I often choose blog topics because of something I’ve recently seen or heard that troubles me. This one is no exception. After talking to a few clients recently and reading comments online, I’ve grown concerned about how Chop Mix is being prepared and fed to companion parrots.
What is Chop Mix, you ask? Chop is a mixture of finely chopped vegetables with cooked grains, cooked legumes and/or beans, and other ingredients. It has been described as an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to preparing supplemental food for birds.
I and others have used some form of the chop mix concept for a couple of decades. However, in the past several years, this form of feeding parrots has gained huge popularity, mostly thanks to the efforts of Patricia Sund and others who have written so widely about it.
I love the concept and recommend it to others. Feeding Chop, in addition to high quality formulated foods, is a great way to get healthy variety into our birds’ diets. It makes conversion to new foods (pellets and vegetables) easier. It is relatively simple to prepare and serve, since it is typically frozen for storage, eliminating the need to prepare fresh food every morning.
So, why my recent concern? I think there are a couple of problems with how Chop is being prepared. First of all, people seem to have gotten the idea that the sky’s the limit – that you can put anything into Chop and the resulting mix be a valuable thing to feed their birds. This is not the case. The nutritional value of Chop is only as good as the ingredients you put into it. Some individuals are adding ingredients that really should not be offered in any quantity to companion parrots on a daily basis.
When I searched for the term “chop mix” as I prepared to write this, I immediately found 21 different websites that all offered recipes for Chop. I stopped counting after two minutes. I found chop mix for cockatiels, chop mix for Eclectus, chop mix for African greys…and the list goes on. The “recipes” were all quite different from each other, as was the advice directed at owners.
On those 21 different websites, I found a lot of strongly-worded, very confusing advice. Some recommend including uncooked grains, which is definitely not a good idea. Grains should always be at least soaked and sprouted, if not cooked, in order to make them more digestible and eliminate the enzyme-inhibitors present. Some people advise adding raw yams or sweet potatoes; others say these must be cooked. Others include vegetable or whole wheat pasta, while their counterparts recommend no pasta at all. Some sites advise the addition of fruit; others warn against this, since it creates a wetter mix. How is anyone to understand that Chop must be prepared conscientiously with all of this different advice floating around?
I see two main problematic strategies being used when preparing Chop Mix. The first recommends the addition of high quantities of carbohydrates to prevent the mix from being too wet. The second involves adding too many “goodies” in the desire to create a mix the parrot will eat.
The creation of a truly great Chop poses one distinct challenge. When you chop up a bunch of vegetables and then freeze them in a plastic bag, the cell membranes of those vegetables rupture, releasing all the moisture that was inside of them. Thus, you can wind up with a very wet mess that your birds won’t eat.
Those dedicated to the Chop concept have gotten quite creative over the years as they have attempted to deal with this inconvenient problem. Some individuals recommend making large batches in the bathtub, advising that this way all the juice will go down the drain, thereby solving the problem. Ahem.
I don’t care how much bleach you might have used, it’s not a good idea to prepare food in your bathroom, no matter who you intend to feed it to. Take it from one who has spent years staring at microbes through a microscope lens. If you need to make a large batch, you can always use large plastic storage tubs reserved just for that purpose.
Second, “all the juice” contains many valuable nutrients. You don’t want that going down the drain. You want to preserve as much of it as possible, hopefully getting it into your bird at some point. So, the second option to which people resort is the addition of dry ingredients that will soak up the moisture. Suggestions for this include pasta, rolled grains, certain seeds and others.
Consider this photo, which I lifted off of the internet. Please ignore the fact that there seems to be a parrot taking a bath in the middle of a bowl of Chop. I want you to look at the ingredients. Can you see how much pasta is in there?!?
That is a problem. You simply can’t add that amount of refined carbohydrates to a mixture and believe that it’s going to be a healthy thing to feed your birds. I have written previously about the dangers of unbalancing your parrot’s diet by feeding high levels of fatty foods and simple carbohydrates in the diet. If you rely on dry carbohydrates to soak up excess moisture, you will have a parrot eating too many carbs in his diet.
I also see folks getting a little crazy with “additions.” I once watched a speaker at a conference prepare a large beautiful batch of Chop. I then watched as she ruined it by dumping in whole bags of nuts, pumpkin seeds, and dried sweetened coconut. “Egads,” I thought. Any parrot eating that mix will be able to load up on goodies and ignore the grains and vegetables.
Chop can be a wonderful supplemental food for parrots…or a nutritional disaster. If we strive for the former, we must embrace the fact that a good Chop Mix must be prepared carefully according to certain guidelines.
First, it should conform roughly to the same percentages of protein and fats as balanced formulated diets contain. This can be estimated by simply looking at it, if you have a fundamental knowledge of the different categories of nutrients (protein, fat, etc) and which ingredients contain them.
Second, the overall percentages of “ingredient types” matters. A good Chop Mix should contain roughly 40% grains, 50% vegetables, and 10% other ingredients. By using that formula you stand a better chance of approximating the protein and fat percentages in formulated foods. You also will avoid creating a mix that allows your parrot the opportunity to fill up on things like coconut, nuts and pasta due to their too-high percentage in the mix.
Third, the quality of your ingredients matters. The grains used should be in their most natural form, as close to their harvested state as possible. White rice and other refined grains should not be used.
Nor should you include white or vegetable pasta. Cooked and/or sprouted whole grains are best. Vegetables must be in their freshest state and washed carefully. Additions to control moisture or create greater interest must be chosen very carefully and used sparingly.
I am not going to provide a complete description here of how to make Chop. You too can Google “chop mix” and find 21 recipes in two minutes. But I do have some tips for dealing with the excess moisture. I will share with you what works for me. I am able to create a mix my parrots love without sacrificing their nutritional status to the carbohydrate gods.
First, do not include:
- Vegetables high in water content, such as cucumber, chayote squash, jicama, celery. These can always be added right before serving, once the base mix has been defrosted.
- Fruit, unless this is freeze dried. Fruit has too much moisture to be included and should be limited in the diet anyway. A few pieces of fruit can be added to a Chop serving right before feeding.
Second, when creating your base mix that you will freeze:
- Slightly undercook your grains, which will allow them to absorb a bit more moisture once mixed with the vegetables. Sample them yourself to determine doneness. The grains should be tender, but still a bit firm. Do not include mushy grains – these will support more bacterial growth and only contribute to your moisture problem.
- Allow the grains to thoroughly cool before adding the finely chopped vegetables.
- Add dry, uncooked pasta that is made from legumes, quinoa, or brown rice. If you’re going to do so, add in a small quantity only. Do not use pasta made from white flour, which includes most “veggie” pastas.
- Add a bag of Trader Joe’s Super Seed & Ancient Grains Blend – this works as well as pasta or better to absorb moisture and adds better nutrition.
- Add raw, uncooked oat groats or a small amount of rolled grains.
After defrosting and before serving:
- Cut a tiny corner off of the bottom of the defrosted bag of Chop. Allow the liquid to drain from the bag into a large measuring cup. Store this in the freezer for adding to birdie bread.
- Add raw hulled hemp seed.
- Add sprouts – these will continue growing slowly in the food dish or refrigerator, absorbing some moisture.
This is the last Chop Mix that I prepared. It is dry, with individual pieces easily separated from each other. The ingredients I used this time included: kamut (cooked with cinnamon), broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, lightly cooked winter squash, sugar snap peas, green beans, red bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, parsnips, yellow squash, zucchini squash, sprouted white winter wheat, sprouted rye berries, sprouted sunflower seed, sprouted mung beans, sprouted lentils, sprouted millet, sprouted poppy seed, sprouted fenugreek, sprouted buckwheat, sprouted sesame seed, sprouted purple barley, corn kernels, 100% lentil pasta, garbanzo beans (canned and rinsed), raw oat groats and raw hulled hemp seed.
Greens and fruit are added right before serving, directly into the dish. This works best since they are such fragile foods.
A final tip: it’s important to limit the size of your servings. You will see that the portion of Chop I provide to my greys, Amazon and Moluccan is relatively small. They each get ¼ level cup of the mix each morning. By limiting the amount served, I further avoid the problem of any bird picking out only what he wants. They are encouraged to eat it all and they still have room for pellets, which they also enjoy. For more information on Chop, please go to Life from Scratch. This article is the best I have ever read about making Chop Mix.
I would love to hear from readers. I’m sure that many of you have better ideas than I do. If we collaborate, I’m sure that the quality of Parrot Chop will only improve for all parrots! Please add a comment to share your thoughts.
Thank you for reading my blog. I am Pamela Clark, an IAABC Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant and licensed veterinary technician. My passion is helping people with parrots. For more information and to access many free resources, please visit me at http://www.pamelaclarkonline.com. Until next time!