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A herd of Derting beef cattle in a field at sunset

From the Ranch to the Dinner Table: Exploring Beef’s Sustainable and Nutritious Role in Family Meals

Hear from a rancher and nutritionist

Finding the ideal nutritional balance for growing children is something that all parents have on their minds. With so much information available, sometimes it can be overwhelming. Simply put, a well-balanced diet should be the priority.

Beef is an excellent source of protein and provides 9 other essential nutrients for an active and healthy lifestyle for the whole family, but is it healthy and sustainable? We spoke to a Washington rancher about her passion for sustainability and a Seattle-based nutritionist about what choices she makes for her family and clientele.

Meet a Local Washington Rancher

Nicole Derting with her husband and children. She and her husband run Post 5 Cattle Company.

Nicole Derting with her husband and children

Nicole Derting is a rancher and a mother of four. She and her husband run Post 5 Cattle Company in Central Washington. Raising a family in Ephrata comes with the beauty of watching her children grow up in wide-open spaces while learning the ropes of ranch life. Their oldest is currently learning to drive the tractor in a straight line to help feed their cattle. It’s also approaching calving season, which is a favorite for all her kids. It’s the time of year when the herd has most of its baby calves.

Nicole and her husband are passionate about sustainability and ensuring their ranch works with nature to care for the land and their animals. In addition to working on the ranch, Nicole works as an organic crops inspector and consultant. This gives her a unique perspective and allows her to build relationships with farmers throughout the PNW, leading to new ideas and continuous learning.

Sustainability and Raising Cattle

The top priorities for Post 5 Cattle Company are the health and well-being of the cattle they care for and a responsibility for the environment and natural resources involved in raising beef cattle. They have seen firsthand how cattle can help regenerate the land, sequester carbon in the soil, and make use of resources that would otherwise go to waste1,2.

90% of the food cattle eat is forage and plant leftovers that humans can’t consume but cattle can turn it into high-quality beef3,4. Using these products as feed saves them from heading to landfills. Nicole works with local farmers and regional brokers to repurpose distillery grain, apple harvests, and other excess crops. Their location in Grant and Yamika counties puts them in close proximity to the source of a lot of this food, making it easy to transport feed to their cattle.

Post 5 Cattle Company also uses their herd to help local farmers in Central Washington. From November until May each year, the cattle eat the crop residue, like plant stalks, leaves, and seed pods, left in the field after harvest. In addition, they partner with farmers to plant brassica mix between regular farming cycles to help with crop rotation and restore necessary nutrients to the soil. It is a mutually beneficial partnership. The rest of the year, the Dertings’ cattle spend time near the Canadian border on remote forest lands where they coexist with many native plant and wildlife species. They graze on land that cannot be developed, preserving valuable ecosystems, and they clear out the high shrubs, which helps with fire suppression.

By focusing on sustainability, ranchers can ensure the health of their cattle and the land they inhabit while also helping others in the community. This value is held not just by the Dertings but by many cattle producers who implement similar practices in their unique environments throughout the country.

How to Incorporate Beef on Your Family Table

A well-balanced diet is essential for feeding your family. In addition to being a protein powerhouse, beef provides a combination of iron, zinc, choline, and B vitamins5, which are essential nutrients required for growth and development6,7,8. We spoke to Seattle-based registered dietician nutritionist Marissa Beck, MS, RDN, who emphasized balance in diets and the importance of enjoying food. With her Seattle Nutrition Counseling business, Revv Health, Marissa helps families find sustainable, joyful and health-focused lifestyles. She says that beef is easy and approachable for any cooking comfort level.

Marissa Beck, MS, RDN of Revv Health

Marissa Beck, MS, RDN of Revv Health, a Seattle Nutrition Counseling business

According to Marissa, “Sometimes we forget that all foods can fit into a healthful diet for the family, and beef is no exception—I love that it is a good source of iron and protein, which is important for kids’ growth while being delicious, easy to cook and versatile for a variety of meals.”

One fantastic recommendation from Marissa was to add deconstructed meals to your family’s weekly meal plans. A deconstructed meal empowers kids to make their own food decisions as you’ll lay out all the ingredients and allow them to build their own plates. Beef is a perfect pairing with many different types of produce, making it a versatile option for these dinners. Taco night is a favorite for Marissa’s two daughters. You just need to cook one pound of ground beef with some taco seasoning and then choose which vegetables and toppings to include. Invite everyone to make their own tacos. This will allow even the pickiest eaters to find a combination they are excited about.

Back on the ranch, Nicole is no stranger to busy schedules with kids in sports and managing the ranch business. She loves making a beef roast for those busy weeknights. It’s an underutilized cut of meat, but with some simple seasonings, it can cook in the slow cooker all day and be ready to eat when the family gets home from activities, work, and school. She finds different recipes online to change up the seasonings but loves the ease of having a meal cooked without much hassle.

What Parents Should Know When Shopping for Beef

Whether you’re inspired to try a new beef roast in the crockpot or grab the supplies for your taco night, there are many ways to source beef for your family. Ranches like Post 5 Cattle Company across the U.S. provide the beef you enjoy, all while caring for the environment and making more with less. A whole, well-rounded diet is what is important for healthy families. Enjoy your food and create good habits. It’s possible to find ease and convenience while also putting a balanced meal on the table for your family.

Sources:

  1. Johnson, R.L., et al. 2020. Evaluating Ecosystem Services: Value and return on investment of conversation easements held by the California Rangeland Trust. California Rangeland Trust. https://rangelandtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/ESS_Executive-Summary_Corrected.pdf
  2. Brunson, MW and L. Huntsinger. 2008. Ranching as a Conservation Strategy: Can Old Ranchers Save the New West? Rangeland Ecology & Management 61(2): 137-147.)
  3. Broocks et. al. 2017b. Corn as Cattle Feed vs. Human Food. Oklahoma State University. https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/corn-as-cattle-feed-vs-human-food.html
  4. Baber, J.R. et al., 2018. Estimation of human-edible protein conversion efficiency, net protein contribution, and enteric methane production from beef production in the United States. Trans. Anim. Sci. 2(4): 439-450.
  5. Agarwal & Fulgoni, 2022; Cashman & Hayes, 2017; Phillips et al., 2015; Snetselaar et al., 2004; U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central, 2019b
  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. fdc.nal.usda.gov. NDB#13364
  7. Savarino, G., Corsello, A. & Corsello, G. Macronutrient balance and micronutrient amounts through growth and development. Ital J Pediatr 47, 109 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13052-021-01061-0
  8. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov

About the Author

Steph Gregerson