It’s corn harvest time in the midwest, and that means packed lunches for farmers. The smell of corn is in the air and the first hard frost has covered the fields, gardens, and lawns. Whether it’s fall harvest, making hay, or spring planting, meals for farmers are eaten on the run during field work.
As a seasoned farmwife, I thought it would be helpful to make a list of tried-and-true tractor-friendly meals for easy on-the-go lunches. I’ve also experimented with many ways to package the meals, so check that out.
Thank a farmer!
THANK YOU to all of the hardworking farmers, field workers and their support teams for playing a critical role in the nation’s food supply. Enjoy this list of harvest and lunch ideas to inspire your next lunch-packing session.
Note: in the future I am planning a download of field recipes. Right now, I’m a little busy with the corn harvest!
Easy lunches on the go during field work
Field work often spans several weeks and not always in the most perfect weather. Even though the meals on the run are eaten fast, and the farm workers may seem ungrateful, they really do appreciate the food.
Field work is stressful, and the farmer and his team have other things on their minds, like concerns of how fast they can get back up and going after an equipment break down.
If you don’t have time to read this article, and just want the food list ideas, I’ve provided a free printable download>>>
Cheap lunch ideas for farmer meals
I have slowly come to rely on pre-packaged food for lunches in the field (aka harvest meals). We all know that food prices are going up, and when you buy individual servings, it’s the worst way to “save” money.
My top suggestions for saving money on groceries for harvest meals:
- cook your own meat (roasts, ground meat, etc.)
- make your own real popcorn in a real popcorn maker – it’s a super cheap replacement for those expensive chips!
- bake your own cookies and bars and cut into individual portions and freeze
- serve fruits and vegetables out of your garden when in season
- potatoes make cheap sides
- set a limit to buy the expensive store-bought stuff – when the treats are gone, they’re gone!
My last tip is real, it’s not a joke. Pre-packaged food may save your sanity and time, BUT HIDE IT. If you are really serious about saving money, you must ration food out.
This is REALLY hard when the other family members know that you are holding out on them. I would just fake it and put out two boxes of sweet stuff and act like it’s all that you bought.
I’ve been through several seasons of feeding workers in the field. I swear that those extra treats in the house just evaporate.
Basically, food serves the purpose of relieving stress, as well as keeping energy up for the demanding season. The following lists should get you excited for packing those farmer lunches!
Easy on the go lunch ideas
Here are tractor-friendly lists of food that work well for packed lunches for farmers. None of these necessarily need a recipe. Keep some basics stocked in your fridge and freezer for the season. All of these are farmer approved tractor meals!
Don’t miss the extra commentary below the list. There are additional ideas that will make your lunch more special. Also included are tips for hauling food out to the field and keeping it hot or cold.
FYI, this list is never done. I’ll keep adding when the other things come to me, LOL! If you have some winners, leave them in the comments at the bottom and I can add them to the list.
Remember, if you want a downloadable printable easy-to-read list of lunches, grab it here for free!
Cold lunch ideas for the field
Following are cold lunch ideas, but not just for farmers! Anyone who is unable to heat their lunch will appreciate these no heat lunches for husband, women at office, nurse jobs, teachers, construction workers, truck drivers, and any other profession where lunch may have to be eaten quickly.
BLT sandwiches (bacon, lettuce, tomato)
Chicken salad sandwich
Chicken (broasted, served cold, chicken legs)
Egg salad sandwiches
Ham and cheese sandwiches
Ham, good ham, like Easter ham
Lunch meat sandwiches (turkey, chicken, bologna, deli beef, ham)
Sandwich wraps (deli meat wrapped in tortillas, flatbread, etc. with deli meat, greens, and sauce)
Tuna salad sandwich
The Iowa “Hearty Party” sandwich
Hot farmer meals (or thermos ideas for lunch)
Any farmer would enjoy a hot meal in the field, especially on a cold day. Many cold meat sandwiches can be warmed up for a hot sandwich and still served quickly.
Beef roast sandwiches
Burgers, both hamburger and pork burger (home grilled or picked up from favorite local burger tavern with all the fixings)
Chile dogs (might be too messy for the field)
Ham and cheese sandwiches
Ham, good ham, like Easter ham
Hot dogs, or super hot dogs topped with diced onions/peppers and nacho cheese
Meatball sub sandwich
Philly Steak sandwich (thinly sliced beef topped with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and green peppers and cheese on a hoagie bun)
Puerto Rican Cubans (ham, pork, Swiss cheese on a open French loaf)
Pork roast sandwich
Pork tenderloin, breaded
Pork tenderloin, sliced and grilled
Shredded Pork or Beef with BBQ sauce
Sloppy Joes (Maidrites)
Steak sandwiches (minute steak)
Steak sandwich (Philadelphia type with onions, mushrooms, and cheese)
Sub sandwiches from Subway, or make your ownx
Wiener Winks (hot dog wrapped up in cheese and bread and toasted)
Don’t forget special ingredients like sandwich spreads, condiments, and veggie toppings that all help make a sandwich more fun and tasty!
Keeping food hot in lunch box
There are a few tricks to keeping hot lunches hot. I have to use all the tricks in my bag – sometimes I prepare the food in the morning before going to my day job, or I’m out in the harvest and don’t have time to tend to the food.
Some of my sandwiches are best served warm, especially those with cheese and/or topped with cooked onions and peppers. I wrap them up individually in foil and place in a slow cooker or crockpot. There are two strategies I use when trying to keep sandwiches warm:
Strategy 1: Make the sandwich hot to begin with, then wrap in foil and put in slow cooker or crockpot on “warm” setting. Pack when ready.
Strategy 2: Pre-cook just the meat (like burgers or brats) and put in a slow cooker or crockpot on “warm” setting until ready to eat.
Strategy 3: Use a good insulated lunch box, food thermos, wrap with foil, or wrap with a heavy quilted blanket or pouch to keep hot as long as possible. You can also buy an electric lunch box to keep food warm.
To keep a hot dog warm for lunch, heat it and then place it in a thermos along with hot water. The recipient can remove the piping hot meat for lunch, even hours later.
Strategy 4: Use hot/cold packs for food. I didn’t even know these things existed! They are more commonly called casserole heat packs or hot pack for casserole carriers. Do a search for Pyrex hot pack or Pyrex heat pack (it gets confusing otherwise because you get hot and cold packs for body aches). You can warm these packs up at home, toss them in a cooler (to stay warm). They serve several purposes:
- keep packed lunch warm for lunch on the go
- keep a casserole or other food hot during transport (like to a potluck)
- keep takeout food hot on the drive home
Just a note, if you were thinking about disposable foot or hand warmers, I’m sure they would work in a pinch, but it is always best for the environment to go with a keep food warm solution that will have the longest life span.
Strategy 5: Old time methods, throw in another hot object in with the packed food, like a hot potato or brick from a fire (I’m serious folks, these are methods used in the early days). A hot clay pot keeps food hot longer, in fact, that is where the concept of the crockpot came from. Another “old timer” trick is putting the foil-wrapped food on the engine itself of the tractor or farm vehicle to heat up – it works.
I’ve tried the hot potato trick and it’s not bad. Potatoes can stay hot for a long time. My best advice is to get the food to your farm workers or employees as soon as possible. It is always a challenge to keep the food as hot as I would like.
Optional hot meal ideas for the field
It’s always been challenging for me to bring hot meals out to the field. I’m not short of ideas, it’s just the guys don’t want to stop and eat anything with a fork or spoon.
Piping hot comfort food is still important. When those guys and gals head in the house after dark, they usually have a ravenous appetite. There are other things besides sandwiches that you can feed them.
Because workers do eventually come into the house and sit down and eat, I include a few casseroles. Casseroles are definitely comfort food and welcome during the fall cold days and evenings.
Casserole favorites: Tator Tot, Chicken Broccoli & Rice, Lasagna
Foil packet meals
Hobo dinners are yummy for fall, especially when you have bell peppers, carrots, and potatoes coming out of your garden (this meal includes a raw hamburger patty, bite-size potatoes, onions, and green pepper dabbed with butter and wrapped up in foil packets and cooked on the grill or in oven).
Speaking of potatoes, baked potatoes are very satisfying. I can quickly make them up in a potato bag, or plan ahead and wrap up in foil and cook in a slow cooker. Add toppings that satisfy.
Pizza, pizza, pizza. Order out and pick up to give yourself at least one easy meal. My family makes a quick tortilla pizza. Just add sauce and all the toppings to a tortilla and broil in oven or fry in fry pan.
This can be eaten as is, or rolled up for a meal on the go.
Soups are really hard to serve, it requires stopping (pretty hard for a farmer to do). I’ll still go ahead and make chili, chicken noodle, beef soup. I bought a nice microwave soup mug for myself to take to lunch that I just love, but it’s hard for my guys to slow down to eat soup.
If they would, I definitely would use the soup mug, because they come with sealing tops that clamp on to the mug to make them spill proof!
Snacks for lunch box ideas
This is a bit of a free-for-all here – just like a Christmas stocking stuffer, you want to add a little extra to each lunch for the field. I’ve included healthy snacks along with easy snacks to pack in the lunch box.
Fruits and vegetables
- fresh-cut vegetable medley (broccoli, cauliflower, carrot sticks)
- apple slices, bananas and other fruit
- watermelon slices
- dill pickle spears
- celery with peanut butter or cream cheese
- fruit cups
- sugar snap peas (these are usually just treats during harvest, because I know everyone will eat them)
- Individual chip bags
- ketchup, mustard
- barbeque sauce
- mayonnaise, salad dressing
- specialty sauces
- lettuce, tomatoes, all leafy greens, onions, purple onions
- pickles, onions, etc.
Extra protein for lunch box
- hard-boiled eggs
- cheese sticks, cheese variety* (cheddar, Swiss, provolone, muenster, Velveeta slices, etc.), cheese curds
- meat, cheese, and cracker packs
Cheese variety is as powerful as bread variety for sandwiches. Stock up with a nice selection in your refrigerator!
Side salads for lunch box
- cole slaw
- green leafy salad
- macaroni salad
- jello cups
It is challenging for the guys to eat soup or salad when running heavy equipment. They don’t like to stop and prefer to eat quickly. Soup or salad often take extra time to eat, so I often don’t serve it.
Chips for lunch
Sandwiches are the perfect meal to eat with chips. Luckily, it’s not hard to find assorted variety boxes of potato chips and other kinds of chips for lunches in the field. Sometimes I get jumbo bags of chips and then distribute into smaller Ziplock bags. If I am completely out of chips I will make homemade popcorn and toss a popped bag into the lunch bag.
I like to get both classic chip bags and Pringles snack packs, just to change things up. It’s kind of like a magic trick, getting to whip up a yummy lunch bag with ever-changing goodies inside!
Drinks to pack with lunch
My guys are pretty good with just water. At one time, I carefully filled each water bottle, and then had to retrieve it and thoroughly wash the bottle. I don’t know what I was thinking, with a full-time job, prepping meals before work, and delivering meals to the field after work, I finally started to take shortcuts.
I only buy bottled water for field days. It removes a lot of stress from my routine. On very hot days, the guys may enjoy sun tea (tea made in the sun) or Gatorade. If an employee needs pop, they have to bring it themselves. It’s important to pack extra water and provide water in canteens on the very hottest days.
We try our best to eat healthy – pop is something we limit. Our rule (or should I say “self-imposed” farmer rule) is no beer until the work is done. There’s nothing like a refreshing beer on a hot day, but it can be a real carb-killer, making workers tired.
Once in a great while, I will make ice cream malts for the field. The sugary snack can make people feel tired, but sometimes a hot and demanding day requires it.
Hot chocolate or coffee can be a welcome treat to workers unloading corn on a chilly October night. Weather extremes can vary greatly, so aim to make workers comfortable.
- bottled water
- sports drinks
- ice tea/tea
- hot chocolate
Dessert on the go
In Iowa, it’s apple season when fall harvest comes around. Workers look forward to apple crisp desserts packed with care in their lunches. If it is a particular chilly day (and moods are not the best) lucky field workers will get warm apple crisp right out of the oven.
Bars can be made ahead, cut, and individually packaged and put in the freezer. There is an abundance of prepackaged treats that can be bought from the store, like granola bars, classic Ho-hos and Ding Dongs, etc.
I have tried to resist adding these unhealthy additions to the lunch bag. If you have ever handed a lunch bag over and watched someone check out the contents first, then you know how important finding a treat is in the bag!
If it’s a hot day, the crew qualifies for ice cream treats or watermelon slices!
At times, my crew can get tired of the same old treats. I buy Halloween candy in October and sprinkle it into the bag. You better believe the guys look forward to that!
Snacks for packed lunch
- pudding packs
- individually packaged snack bars
- granola bars/trail mix/nuts
- protein balls
- candy bars (look for big sizes)
- seasonal candy or desserts
- homemade cookies and bars
Bread for packed farmer lunches
Meals in the field means a lot of sandwiches. Just by changing your bread type, the same meals can seem different. There is no excuse for wimpy buns. Eating hamburger buns meal after meal gets boring fast. Remember, those field workers are working hard, and lunch is a highlight for them!
Tips for buying bread & serving sizes
If I do get hamburger buns, and they are small, I may give each person two small sandwiches. Actually 1 1/2 sandwiches is about right. I find that if I can just get one big jumbo bun to begin with, everyone seems satisfied.
Potato buns freeze beautifully, it’s best to freeze them first. I find that the other bun types flake off and turn into a crumb mess in the freezer – not the potato buns. In your stock of assorted buns, you will probably want to use the bakery buns first while they are fresh. If you are serving lunch in the field for days in a row, the other bread can sit out until you use it.
Here are all the types of bread that can make a sandwich more interesting:
- Ballpark hamburger buns
- Brat buns
- Ciabatta rolls
- Croissant rolls (nice for egg/tuna/chicken salad sandwiches)
- Flat bread
- French loaf breads cut in half lengthwise
- Gyros bread
- Hawaiian rolls
- Homemade bread
- Kaiser buns
- Potato buns (these are the best kind for stocking in the freezer, they remain tender after thawing)
- Sliced store-bought bread
- Steak rolls
An extra touch I take for hamburgers is buttering and toasting the buns under a broiler. If you ever wonder why pub and restaurant burgers taste so good, it’s taking the time to do this step.
I’ll buy a nice selection of bread/wraps in the store and put it in my chest freezer. Many times the wraps can go in the refrigerator for a few weeks. I serve the bread fresh when I can, but often have to be prepared to make last-minute meals. I count on a bread reserve and you should, too.
Packaging lunches for farmers in the field
Standard equipment for packing lunches for the field includes:
- a container to carry the food
- plastic wrap, wax paper, folding sandwich bags
- ice packs for lunch bags
- hot packs for casseroles
Packing lunch is an art form, especially for field workers. In my situation, the meal is usually handed off and eaten immediately. There are times that I find myself in the back forty acres, aimlessly driving around looking for guys to serve, and hot lunches are no longer hot.
Having the right supplies can really help in maintaining food temperature.
Containers for food
I have a whole mismatched bunch of small plastic serving containers with lids for the field. Sometimes I will grab empty cottage or sour cream containers.
Hot sandwiches can be delivered in aluminum foil wrap. Sometimes I wrap the package up in wax paper before putting in the foil. It helps to contain the sandwich. I always have a ready supply of fold over plastic sandwich bags. They work for both sandwiches, veggies, and little snacky things. I like them because they are budget friendly.
My mother-in-law used to wrap up hot food in newspapers. Newspapers are awesome insulators. The bonus is that the user can open up and eat the food, and discard or recycle the paper. Just the other day, I grabbed a quilted potato bag and packed a sandwich in it. I couldn’t bear the thought of using another piece of aluminum foil.
As a young girl, I would run barefoot out to the field where Dad was seeding to hand him a thermos of icy cold water in the spring. On humid, hot and sticky Iowa days, it was the same.
Some people use thermoses to keep food hot, like soup. I do not. If I’m trying to keep hot food warm, I may wrap up the whole container with a towel. Some of the disposable containers have insulative properties, like cardboard takeout trays or Styrofoam. I try not to use the Styrofoam because of environmental reasons.
One thing I have learned is to avoid Walmart paper lunch bags. They are miserably weak and tear immediately. These lunch bags are intended for one sandwich and maybe a bag of chips.
One year it dawned on me how budget-friendly and sturdy cheap, fabric bags would be. To be more specific, Halloween bags from the dollar store. They have worked out beautifully! The bags are big enough and strong enough to hold lunch containers and a bottle of water.
Other pluses are that they come with handles and I can hand them up to my husband in the combine or hired help in a tractor and they can grab it easily. The bags wash nicely in the washing machine, too. Sure, the designs on the cheap bags fade off, but that isn’t my concern. I can enjoy several seasons of use.
If I wanted to, I could use my Neoprene lunch bags. Call me greedy, but I don’t want to send them out to the field. I love my Neoprene lunch bags for work, but they are expensive to take out to the field.
If I knew there was a need to drop in a ice pack, or keep a meal hot for a length of time, I would probably invest in them. As it is, my meals are eaten immediately.
Personal size coolers
Companies like Igloo have cute little personal-size coolers. Sometimes we occasionally get freebie coolers and soft-sided coolers as promotions to farmers. For me, my silly little Halloween bags are perfect as an on-the-go lunch bag, I’m happy with them!
Plastic buckets work pretty darn good. If you like ice cream and buy it in buckets with handles, save them for the field. Any worker running equipment can set the bucket down on the cab floor for less awkward handling.
Cooking for a farm crew and farmer appreciation
Feeding field workers and crews
Serving lunches in the field to farmers is only seasonal for me, meaning a few times throughout the farming season.
For others, it’s a solid job from spring until fall. There is a chopping crew that comes to our farm to chop hay and corn silage for our bunker. The crew consists of the two farmers that own the equipment, and a team of helpers that step in to drive tractors.
I have seen some of these meals, and they are all home-cooked (God bless the cook!). This requires a higher level of organization.
Farmer appreciation days
Over the last few years, the local FFA has been delivering sack lunches to farmers. How cool is that? I think it includes a pop, candy, and bar, maybe not a sandwich. I’ll have to circle back and report on that. Anyway, a very nice gesture by the FFA group from the local high school.
Often, area churches will remember farmers during the busy fall harvest with special harvest time prayers. It’s a thoughtful gesture and reminders of taking extra caution to be safe are always appreciated!
Whew! This has been fun!
Out of necessity, I keep fine-tuning my system. It’s a personal challenge to deliver the best lunch in the field I can. I wish you the best with your lunches for the farmers in your life and hope I’ve given you some good lunch ideas!
Remember, if you want a downloadable printable easy-to-read list of lunches, grab it here for free!