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Farmers feed America — and the world — but what are those farmers eating when they’re stuck in the cab of a tractor or combine raising that food?

Once upon a time, field work stopped at mealtimes and workers came to the farmhouse for a cooked dinner. Those days are gone. With fewer farmers growing on more acres, there’s no time for pausing to eat.

Nowadays, farmers are looking for cab cuisine — something to eat with one hand while the other one stays on the steering wheel. Farmhands want tasty. Farm cooks want quick and easy.

Kristin Grumbine, along with husband Darren and teenage sons Dakota and Dalton, farms nearly 700 owned and leased acres. Kristin’s often the one piloting big equipment through the fields; she’s also in charge of cab cuisine for the whole gang.

Kristin notes the ideal cab cuisine allows you “to grab a bite, but be able to set it down if you get to the end of a row” and need both hands to steer. For herself, “I like crunchies when I’m in the cab.” That means raw veggies like carrots, celery, broccoli and cauliflower along with things like peanuts and pretzels. She also enjoys grapes and mandarin oranges.

Her guys are fans of handhelds such as sandwiches made from cold cuts at lunchtime or hot sandwiches holding burgers, chicken patties, hot dogs or cheesesteaks in the evening. As for drinks in the fields, water or iced tea with a lid that can be screwed back into place works best.

Wrap It Up

Dakota Grumbine spent last summer out west with the Wolgemuth custom combining crew. Eric and Emily Wolgemuth, a farm couple from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, have been combining wheat throughout the grain belt since 1983. Emily’s role involves providing three meals a day for a crew of eight.

After serving breakfast in the trailer that’s home base, Emily sets out the crew’s make-it-yourself lunch choices, including meats, cheese, peanut butter and jelly along with breads. Speaking recently from Crowell in west Texas, Emily noted, “This generation, they like wraps,” so she now includes soft tortillas among the sandwich-making options. Other lunchbox items include Slim Jims, pudding or fruit cups and cookies.

Emily typically brings evening meals to the fields, featuring hot foods like casseroles or meat and potatoes. Dakota recalls fondly the evenings when they had “big subs”, cheesesteaks or pizza, adding, “Whatever they brought, I ate.”

Has Emily ever made any dishes that didn’t get rave reviews? She indicates the crews rarely complain, but sometimes her husband tactfully says, “You don’t need to make that again.”

Advice on Nutrition

Cab cuisine needs to be nutritious for busy days that often extend well after the sun sets. Dietician Gayle Hoffman has advice to keep farmers on their game during hours behind the wheel of a tractor or combine.

She notes a male of average height and weight needs 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day, of which 60 – 80 grams should come from protein to provide a day’s worth of energy. Hoffman suggests a tortilla wrap with shredded spinach, tomato, onion, a little mayo and 2 ounces of thinly sliced turkey or ham as a nutritious hand-held. A pickled red beet egg or pre-peeled hard-boiled egg offers quick protein. Celery filled with peanut butter works, too.

Hoffman recommends going easy on salty snacks like chips, pretzels and nuts, which can cause water retention, especially for someone seated long hours in an equipment cab. The resulting swelling of ankles and hands can cause discomfort. Likewise, she’s not a fan of caffeine or carbonated beverages—stick with ice water, flavored waters or herbal teas, but keep restorative sports drinks like low-sugar Gatorade G2 handy if a trip outside the cab into the heat results in light-headedness.

Cooking instructor Debbie Hartman offers smoothies as a creative way to get a thirst-quenching protein fix using dairy products. Find recipes on-line at sites like https://food.unl.edu/my-favorite-smoothie-one-easy-recipemany-variations, which use a blender to combine milk or yogurt with fruits to make refreshing shakes that stay cold in a thermos for easy sipping.

Thinking Outside the Lunch Box

When planning cab cuisine, try thinking outside the lunch box. Using picnic food, snack and appetizer ideas keeps cab cuisine interesting. Mix things up beyond white bread to include whole wheat or rye, burger rolls, pretzel rolls or soft tortillas. Hoffman suggests pita pockets as another convenient way to keep sandwich contents from going astray during one-handed dining.

How about bite-sized chunks of cheese or slices of Lebanon bologna spread with cream cheese and rolled up? A hotdog is more enticing when prepared as a pretzel dog or corndog. Granola bars, string cheese, an apple, orange slices, melon chunks are other good choices. Or offer a snack bag of “gorp”—mixing equal parts of semi-sweet M&M’s, raisins and dry roasted nuts. Cab cuisine can be fun, tasty and nutritious.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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