Shortcuts for snacktime? Yes, please! Join us for a behind the scenes look at how we prepare, store, and use fruits and vegetables for dog foods in our mixed feeding plan. As part of updating our post on our dogs diets to reflect Humphrey’s dietary changes, I wanted to add to our collection of tips and tricks in the Pet Chef Help series. After years of experimenting and adjusting, bulk prep is my current favourite way to have a ready-use supply of options. It’s a quick and easy way to consolidate prep and easily add variety to food or treats. It’s handy for human snacks too, or you can share! Let’s hop into the kitchen (and the freezer) and go behind the scenes with Dalmatian DIY.
Can Dogs Eat Fruits and Vegetables?
The short answer to that is usually yes, but not all fruits and vegetables are safe or suitable for dogs. Even with dog-friendly fruits and veggies, some may not be suitable for certain dogs due to diet, health, digestion, or taste and texture preferences. We talk more about individual factors, digestibility, and food safety in our post on fruits, veggies, and herbs for dogs.
Some raw feeding advocates are against adding fuits and vegetables to dogs diets, but many other pet advocates argue that including a moderated about as food or treats can have excellent potential health benefits. Just like for humans, vegetables contain lots of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, phtyonutrients, antioxidants, etc. that can be beneficial for our pups. They’re also often recommended additions to Dalmatian diets as low-purine foods that can help with the movement of urates and/or help to counter balance urine acidity in a meat-based dog diet. For some dogs who can’t have bones, crunching can be a great treat for teeth. Humphrey loves gnawing carrots.
Although dogs in the wild (or wild dogs in my garden…) will self-serve snacks like berries, these are usually small quantities compared to the animal food sources a wild dog would hunt or scavenge. In a prey diet, the carnivore would get the benefit of partially pre-digested plant matter with their food. For modern domestic dogs, feeding foods like raw green tripe provides some of the same benefits. Preparing their foods for easier digestion is another way to help their digestive process and boost the nutrient availability.
Making Fruits and Vegetables Easier to Digest
Anything that breaks doen the structure of the plant matter will help make it easier to digest. This can include cutting, cooking, freezing, or fermenting, but beware! How you prepare your food can also alter its nutritional content and might take away from the value of feeding it.
Cutting up the food shortcuts the process of chewing and digesting into small particles, breaking down the food for easier digestion. The smaller the chop, the bigger the shortcut. Pureeing is my go-to method for preparing raw foods or further processing cooked foods, if needed. I used to shred thinking that the texture would be more pleasant, but for Humphrey pureeing suits him best. It’s quick and easy to do with a food processor, and works great for my go-to method of storage and use. More on that below!
Cooking breaks down the plant matter, making the foods softer to eat and easier to digest. But it can also significantly alter the nutrients, especially if you boil the food in water where soluble nutrients can leach out during cooking. If you’re cooking just for digestibility, a gentle method like lightly steaming, can be a good compromise. Some vegetables need to be fully cooked prior to feeding, like pumpkin, some varieties of squash, sweet potato, and similar. Dry roasting and then freezing is my favourite way to prep these types of foods.
Have you ever noticed the difference in texture between fresh food and defrosted frozen food? Freezing can also break down the structure of food. For juicy plant matter like many fruits and vegetables, the expansion of water during freezing ruptures the cells. I freeze most of our fruits and vegetables for storage after preparing as above, so they get a double dose of softening methods before serving.
Fermenting begins the process of metabolising the food before it enters the digestive system. Microorganisms like bacteria or yeast culture and ferment the food, making it easier to digest and contributing their own probiotic qualities to the digestive system if consumed. Be aware that dogs might dislike the tangy taste, or the microorganisms used for fermenting might not agree with sensitive pups. I don’t ferment any fruits or vegetables for our dogs, but I do make yogurt and kefir.
The Benefits of Bulk Food Prep
Preparing foods or groups of foods in bulk is a great way to consolidate the activity and the clean-up of processing foods, and create a convenient ready-use supply of foods. I’m not likely to pull out the food processor to puree a small batch of fresh veggies every day at 6am, but I’ll happily spoon some defrosted puree out of a container in the fridge. It’s also a great option to use available garden produce, seasonal market foods, or shop for deals in bigger quantities or at sale prices. Reduce waste, save money, and snack well. Winning!
Bulk Food Prep for Small Quantity Use
When I first started experimenting with different options for meal toppers, we prepared everything together in bulk and consolidated all the prepared foods into double doggie bags for the freezer. This was convenient for batching, but restrictive on end use. Everything was bagged together all at once, without the flexibility to add foods easily between batches or use prepared food separately. When we transitioned Humphrey to a completely new feeding plan, the toppers we wanted to use also changed. This was an ahha opportunity to completely change up the way we prepped foods and added variety to his mixed feeding plan.
Preparing Individual Foods (or Food Combinations) in Bulk
Individual foods (or food combinations) are prepared in bulk, but not all at the same time. I do this ad hoc whenever we’re running low on favourites, or when I have foods from the garden or shopping that need to be processed. Pureeing fresh raw produce in the food processor (affiliate link) is the go-to for most foods, either as a single ingredient or a blend of complementary foods. For things that are roasted, I’ll do a whole squash or pumpkin in the oven and then cut or cube it into smaller portions.
Freezing for Free-Flow Ready-Use Small Quantity Storage
The workhorse of my kitchen are silicone ice cube trays (affiliate link). They’re my go-to for freezing purees, mashes, as well as dog-friendly stock, bone broth if it doesn’t fully gel, and heaps of other foods. My favourite ice cube trays have bases that make the floopy silicone easy to move and position in the freezer, but filling on a cutting board works well if yours don’t have bases. Once frozen, I transfer the cubes to sturdy ziploc bags for free-flow storage. They’re easier than individual bulky containers for my limited freezer space, andI can see what the cubes are by colour for quick access. The sturdy bags get washed, dried, and reused on an ongoing basis so it’s still low waste storage. When needed, I use a big container without a lid to help corral bags together for better freezer organisation.
Defrosting for Meals (or Treats)
I transfer cubes (and other frozen dog foods) into small jars to defrost in the fridge on a rotational basis. This is usually just enough for a day or two, so there is always freshness and variety in our toppers. The glass jars are dishwasher safe and cycle through cleaning and use.
Using Different Dog Food Toppers
Moderation and Balance
I’ll be adding the update to our dog diet post in follow-on, so you can check out all the details on our evolution to the current mixed feeding plan there. Unless you’re using the toppers as part of a balanced home-prepared diet, they’re extras with your complete and balanced commercial foods so moderation is important to make sure the overall diet stays balanced. The right type and combination of dog food toppers will depend on your individual pup, just like all aspects of their diet. Foods, including toppers, need to be purchased, prepared, and portioned to that specific dog’s individual needs, health, age, and activity level. Toppers are a bit like treats in the overall balancing act. The common dietary recommendation is to make sure that at least 90% of the days calories are coming from complete and balanced foods (95% for puppies), with the remainder as a small allowance for toppers or treats.
Top Notch Toppers
In addition to home-prepared fruits and veggies, as above, there are lots of other options for dog food toppers. Not up for homemade? Short on space? Special doggy diet? You can buy ready-made toppers and sprinkles, combine compatible foods for added variety, or add other dog-friendly ready-to-use foods and supplements. Combining complete and balanced food in the daily diet is a good way to mix things up with less stress about the balance, as long as you make sure you have the total calories right. Humphrey’s current diet has a lot of different rotational foods and add-ins as part of our effort to try and help him with special health issues (keep your fingers and tails crossed for us please, pups and peeps).