Recipes for Make-Ahead Meals Feed a Crowd

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Fields may serve as the busiest location on a farm during planting in the spring and harvest time in the fall. But you’ll find plenty of work happening in the kitchen as many take part in the tradition of taking meals to the field during these busy seasons.

Farmers don’t have time to “run into town” (as my father would say) to eat. When I was growing up, my mom – and every other farmwife – would pack the picnic basket for lunch and many evening meals.

My mom would often make her friend Betty’s chocolate sheet cake ahead of time. She’d freeze leftover roast to use later in her version of roast (egg) salad sandwiches. And she’d balance it with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, such as her green bean salad. She’d bring it all to a nearby field where my father and his helpers planted and harvested. And yes, she usually prepared enough for an army of workers. She would load the trunk or the back of the station wagon, laying down blankets to keep the Jell-O salad from sliding or the potato salad from spilling.

Of course, you don’t have to come from a farm background to relish the experience of trying to feed a group on the go. Whether on a tractor or a tailgate, at a picnic or a potluck, these recipes for “field meals” cater to hungry crowds.

Many of these may require a fork, because believe it or not, farmers do get tired of sandwiches. Those who operate tractors or trucks generally have moments to stop and eat. In fact, it reminds them of the importance of taking a break – and helps a farmer slow down enough to do just that. Accidents happen when farmers don’t take a break.

Joanie Stiers, our Prairie State Perspectives contributor and farmer, experiences this same ritual for her farming family. She ranks barbecued meatballs as a field-time favorite. This recipe makes a large quantity, so she freezes extra meatballs in foil pans for a future meal.

Stiers also shares her recipe for homemade dinner rolls, which can be made using a bread machine. “If you have young kids or grandkids, give them some dough to shape when you roll it out,” she says. “We have baked plenty of bread over the years that resembles teddy bears and caterpillars.”

Just before suppertime, she places them in the oven, and soon the fresh-baked aroma wafts through the house and into the car to take to the field.

Whether that’s a cornfield or a soccer field, these recipes will satisfy hungry appetites.

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