My work days are sometimes very long and it often feels like bedtime the minute I get home. I want to have plenty of time to spend with my birds since that is the highlight to my days. Bird related chores and meal preparation sometimes cuts into our fun-time so I try to get these things done with the most efficiency possible.
I want my birds to have fresh foods everyday, but there are some mornings when I know that I will be running against the clock and 20 or so minutes of washing and chopping just won’t fit into the schedule, especially when the chopping has to accommodate 4 different sizes of birds. These are the days when I have to rely on what I have in the freezer. I try to always have a stock of frozen meals prepared that require only that I remember to put them into the refrigerator for thawing the night before. Not only do these meals offer convenience and big savings, but they add variety to the menu.
15 Bean Soup Mix: In the dried bean section of your supermarket, you will find 20 oz packages of 15 bean soup mixes. It makes an awesome slow cooked soup. Quite often, though, I will buy a package that I use only for the birds. The greatest thing about these packages is it gives me a huge variety of beans in a not so huge quantity – just enough to cook and freeze without any spoilage. The packages contain different kinds of kidney, lima, black, navy, and pinto beans, split peas, black eyed peas, lentils and more. I soak the beans overnight, rinsing a few times before I go to bed and then again in the morning. I fill the pot up with fresh water and cook them for about 40 minutes until they are tender. Small birds have no trouble biting into the whole cooked beans.
Multi Veggie Chopped Mix: You can get really creative with this. With a small food processor and a variety of raw veggies you can make the most nutritionally complete and economical meals for your birds. Simply mince the foods and put them into a fine mesh strainer so that excess liquids can drain out (it will freeze and keep better). There is no limit to the number of veggies you can use in a single batch, in fact, the more the better. Sprouts and cooked grains also mix in perfectly. Try adding parsley, carrot tops and cilantro…use your imagination! The more things you add, the better balance this diet will offer.
The best thing about this mix is that since the foods are chopped so small, they will often eat things they didn’t intend to because the foods will cling to one another, which will sometimes add a new option for foods they will eat and enjoy. And it’s cut small enough to work for any sized birds from a parakeet to a macaw. I have a couple of birds that don’t care for celery, green peppers, or garlic. I don’t add these to the mix, only because they are so strong in flavor that they tend to permeate the rest of the mix and have caused these birds to turn down the entire meal. Sometimes I will freeze these foods separately for those who appreciate them. I know many people who serve their chopped mix everyday. If your parrots love it, it will provide them with a nutritious and varied meal.
Freezing And Thawing The Meals: A Seal-A-Meal type of vacuum sealer works great for these meals, but Ziplock freezer bags work fine too. Since my birds all get fed the same thing everyday, I put enough into each bag to serve them all, but the serving sizes can vary however you need them to. As I mentioned, the dryer the chopped mix is, the longer is will last in the freezer, so drain it well before bagging it.
As long as you get as much air out of the bag as possible. the meals will last 3-6 months in the freezer. The trick is to remove as much air from the bag as possible to avoid freezer burn. Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, bit through the cord of my unplugged Seal-A-Meal a couple of years ago and I have yet to replace it. So I resort to a trick my mother taught me years ago, although, I laughed at the time.
When I was a kid, my parents had a deep freezer, which is a freezer that maintains a temperature below 0 degrees, as compared to the below 32 degrees that regular freezers are kept at. Being one of six kids, my parent learned to shop economically, buying larger quantities of food for less and storing it in the deep freezer. Since, unlike the freezer in the kitchen which was opened and closed constantly, the deep freezer was only opened for the retrieval of food for dinner, and everything kept beautifully.
Long before the invention of vacuum sealers, my mom figured out that the foods kept better if air was eliminated from the bags. I remember watching her process of preparing the food for the deep freeze. She would seal off a plastic bag, except for about a 1/2 inch in the corner, with the edge of a cool iron. Then she inserted a straw, sucked out the air, and managed to seal off the remaining 1/2 inch without letting more air into the bag. Pure genius. Of course, her technique was revised with the invention of Ziplock bags. As much as I giggled at her, it worked, still does. Of course, you have to be careful to suck the air out, and not blow your germs in all over the food!
She also taught me to wash and reuse the Ziplock bags. I go through a number of them, and this alone has saved me a ton of money. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly before your store them for re-use.
Thawing your parrot meals is easy. Just take the bag and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The pieces are tiny and will thaw quickly, even in the fridge, and once thawed they will keep there until you serve them in the morning. Sometimes, I will pop them into the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off. Make sure you stir the mix or beans up well so there are no hot spots.
Less time we spend in the kitchen means more time for fun with the birds!
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.