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Serving: IL
pot of taco soup Charlyn Fargo
TASTE OF FALL: Soups like this taco variety let you fix them ahead of time and eat around the table — or the tailgate.

Hearty harvest around table or tailgate

What’s Cooking in Illinois: A home-cooked meal may be the best thing for your harvest crew — and family. Enjoy this recipe at the table or tailgate.

Most farmers are heading into the busy harvest season, and it would be easy to give up on family meals because of the long hours and crazy schedules. And yet, this is the time good nutrition and family meals are needed most. You just don’t get the same nutrition from fast food as you do from a meal made at home, even if it has to be delivered to the field.

Growing up, family meals happened every night — despite chores, school activities and homework, and my parents’ work schedules. Living in the country, it wasn’t an option to run into town for a meal. “Town” was a half-hour away. My parents only went out on an occasional Friday night with a few neighboring friends, and when they did, it was a big deal. We stayed home with a babysitter and had a TV dinner.

In my own family, that pattern has been harder to accomplish. Do we work more? Is it just easier to eat out? Are my kids involved in more activities? I’m not sure, but I do know it’s worth taking time for family meals.

The goal is to have at least a couple of meals at home together every week — or find time to deliver a healthy meal to the field during harvest. Planning is the key: Use your crockpot, take a day to make meals ahead, and write down a few favorite meals that will work in the field.

Here are a few reasons to take time to eat as a family, no matter the time of year:

Better for kids. Kids and teens who share meals with their family three or more times per week are significantly less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthy foods and less likely to have eating disorders, according to a 10-year study on the protective role of family meals in the Journal of Pediatrics. 

Better mental health. With each week of shared family meals, adolescents are less likely to show symptoms of depression, less likely to use and abuse drugs, and less likely to engage in delinquent acts, according to a study on family dinners and adolescent health in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Healthier eating habits. Adolescents who participate in even one or two family meals per week are less likely to be overweight or obese in adulthood compared to adolescents who never participate in family meals, according to an article in Public Health Nutrition.

Better nutrition. When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all.

Just how can you juggle farm and family life? Get a plan. Think about putting on soup in your slow cooker before you start the day, add a slice of whole-wheat bread for the dinner table and toss a simple salad. There are plenty of containers to take it to the field, if you must. Or make a layered jar salad (in an easy-to-transport Mason jar) to take the field. Mom used to take slices of meat loaf, steamed vegetables and apple muffins for dinners in the field. She’d also make Italian beef in the morning, let it cook all day, and serve it on hoagie buns with a relish tray and a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

Her secret was to make lists: grocery lists, meal planning lists and what-could-be-made-in-advance lists.

Then, take the kids with you to the field to have supper with Dad. Call it a picnic and turn it into a little family time where, in this busy season, they get to spend time with Dad. Some of the most important conversations occur right over dinner, even if that’s on the tailgate of the pickup truck.

Here’s a take-it-to-the-field meal that’s quick to make. Serve it with a simple salad and corn chips. Transport it in a thermos or in a traveling slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Taco Soup

1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 (16-ounce) can chili beans, with liquid
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, with liquid
1 (15-once) can whole-kernel corn, with liquid
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (low-sodium)
2 cups water
2 (14.5-ounce) cans peeled and diced tomatoes (low-sodium)
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chili peppers
1 package taco seasoning mix (low-sodium)

In a medium skillet, cook ground beef until browned over medium heat. Drain. Place ground beef, onion, chili beans, kidney beans, corn, tomato sauce, water, diced tomatoes, green chili peppers and taco seasoning mix in slow cooker. Mix to blend and cook on low setting for 8 hours.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 3 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber and 500 milligrams of sodium.

Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at charfarg@aol.com.

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