By USFRA Face of Farming & Ranching Chris Chinn

It’s back to school time and that means it’s time to start thinking about packing healthy school lunches for my kids.  Like many moms, I am always looking for new ideas for my kid’s lunches but I dread going to the grocery store.  As a farm mom, I am fortunate to have an insider’s view of how food is produced to help guide me through the maze of food labels. 

There are so many food terms out there that it can make a trip to the grocery store seem exhausting at times.  I know many moms struggle with the term organic and whether organic food is healthier.  Organic is just a term to describe the method of how the food was produced, it doesn’t mean it’s a healthier option.  Organic farmers have to follow a guideline set forth by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) when it comes to choosing crop protection products to deter insects and weeds.  Here is a helpful article that explains the nutritional value of organic food is no different than food that isn’t organic. 

Another label that confuses many of us is the term antibiotic-free.  All meat that is purchased at a grocery store, farmers market or a butcher shop is free of antibiotics.  The USDA has very strict guidelines when it comes to using antibiotics on farms.  The meat is tested by the USDA to ensure these guidelines are followed properly; this is an added layer of protection for consumers.  If an animal has been given antibiotics, a farmer cannot let the animal go to market until the proper withdrawal time has elapsed.  As a farmer and mom, I want my kids to have safe and healthy food.   I feed my kids the same pork and beef that I raise for my friends, neighbors and consumers.

No matter what type of produce you may choose for your kid’s lunches, organic or non-organic, always make sure to rinse it before putting it in your child’s lunch box.  At six in the morning, that can sometimes be a step that’s easily forgotten so I rinse all of our produce when I come home from the store.   My daughter loves to eat strawberries and bananas so I prepare several small dishes of sliced strawberries and bananas on Sunday evenings.  This makes packing lunches easier when I don’t have to prepare the fruit in the morning.  I also prepare grapes, carrot sticks and celery ahead of time too to speed up my mornings.  This way all I have to do is open up the refrigerator and grab dishes!  Another time saver for me is to prepare sacks of graham crackers or other bite sized snacks on Sunday nights as well.

My kids also love to have leftover baked ham in their lunches.   Often on Sundays I will bake a ham and I slice the leftovers for ham sandwiches on Mondays.  I love the person who invented the Pack-It lunch bags.  I freeze these lunch bags and it keeps my kids lunches cool until lunch time!  These have been a real life saver for me since my kids leave for school so early.  The Pack-It lunch bags have allowed me to send more fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as ham, without worrying about it spoiling before they eat it!