Layered Fresh Food Mix and Diet Conversion


By Pamela Clark, CPBC

(Last revised 02/08)

This diet has several advantages, not the least of which is that I can feed fresh foods to any number of parrots, while only chopping fruits and vegetables once a week. I originally learned this method from Jamie McLeod in Summerland, California and have modified it through the years.

Once a week, prepare a layered salad mix as follows, and place this into individual plastic containers. For one parrot, you might make three quart-sized containers. For 10 parrots, you might make four gallon-sized containers. For 30 parrots, you might make seven two-gallon containers. It may take some playing around with this before you find the right combination of numbers and sizes of containers to create just enough layered salad to last for 7 days.

Lay out your containers and wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly, drying them before use. Greens should be dried in a salad spinner. To wash vegetables use the Oxyfresh Cleaning Gele or any vegetable wash sold for that purpose.

After washing and drying, chop and place into your containers the fruits and vegetables as indicated below:

Layer 1 (bottom layer) - chopped greens, which are varied each week. Options include collard greens, parsley, mustard greens, Swiss chard, kale and dandelion greens. (If you have only one parrot, or a few parrots, just choose one type of greens, but vary this weekly.)

Layer 2 - chopped (1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes) vegetables, including any of the following: Brussels sprouts, zucchini and other summer squash, jicama, red or green peppers, fresh hot peppers, chayote squash, green beans, fresh peas, cucumber, celery, anise root, etc. If making this for only one to three parrots, you will find that the amount of variety you can include each week in this layer will be limited. Try to include at least five different vegetables in this layer and alternate these each week.

Layer 3 - chopped broccoli and carrots

Layer 4 - a mixture of chopped apples, oranges and whole grapes

Layer 5 - frozen mixed vegetables.

The containers are then covered tightly and placed in the refrigerator (don't freeze).

Issues of freshness: this mix stays fresh in these tubs for up to seven days for three reasons. First, layered salads stay fresher longer. Second, the orange juice from the chopped oranges filters down and slightly acidifies the mix. Third, the frozen mixed vegetables placed on top super-cool the mix immediately. Lastly, the ingredients have been well-washed and dried to exclude excess moisture.

Use: Each morning or as often as you need to, empty out one container into a large mixing bowl, and add other items that would not hold up or stay fresh in the layered mix. Staple items to add each time:

Cooked beans
You can cook a combination of dried beans, then freeze these in appropriately-sized baggies to defrost prior to adding to the mix.
To cook dried beans, soak these overnight in water to cover. Drain them and rinse them thoroughly the next morning. Then, cover them again with fresh water, bring to a full boil and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes until tender, but not mushy. Allow to cool, then drain and freeze.
If creating this mix for one to three parrots, freeze beans in snack-sized baggies. If creating this mix for three to seven parrots, use sandwich-sized baggies. If creating this mix for over seven to 12 parrots, use quart-sized baggies.
You can also simply add canned beans. If you choose this option, vary the type you add from week to week to increase variety.

Cooked grains
A rice cooker is a wonderful appliance for parrot owners. Any grain can be easily and quickly cooked in a rice cooker. Grains to purchase from your local health food store include: quinoa, brown rice, oat groats, wheat berries, hulled barley, and rye berries.
These can be cooked individually or in combination with each other and then frozen in similar fashion to the beans, in the same quantities indicated above.
Adding cooked beans and grains together in the salad is important, since their combination will provide a protein source.

Other fruit in season (blueberries, peaches, plums, kiwi fruits, cranberries, melon, etc).

A small amount of a high-quality, clean seed mix – this should make up no more than 5% of the total mix when finished.

Keep in mind appropriate proportions when creating this mix. I suggest the following: Cooked beans 20-25%, cooked or sprouted grains 20%, raw pasta 2%, fruit no more than 20%, greens 5%, vegetables at least 30% of the mix, seed mix 2% to 5%.

Other items that can be added occasionally for variety include:
Sprouts
I purchase seeds from my health food store and make my own mix, which includes: shelled, raw sunflower seeds, raw buckwheat, French green lentils, sesame seeds, wheat berries, hulled barley, rye berries, and mung beans. These are all about the same size, so sprout at the same time.
I also occasionally sprout garbanzo beans and popcorn, both of which require a longer sprouting time.
The best sprouting equipment is the “Easy-Sprout” system, which can be ordered from www.sproutamo.com.
Uncooked whole wheat pasta
Flax seeds
A sprinkle of pine nuts or walnut pieces
Firm tofu, diced into squares
Corn on the cob slices, quartered
Cooked and diced beets
Dried goji berries (available from the health food store and high in nutritional value)
Scenic Diet Hand Weaning pellets or other pelleted diet (This can be a successful way to introduce pellets to a parrot who won’t eat them.)

Once everything is mixed together, the salad is ready for feeding. I feed a level cup of this to each parrot, along with some type of “extra” – perhaps a nut in the shell or a piece of birdie bread. The remainder of the mix is then placed back into the container and refrigerated for the next feeding. Once mixed together in this way, the salad should be used completely within one to two days. I arrange things so that one tub, after mixing, will be used for three feedings. Since I feed this two times a day, each tub then lasts a day and a half. Don’t be tempted to use a mix longer than two days because it will not stay fresh longer than this.

This recipe can be adapted for any number of birds with a little creativity, by changing either the number or size of the containers used or both. It may take some playing around to find the right-sized containers, as well as the right amount of veggies and fruits to include, in terms of variety – but it will be well worth it. I promise you!

Feeding this salad has several advantages:
It includes a variety of live, raw foods that provide nutrients that are usually destroyed when foods are processed or cooked.
There’s no need to chop fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
The mixture maintains a similar uniform appearance, no matter what you put into it. This helps with the introduction of seasonal foods, such as blueberries that a parrot might otherwise reject simply because he isn’t visually familiar with them.

A huge amount of variety can be achieved. The types of vegetables and greens can be varied each week. Vary the pasta shapes. Substitute other types of citrus for the oranges. Use different types of seed mixes.

This mix is exciting for our parrots, and allows them a true foraging experience. By always seeking to include a wide variety of foods in this mix, we cultivate in them a joy and excitement about eating. It helps to foster great eating habits.

Further, if well-prepared, this mix can be left in the cage for several hours, which isn’t true for cooked foods.

And lastly, seed junkies can easily by converted to a fresh food diet using this mix and a methodical approach, which I have outlined below.

Converting a hard-core seed junkie to a fresh food diet:

1. Begin with four dishes in the cage – (1) pellets of choice (no dyes or preservatives hopefully), (2) a high quality seed mix, (3) water and (4) the fresh food mix into which you have mixed seed. The latter may not be eaten for several weeks. Don’t be discouraged by this. Serve the fresh food mix twice a day, in the morning and in the late afternoon or evening, for the sole purpose of creating a pattern of feeding and allowing the bird to get used to looking at it. Note: the fresh food mix should have a ratio of 50% seed and 50% fresh foods from the recipe above (pellets optional). Try not to provide table food or “treats” between these two feeding times.

2. The day you see the bird exploring the fresh food mix in order to eat the seed out of it, you make the following change: In the morning, you remove the seed dish and have only three dishes in the cage – (1) pellets, (2) water and (3) the fresh mix. In the evening, you again feed the fresh food mix, but give the seed dish back. We don't want a bird undergoing diet conversion to be hungry. A hungry, anxious bird does not make behavioral changes gracefully.

3. The day you see the bird with a piece of fresh food in his mouth, or observe that he has eaten some of it, you eliminate the seed dish completely from his cage and from this point onward you won’t be feeding seed at all, except as part of the fresh food mix. From that point onward, you provide only three dishes – (1) water, (2) pellets, and (3) the fresh mix that is 50% seed and 50% fresh foods.

4. A month later, and on each succeeding month, you decrease the amount of seed in the mix until it is down to only 5 % of the mix. So, for instance, if you remove the seed dish on February 1, then on March 1, you will begin to feed a mix that is 40% seed and 60% fresh mix. On April 1, you will begin to feed 30% seed and 70% fresh foods. And so on.

5. Be sure to purchase a gram scale and weight your parrot regularly, especially when undertaking any diet conversion. Contact your veterinarian if weight loss occurs.
An excellent discussion of parrot nutrition, as well as this and other recipes are available on the DVD "Feeding Our Parrots Well with Pamela Clark, CVT and Kris Porter" which is available for purchase at: www.parrotenrichment.com.