Healthy eating during harvest can be difficult

Planning and prepping is important to maintain good nutrition during a long harvest season

Avoiding junk food can help maintain energy levels and nutrition during harvest.

Lindsay Boere, a pork producer and cash crop farmer in Parkhill, Ont., says meal planning is especially important during the harvest season because time is in short supply.

“When it’s go time, it’s go time.”

Harvest can mean long hours so adequate nutrition and proper meals are needed to fuel equipment operators and other workers throughout the day. 

Why it matters: Food during harvest season can be a last-minute task, sometimes leading to unhealthy habits and poor nutrition. Proper planning and meal preparation can help. 

For the Boere family, meals are eaten together in the field to limit break time, but increase family time. 

“It’s a big undertaking, a lot of work and a lot of planning, but that’s also part of the experience when you are all standing in the field and everybody’s eating and you’re talking about how harvest is going,” says Boere.

All meals are organized and delivered to the fields by either Boere, her mother-in-law or her brother-in-law’s girlfriend. That spreads the workload and helps get all members of the crew fed at nearly the same time.

“The buggy and the combine are not going to stop twice to have two different people bring food to them. It is a shared responsibility. If one does it one time, the other one does it another time. It’s a lot of coordinating between people to make it all flow nicely.” 

The menu depends on the day, says Boere. When there is a lot going on or food is needed quickly, she says she has no problem grabbing takeout to ensure everyone is fed. However, that can be expensive. 

“[I usually do] a starter, some sort of salad. Then I like to do one main thing and then a couple of sides.”

Harvest can last for two months so it’s important to maintain the nutrition that operators would receive outside that busy season, she adds. 

“That’s how we eat at home and I would like to keep that going in the field. I don’t want it to be a couple of months of binging. It’s important to keep that nutrition part of it.” 

Boere turns to social media for meal ideas and has developed a community with other farm spouses to share recipes during busy times. 

“You can message people back and forth. [I’ve gotten] ideas from a farmer out west. I’ve had multiple times where someone has messaged me and said ‘can you give me ideas for meals.’ It’s a community of people,” says Boere.

It is all part of farming efforts in general.

“Behind every famer there is a team, whether spouse, kids, mom or dad, whoever, that are making sure that they are fed so that they can do what they do,” says Boere. 

For Dan Petker, a cash crop farmer in Port Rowan, Ont., it’s important to keep the “junk food” out of the tractor so he doesn’t eat due to boredom rather than hunger.

“I’m not burning enough calories to afford a whole bag of Miss Vickie’s. It used to be a struggle keeping [unhealthy snacks] out of the tractor. I found I was always snacking on those and I wouldn’t eat the meal that my wife had made for me, and that would be a disservice to her efforts,” says Petker. 

He and his wife use Sundays to prepare meals for the week ahead during the busy harvest season. 

“If we don’t plan and give some forward thinking, direction, a lot of the time we are just inefficient in what we need to get done. It gives structure and helps us stay focused on eating properly.”

Petker brings his experience of working as a cook in a Vietnamese restaurant into the meal prepping.

“A lot of [Vietnamese] food is very quick to make as long as you have some of the basics. Some of these elaborate meals I post on Twitter took maybe an hour of prep seven days ago and 10 minutes to put together. It genuinely is that simple.” 

For the times he does decide to eat out, Petker says he is fortunate to have a selection of restaurants in the area that offer wholesome and delicious options.

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