosted juice can be enjoyed. Veggies often include baby carrots, cherry or grape tomatoes and miniature cucumbers packed in ziploc bags – moms still focus on getting vegetables into their kids! Chocolate chip cookies are always a favorite, along with fruit – apples, grapes, bananas, plums – and individual containers of yogurt.

Yesterday, my son Doug and his family drove from Montreal to Toronto for a family visit. Of course, their cooler was jam-packed with food for the six-hour trip along with freezer packs to keep everything well-chilled. They packed an assortment of sandwiches, frozen salmon patties for fussy 3-year old Sam, baby food for 1-year old Zak, bagels, potato chips, fruit (blueberries and raspberries for Zak), carrots and cucumbers (for Sam), chocolate Danish and poppy seed cookies (for everyone), plus baby bottles, juice boxes, bottled water, cottage cheese, yogurt, plastic cutlery, wipes – and a bag of salad greens that my daughter-in-law Ariane was certain would spoil before they returned home in 4 days!

So my refrigerator is now overflowing, especially since I cooked in advance so I would be able to spend more time having fun with the kids rather than spending time in the kitchen cooking. If they had traveled by plane, I’m sure the cost for overweight baggage would be more than the price of the airline tickets!

One of my clients, a food writer with 4 young children, recently traveled to visit her parents at their cottage for a month. Luckily, her mother had a well-equipped kitchen so she only had to pack for the road trip. They left late in the afternoon, taking tuna sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, juice boxes and assorted fruit, along with books and games to keep the children amused for their 10-hour trip. When I spoke with her the other day from her parent’s cottage, she told me there is one small Kosher grocery store nearby so she’ll be able to pick up the ingredients she needs for the food photography for an upcoming article. The joys of a working vacation!

If you are traveling to a rented cottage or apartment, there are additional challenges to consider. My friend Denise Levin once rented an apartment in Israel for 2 months and luckily her Israeli neighbor lent her some pots and a frypan when she arrived. Denise had shlepped everything else with her and said it was “a pain in the neck!”

Organization and advance planning are the keys to having a happy holiday, so it’s a good idea to keep an updated list from one year to the next. Here are some helpful tips to help simplify things so that you will really have a holiday when you arrive at your destination!

Chaim Schneider shared his story of how he was traveling before Shabbos and was in heavy traffic on the way to Rhode Island, more than an hour away. There was no way that he, his wife and five month old child would arrive before Shabbos for dinner. They spotted a hotel in Connecticut, pulled off the road and quickly found a supermarket.

Chaim told me “It’s simple to find Kosher food if you’re not too picky. There are name brands and fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere. We bought the basic necessities and some candles and found a package of Kosher Kaiser rolls. Luckily, we had two bottles of Kosher wine with us. We lit Shabbos candles in our room, used the rolls and wine and had a lovely Shabbos!”

He recalled Yeshiva days when students were not allowed to cook in the room and no cooking utensils were allowed. Rumor had it that students would double-wrap kosher pizza in heavy-duty aluminum foil and put it in the clothes dryer to heat up. Fifty cents got you a hot pizza!

Safe travels and happy holidays. Enjoy…

Norene Gilletz is a cookbook author, cooking teacher and food consultant based in Toronto, Canada. Her latest book is “Norene’s Healthy Kitchen”(Whitecap). For information about her cookbooks, cooking demonstrations and culinary services, call 416-226-2466 or visit her website at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.