On July 20th, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting one of the most prolific bird bloggers on the internet, the wonderful Patricia Sund, who came all the up to Maryland to lead a Phoenix Landing class on how to make “Chop”.
What is Chop?
Chop is a feeding concept Patricia has been advocating for on her blog for years, which calls for mixing a healthy variety of “real”, fresh, nutritious and flavorful foods in large batches, bagging portions to freeze, and then thawing and feeding the mix daily for as long as it lasts before making more.
“Chop is a concept, not a formula.”
The idea is not just to provide healthy foods to our companion birds but to do so in a way that’s easy and stress-free (because if it’s not easy, few will stick to it).
Patricia started this feeding method because she found that cooking for her (then only) parrot on a daily basis was just too time consuming! And since she traveled a lot and relied on friends and neighbors to come feed her bird (now birds) while she was gone, it also wasn’t feasible or realistic to ask other people to prepare parrot meals from scratch twice daily. Chop was the solution to all that.
She blogged about her process and was overwhelmed by the positive response — the idea really resonated with other bird owners who felt guilty about not feeding more fresh food or were overwhelmed by the task of preparing or cooking food for their birds all the time.
Since then, she’s become a vocal advocate for the Chop concept, touring the country to visit bird groups and show them how it can simplify everyone’s life (but she’s quick to point out that she didn’t invent the concept, she’s just working to popularize it.)
A Master(chef) Course in Chop!
Her visit to Maryland is just one of many such workshops she gives every year. I showed up to class to see two huge tables covered with ingredients that we were going to use. Many of the ingredients came from a regular grocery store run from the day before, but quite a bounty came from the garden of Laura Ford, Phoenix Landing’s MD education coordinator.
The cornucopia of ingredients we were going to use in that day’s Chop batch included (but was not limited to): kale, jalapeno peppers, spicy Thai peppers (dried) jicama, turnips, parsnips, yellow beets, several types of sprouts, green beans, boiled popcorn, quinoa, dried seaweed, dandelions, kamut, tri-colored pasta, carrots, carrot tops, sweet potatoes, ginger, dehydrated zucchini, oatmeal… that’s just what I remember off the top of my head.
That’s a lot of food! By making BIG batches, you could get a much bigger variety of ingredients into the Chop, she explained. Plus, the bigger the batch, the longer the batch will last (which means less work for you!)
But along the theme of keeping things simple and stress-free, Patricia reassured us there is no set list of ingredients or lengthy set of rules about what goes into Chop.
“It’s your chop, your way. It works behaviorally for humans.”
If you live in an area where fresh, organic produce isn’t available or is prohibitively expensive, don’t sweat it! Non-organic food is fine. So is frozen. In fact, she says, frozen food is often (and counter-intuitively) fresher than fresh produce since food distributors flash freeze produce within hours of picking, whereas fresh produce is often shipped across the country in the back of hot trucks and sits around for days before it’s purchased. The take-away: don’t feel guilty about using frozen and non-organic produce in your Chop if you need to!
“What do you put in Chop? Four things: What’s fresh; what’s available, what’s in season; what’s cheap. That’s what birds eat in the wild”
In the wild, parrots eat what’s around and in season and takes the least amount of work relative to what they get out of it. So if you follow that concept and feed what’s fresh, what’s available, what’s in season and what’s cheap, you have the ingredients for a successful Chop. (And no, candy covered millet is not what we mean by cheap and available!) By buying what’s in season, you take advantage of abundant items, which saves a lot of money.
But obviously, while there is no true “formula” there are still some best practices around the concept.
What you will probably need:
- A food processor
- Large mixing container
- Sealable plastic baggies
- Veggies, including the dark leafy kind and root vegetables
- Grains, sprouts, spices, peppers
- Essential oils
- Optional: “treats” for picky eaters, like boiled popcorn, cooked whole-grain pastas, chopped nuts, tiny bits of flavor to entice the palate (like a smear of salad dressing, peanut butter, millet) to sprinkle on top.
- Do NOT feed your birds: mushrooms, onions, avocados, rhubarb.
“Tip: keep your cooked ingredients like pasta, kamut, quinoa slightly undercooked because they’ll absorb more moisture once they’re in the Chop.”
Patricia quickly put all the attendees to work (no PowerPoint slides for this class!) cutting, chopping, and mixing.
One of the tricks for a a great Chop is to make sure you don’t puree the food. Chop should be chunky, with pieces that stick together but still retain their unique taste. Aim for raisin-sized chunks to give your birds the “illusion of choice” so they feel like they can identify and pick their favorite ingredients in a mix, but get healthy bits sticking to each beakful they grab.
While some volunteers were cutting, chopping and food processing, other volunteers started mixing the ingredients that were already done. We started with all the dry ingredients in two huge Rubbermaid containers first. Once the dry ingredients were thoroughly mixed, the “wet” ingredients were added.
The dry ingredients absorb some of the moisture of the cooked foods and fresh veggies. It’s important to keep the Chop as dry as possible, so it doesn’t get gross.
Once all the ingredients had been thoroughly mixed, it came time to bag everything. Proper storage really is key. Do it incorrectly, and all that work will have been in vain.
Patricia showed us how to portion out small amounts of food into Ziplock baggies. One to two days worth of food — depending on the size of your flock and each birds’ appetites — went into each bag.
(If your bird isn’t used to fresh food, start with 2 tablespoons until only a tiny bit is left. If they lick the bowl clean, add a bit more food until they’re sated. If they don’t touch it, you don’t want to put too much out or it’ll just spoil and go to waste. A tiny bit leftover means they got enough to eat. Also note that Chop isn’t meant to replace high-quality pellets and that Patricia’s birds all have access to pellets throughout the day and eat Chop for breakfast and dinner. Depending on ambient temperature and humidity, fresh foods can be left out for a couple of hours before it needs to be thrown away.)
Once the portions are in the baggies, it’s very important to remove the air before sealing them. The small bags were then put into bigger Ziplock bags. All the air needs to be squeezed out of the bags because they are going into a freezer and air in the bags leads to freezer burn.
Once everything was bagged, everyone got the chance to take home our collective Chop creation. Patricia declared our Chop a great (colorful, fragrant and tasty) success! Pounds and pounds worth of yummy Chop — and through some wonderful, fun team work we managed to make all of that in less than two hours. It was so much fun, people talked about hosting Chop parties in the future.
A big thanks to Patricia Sund for taking time out of her schedule to show us how easy and not-at-all-intimidating making Chop can be! You can be sure you made a bunch of converts out of the attendees, who will go forth and spread the gospel of Chop.
p.s. During the event, Patricia shared lots of fun stories and anecdotes and providing some tidbits of info about different kinds of foods and what they might be good for. I won’t get into all of it here because you can find more details on her blog.