I see a lot of requests in bird groups and forums all over the web asking for a good recipe for chop. It's hard to give a definite or correct answer to that question because there simply isn't any right way to do it.
(Chop, for those who don't know, is simply a name for "salad" or "mash" as some call it. It usually consists of veggies, fruits, legumes, and grains, or some combination of those. It's a way to give our feathered friends a tasty, healthy variety of good things to supplement their diet. For my crew, it makes up about 30-40% of their diet.)
Another option besides chop is to offer whole foods.
For a long time, my birds would not accept any frozen chop, so I developed this formula to help me stay focused on nutrition without making a ton of food. After a lot of trial and error, they finally started to eat the frozen stuff, and Jingo actually prefers it now when it's still a little frozen vs completely thawed! You can use this formula whether you want a little or a lot.
My philosophy for chop is this: every bite that the bird takes should be meaningful. It should be nutritious. It should be a part of a healthy diet, not a treat. Chop can be as simple or complicated as you want. My basic goals for every chop are:
1 to 2 orange veggies
1 dark leafy green vegetable
2 to 5 "other" veggies
If I am making a bigger batch or feeling more ambitious I also add the following:
Grains and/or legumes
1 fruit, optional
Healthy additions, optional
Let's take a look at these a bit more!
1 to 2 Orange Veggies. Orange veggies are a fantastic source of beta carotene, which gets converted in the body to Vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiencies can result in issues throughout the body, including the immune system, reproductive organs, respiratory system, and digestive tract. While orange veggies are not the sole source of Vitamin A, they are one of the richest, and beta carotene is one of the most readily converted and absorbed forms of it.
Use a Lot of: Carrots, Butternut Squash, Pumpkin, Sweet Potato
Use a Little of: Papaya, Mango, Cantaloupe
Preparation: Beta carotene is easier to absorb when it has been slightly cooked! Sweet potatoes should never be given raw
1 Dark Leafy Green Vegetable. Dark leafy vegetables contain so many vitamins! You can count on fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and calcium in all of them. They pack a nutritional punch that is a fantastic way to get a lot into each bite your bird takes.
Use a Lot of: Kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, broccoli
Use Sparingly: Spinach, romaine
Preparation: Most can be given raw, however all greens contain oxalic acid, which binds to nutrients in the plants that we want to absorb. Oxalic acid is easily reduced by steaming, boiling, or wilting the leaves of any of these vegetables for 5 to 8 minutes. It is best to offer these lightly cooked to get the most benefit from them. Spinach is especially high in this acid so should not be fed raw often.
2 to 5 "Other" Veggies. This helps round out the chop, offering variety while still providing nutrition. An easy and inexpensive way to flesh out the chop is to add a frozen vegetable mix, which usually contains carrots, corn, peas, and green beans.
Great vegetables: Broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas, beet root, bell peppers, hot peppers, cauliflower, ginger, radish
Avoid: asparagus, comfrey, avocado, rhubarb, mushrooms
Preparation: brussel sprouts and other cabbages should be cooked before offering, but everything else can be given raw. Remove leaves from peppers.
Grains: Grains are a great source of many nutrients. Many are rich in proteins, B vitamins, minerals like iron, magnesium and selenium. Whole grains are recommended for the most nutrition. I usually buy a mix of grains and legumes.
Use a Lot of: Quinoa, millet, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, barley, freekah, sorghum, Farro, steel cut oats.
Use a Little of: Brown rice, white rice, quick oats
Preparation: While most can be consumed raw, or even used to help absorb some of the liquid from the vegetables, my birds have always preferred their grains cooked, so that is what I primarily do.
Legumes. Again, I usually buy a mix of grains and legumes to make this easier. Legumes includes green beans, chickpeas, black eyed peas, black beans, lentils, mung, adzuki, etc. Legumes do contain many vitamins, fiber, and are a great source of protein.
Use a lot of: green beans, chickpeas, black eyed peas, lentils, mung, adzuki,
Use only cooked well: Anasazi, Black, Fava, Kidney, Lima, Navy, Pinto, Soy
Avoid: Dry beans of any kind
Preparation: Beans should never be offered dry! They should always be soaked and cooked per the directions as they contain a toxin that needs to be neutralized with cooking.
1 Fruit, Optional. Fruits are also a great source of vitamins and fiber, but they have something that the rest on this list do not: a copious amount of sugar. In the wild, they would eat a lot of fruits, but they would need the energy sugar provided for their long flights through the tree tops. In our homes, birds do not move enough to justify feeding a lot of sugary foods. The less fruit they have to eat, the more room they will have for veggies!
Use a Lot of : Mango, blueberries, cherries, pomegranate, cranberries, papaya, cantaloupe
Use a Little of: Banana, Apple, Pear, citrus, grapes
Avoid: pits and seeds (exception: papaya and melon seeds can be added right to the mix!)
Preparation: cleaned or pits/seeds, and served raw
Spices, optional. Some spices contain components that make them a tasty and healthy addition! I don't always add spices; birds only have about 350 taste buds to our 9000, but they still appreciate a little flavor!
Great Spices to Try: ceylon cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, chili, dill, mint, sage, parsley, cayenne, paprika, anise, fenugreek
Spices to Avoid: cassia cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, onion, leeks, anything with added salt
Remember a little goes a long way!
Healthy Additions, optional. This is not usually part of the larger chop portion, but instead added as a topping to provide extra variety. This can be anything that doesn't freeze well, healthy seeds, or things you want to only feed in moderation on occasion.
Examples: hemp hearts, bee pollen, red palm oil, chia seed, flax seed, extra firm tofu, sprouts.
Remember that some foods are toxic no matter how they are prepared.
Making and Storing
For quick and easy chop, check the frozen section of your local grocery store! Frozen mixed veggies are easy and cheap, making it a good base for most chop. They also are a quick and easy thing to grab if you don't have anything already made. Did you know that frozen vegetables can actually be just as, or more, nutritious than their fresh counterparts? Just make sure that they contain no added salt or seasonings.
Making chop can be just as easy as combining ingredients and serving.
1. Cook anything that requires cooking (potatoes, beans, grains, etc) and let it cool.
2. Chop anything that requires it. Anything larger than a pea, I run through the food processor and pulse to make it smaller.
As for storing, you have a few options:
Make a small batch daily, so no storage needed
Make enough for just a few days worth of food and refrigerate leftovers
Make a large batch and freeze. I like to use snack size baggies inside a larger freezer bag, but you could also put it in an ice cube tray to freeze and then put in another container or freezer bag to store. Basically, you want to store it in smaller portions that last 1-3 days so that it doesn't spoil before you can give it to your flock.
Since I give my chop to both bird and rats, I make a large batch at once. I have found that leaving the frozen components frozen (vs thawing and refreezing) helps cut down on the moisture when thawing. I do pat down veggies, especially the greens, with paper towels before mixing in. A salad spinner would also be useful.
Alternatively, you can mix in some dry oats, grains, or pasta before serving to soak up moisture.
I take out a baggy the morning before I want to serve it and leave it in the fridge to thaw. So when I finish a baggy, I immediately take out another for the next day.
Not all birds take to chop immediately. Here are some ideas to encourage eating.
Serve less, not more. Remember that birds only eat about 15 to 20% of their body weight daily. For Jingo, I usually only give him 1 to 2 tbsp of chop a day because I also want him to eat pellets. If you provide your bird with a large amount of food, they tend to pick their favorites. Offering less may encourage them to eat what they are given.
Eat with your bird. It is instinct for birds to avoid things they don't recognize as food. They learn safe foods from their flock, and in our homes, you are part of the flock! If they see you eat it, it shows them that it is edible and safe. You can also even try just sitting next to them while they eat, as eating is a flock activity.
Vary the presentation. Sometimes they don't like the way things are cut, or the bowl, or the temperature. Try offering it warm, or cold. Try cutting up things in different ways - for example, carrots can be diced, cut into coins, or sticks. Sometimes a new shape will encourage them to eat. Try a plate vs a bowl. Some birds really like to eat veggies on a plate on the cage floor, while others prefer a bowl at the top of their cage! Eventually you will find a willing combination!
Try not letting ingredients touch. Some birds prefer that their food is not all mixed together and would prefer that their carrots and peas don't touch! Try offering a plate with things dividing vs mixed together.
Offer first thing in the morning. Birds tend to be hungriest when they first wake up. Try offering chop as the first meal of the day!
Let them "steal" it off your plate. Do you have a bird that won't eat anything given to them, but will eat anything you are eating? This trick works on Jingo every time! I let him think he is stealing something tasty off my plate, and he will eat it everytime! Stolen food must taste better.
Mix in favorite foods. While they will likely pick out their favorites first, veggies tend to stick to each other in a chop and they may accidentally fall in love with whatever is attached to their favorite food! If nothing else, it makes a positive association that can help bridge the gap.
Make bird bread. You can use a pre-made mix like Harrison's to add veggies to, or make one from scratch using low glycemic flours. Add in veggies and your bird ingests the veggies and hopefully gets a taste for them! This has worked well for me with pellets as well.
Make veggies fun. Put them in a foraging toy, hang them up on a skewer, or weave them through the cage bars!
Try smoothies. Some birds love nothing more than to drink down a tasty smoothie! Take your chop and blend it into a drink and see if they will eat it that way. You can also make it into a puree (think baby food consistency) and feed it on a spoon for a nutritional bonding session,
It will be messy. No matter if they love or loathe chop, it will be messy. This is also natural. One of the things parrots do in the wild is help things in the top of the trees make it to the ground. This feeds the tree itself, as well as insects and animals that can't reach them. It is an important part of the jungle, but unfortunately the behavior comes inside with them!
Patience. It will take time for some birds. Keep offering! If you stop offering, there is no chance for your bird to accept it.
If you cannot get your bird to eat fresh veggies, or you simply have no time for a fresh version, another option would be a dehydrated or freeze dried vegetable mix, either as is or re-hydrated. Re-hydrated would be best simply because pellets and seeds are already so dry. Also, check the label and offer only those that do not contain sugars, salt, onions, oils, or Sulfur Dioxide.
Sprouts are another alternative. Many birds seem to really go for sprouts because they are seed like. Sprouts are super healthy and really easy to make! Store bought sprouts are not recommended as they have a greater chance for spoiling. They can make up most of the fresh food part of your bird's diet.
Cook 'n' serve mixes can also be a good supplement if your bird won't eat veggies. I have found good luck with Higgins Worldly Cuisines, Volkman, and Avian Organics mixes, and usually I can sneak in a few extra veggies without them noticing!
You can also try to offer whole foods instead of chopping to see if your bird prefers that instead!
What does your chop usually look like? I'd love to see it or your birds enjoying their veggies! Feel free to tag me @LilMonstersBirdToys to show me your #veggiemonster!