Real Food For Healthy Dogs & Cats

WHY MAKE YOUR OWN FOOD?

 It’s possible to buy commercial fresh frozen foods for your animals. Frozen raw pet food is one of the fastest growing segments of the pet food market. Some products are truly excellent, made by careful people who have given a lot of thought to the product. Others are poorly formulated with the same sort of ingredient manipulation seen in other pet food products (bony carcasses instead of muscle meat, higher fat ingredients instead of more appropriate lean ones). Why would you want to make food yourself if you can buy good products? Making food for your pet is no small undertaking. Our culture is geared toward speed and convenience. The time it takes to prepare food can be considerable, but there are excellent reasons to make food for your pets.

  • You control the quality of ingredients and the recipe

 when you make your own food. Pet food companies assert that they use top quality ingredients and claims of “organic” and “human-edible” may be true — or not. For example, when you see cantaloupe on a label, does this mean a lovely, ripe piece of cantaloupe, or does it mean rinds left from the preparation of pre-cut fresh grocery store products, or whole cantaloupe with rinds? Cantaloupe rinds can harbor molds, fungicides and pesticides. For the manufacturer, these options represent lower production costs. For you, it’s not such a good deal. Fat is another concern. When you make your own food, you know the fat level. Labels give the percentage of fat as aminimum. It could be more, and there is often variation between batches. These are just two examples of many concerns. 

  • Fresh food tastes better

and is more nutritious. Food you make is always fresher than food you buy already prepared. Several of our dogs who leave commercial turkey food sitting in the bowl became fans of turkey when we started to make it ourselves. Why? Was that commercial food “bad?” We don’t think so. It was just not as fresh. It’s still nutritionally balanced and ok to eat (though there is some nutrient loss in storage), but it doesn’t taste as good. The long-term storage of commercial food affects nutrients enough that it’s worth making your own food if you can find a way to fit it into your life.

  • You can save money.

Using the ingredients we specify and shopping carefully, your cost will be 1/3 to 1/2 what you would pay retail for similar frozen pet food products . If you use whole chickens and obtain a grinder, you can make chicken and veggie food for 1/4 of the retail price. For turkey and beef, if you buy what’s in season and watch meat sales, savings are similar. If your animal needs novel protein sources, the savings will not be as great, but you’ll still pay less for your food.

 If you buy equipment to help you make food, you’ll put out some money at first. That equipment will pay for itself over time and be useful for many years.  Our analysis of the ancestral diet comes from information gathered from anthropological studies and work done by Ellen Dierenfeld, PhD on the composition of prey animals. Our food plan is designed to replicate the balance and content of the food dogs and cats really ate — mostly small prey, with some scavenging done by dogs. The balance is approximately half poultry and half other meats and protein sources. You’ll rotate through beef, turkey, and chicken, and add eggs and sardines to 8 of the 14 meals you feed in a week if you feed 2 meals a day. You’d revise this if you only feed once a day or more than twice. This book provides a sound framework for a homemade diet. As you become more experienced and knowledgeable you may want to add variations. If you keep to the basic principles presented here, you’ll do well. A few individuals may not do well on the basic diet. Selection of the tiny and the giant in breeding, and breeding for certain cosmetic features or temperament or working ability have left some of our animals with less than optimal health and function. Sometimes we see underlying problems that have been masked only when we switch to a more species appropriate diet. For these individuals, a fresh diet is still possible, but it may need to be adapted to the needs of that individual. Some might need less protein than is included in this plan. Some might need more starch. Some might need more frequent feeding than the once or twice a day routine we’re using here, especially tiny dogs. If you find that you’re facing one of these challenges, work with an educated animal health care provider who has access to nutrition software to adapt the diet to your pet’s specific needs. Our recipes may be fed raw or cooked lightly (except for the ones with ground bone). The issue of “raw vs. cooked” has been a major obstacle for many veterinarians and their clients in discussions about homemade diets for pets. Is raw food safe? Is it appropriate for all animals? We think that food should be eaten in a state as close to fresh (uncooked) as it can be. However, there are many reasons why cooking may be appropriate or necessary. We think it is more important to eat a fresh diet than to be stuck in the fixed belief that food must be raw.

 Use all the ingredients in the plan or your pet will be missing some essential nutrients.

This doesn’t mean you can never vary your vegetables. It does mean you can’t leave out the bone replacement, the minerals, or the fatty acid supplements. You might look at your pet and say, “Oh, he’s fine without that stuff, he looks great!” But, irreversible damage may show up down the road. We know the body needs these micronutrients to be healthy and functional at a cellular level. If you’d like to use our recipe with liver and heart, but you want to use goat as a protein source, you’ll probably have a hard time finding goat heart. Of course we would prefer that proteins match, beef hearts for beef and chicken hearts for chicken, but if beef is all you can get, use it. Skipping an important ingredient could have substantial effects on the health of your animal. For example, if you think you’re following one of our recipes but the plan includes sardines and you leave them out, your pet’s diet will be deficient in vitamin D and lower in fatty acids than is optimal. Without these nutrients, the immune system won’t have the tools it needs to function and the critical balance of inflammatory chemicals (anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory, both needed) will not be maintained. We find that the people feeding fresh food diets who drift the farthest from the balance of the ancestral diet are those who feed what is called “prey model.” They are often feeding nothing but bony meats or chicken quarters. Because we feed only some parts of animals, other vital parts (spleen, pancreas, blood, brains, etc.) are missing. We need to make substitutions for the parts we are unable to find at the grocery store. This is done through adding fatty acids, minerals, and other nutrients. We are all for the “prey model” but this approach must include all the components included in a true ancestral diet and we just don’t have some of them available – so we need to substitute, not omit. Our veggie and fruit recipes specify certain foods. You’ll see that we suggest in the text that you use what is in season, what looks good, and what’s available within some guidelines. In this area, as long as you have variety, lots of color, and not too much fruit, the specifics can be varied.

Rotation is an important aspect of our plan.

Over the course of a week, you will rotate through beef, chicken, and turkey, with eggs and sardines added to various meat meals. We analyze our recipes as a complete program. Each recipe fits with the others. They are not designed to stand alone. You might be frustrated to find that there is not a “chicken recipe,” but it’s more nutritionally sound to rotate through the components that comprise a diet with variety and balance. If you combine a large meat mix recipe with the appropriate amount of veggie mix, the weight is less than 14 pounds. This amount will fit into most refrigerator freezers. If you make a batch

of each meat mix and a few veggie mix choices, you might have a pretty full freezer but you’ll also have good variety at hand. If your space is very limited, you could feed one major meat source recipe at a time and still provide good rotation.

If you find that you’re leaving ingredients out and it’s all too much trouble, you’re better off with commercial frozen, dehydrated or canned products. Really. At least it’s balanced and provides essential nutrients.

We’re not all cut out to be full-time food preparers. If you’ve never spent lots of time in the kitchen don’t let the first few batches frustrate you. It becomes easier as you get comfortable and find a process that works for you.

If you make food for a short time and decide that you’re not inclined to “cook” for your animals, following this plan even for a short time will give you great insight into commercial foods and you’ll be a more educated consumer. Or you may decide that you’re able to provide one meal a day of homemade food and the other meal will be commercial food. If you cook for your human family, these ideas are easy to incorporate into your routine. You may not cook at all for yourself now. After you make pet food for a while you might see the benefits and change your mind about food preparation! Our recipes are in two sizes. Large recipes can be frozen in portion sizes that are right for your pet. The small beef and poultry recipes are enough for a day for a medium size dog, or more for smaller dogs and cats. These recipes may easily be multiplied.

If your dog needs a novel or one protein diet long term, with no ingredients he has been exposed to in the past, you will need to have that diet balanced professionally, because you won’t be providing the proper minerals, vitamins and fats long term. If you revise our plan for any reason and it becomes much heavier or lighter in any of its components, or if you subtract or add amounts, we cannot guarantee that the diet will be balanced or complete. This can be dangerous over time. Whatever amount or level of well-balanced homemade food you can provide will be an improvement. Making food can be an enjoyable and rewarding part of life.

Food Quality

The meals you prepare with our plan will be superior to any commercial dry or canned food. Most dry and canned food is made from ingredients that are not “human-edible.” Some of the reasons for this designation are relatively benign, but in many cases these ingredients have higher levels of various contaminants than is acceptable for humans, or even for food animals – animals that become our food. We don’t think that our pets need these contaminants any more than we do. Some pet foods are made from better ingredients, but they are still highly processed and are stored for a long time. Frozen diets may be of good quality but most are kept in cold storage for long periods before they get to your animal’s dinner bowl. Shipping of frozen foods is tricky and the quality of the food sometimes suffers. Any ingredients you buy will be fresh and significantly more nutritious than commercial food. Many people choose not to make their own food because they can’t do it at a pure enough level, so they feed their animal high-end dry food instead. Live, fresh food that includes the proper ingredients will always be easier to digest and assimilate than any highly processed food in a bag or can, no matter what the marketing material says. Fresh foods from the cheapest grocer are better than food in a bag. All foods found in grocery stores must be approved for human consumption, unlike the ingredients in most pet foods (even some of the best combine “human-edible” with “non-human-edible” ingredients). “Natural pet food” companies – the ones that cater to those who know that a fresh food diet is best — use persuasive marketing to convince you that food in a bag or a box is just as good as garden. We probably can’t raise our own animals and produce, but we can find the freshest and best available to our budgets and lives. Buy food that is organic and non GMO if possible. If you can afford farm-raised and/or organic or natural food for your family, that’s great. If you can’t, you can still do very well. We’re for balance. We meet people who feed their animals at the very highest end of the food scale, while feeding themselves at the local fast food establishment. If you and your animals upgrade together to simply human-edible fresh food, with as little in the way of toxins as you can find in the supermarket, you’ll be far ahead of where you started. For very sick animals, quality is sometimes an even more important factor, because their detoxification processes are not working well. The lighter the load on the body, the better. If your cat or dog is ill, it’s even more important to make sure you know every ingredient going into his mouth – and the simpler food is, the more likely it is that there are no artificial, toxic or highly processed foods involved. There are many considerations in making this choice. No matter what you choose, you will be more critical of the quality of ingredients going into your companion’s food than the most ethical of commercial food companies.

The Big Pieces: Protein, Fat,

Carbohydrate and Water

In the ancestral diet of dogs, muscle, bone and organs make up 65% – 80% of the diet by volume. 90% – 95% of the ancestral diet of cats is muscle, bone and organs. The dry foods that most of our animals eat have a very different balance. The box below illustrates the radical change in diet that has taken place for dogs and cats from the diet their bodies were meant to thrive on. Looking at the calories provided by protein, fat and carbohydrate gives an accurate picture of diet composition.

The ancestral diet compared to dry food: percentage of calories from each component

ANCESTRAL DIET​ 49% protein 44% fat 6% carbohydrate DRY FOOD  25% protein 32% fat 43% carbohydrate
ANCESTRAL DIET 70% water DRY FOOD at most, 10% water

*The calorie % is determined on a Dry Matter basis The balance of ingredients in our program by volume for dogs is 75% meat, organs and bone, and 25% veggies and fruit. For cats, the balance is about 88% meat, organs and bone, and 12% veggies by volume. This volume is slightly different from the ancestral balance. Although the vegetables and fruits take up a little more physical space than in the ancestral diet, the nutrition profile is very similar. In our experience, this balance works for most pets. The extra fiber from veggies helps out the intestinal function of our sedentary pets and the high antioxidant levels found in vegetables and fruits are beneficial for detoxification processes, rebuilding and healing. Some animals do better with a little less or more in the way of veggies. Some medical or hereditary conditions require dietary modification. This program is for healthy, normal dogs and cats. All animals are not metabolically normal. At the very tiny and the very large end of the spectrum in the dog world, differences in metabolism are common. In theory, Canis Lupus is Canis Lupus. Dogs are all identical in their DNA and therefore their physiology. However, in the last 200 years breeders have been quite creative. Many dogs and cats have been “line bred” or bred with their relatives to create or perpetuate specific desired traits, such as a certain color or size. This process can unintentionally result in the perpetuation of weak traits as well as strong ones, creating dogs or cats who may have weaker organ systems and in some cases have increased risks of birth defects and impaired ability to process and assimilate nutrients normally. Breeds that have been selected for specific behavior often also inadvertently carry negative tendencies. For example, many German Shorthair Pointers have such a “wound up,” high-strung temperament that they have a very hard time holding weight without some carbohydrate in their diet. This is just one of many examples. We can still feed these animals fresh food diets, but the plan included in this book may not be completely appropriate. In the example above, the amount to feed would need to be increased to account for a higher metabolism, or additional carbohydrates added to the diet.

Cats, whose ancestral diet was primarily mice and other small rodents (moisture rich/high protein), have been bred and raised for many generations on “cat food.” Their physiology has not evolved to process kibble, but their highly addictive taste buds have preferentially selected higher fat and salt foods. Cats raised on kibble who are offered their ancestral diet may not recognize it as food. Once cats are weaned onto raw food, they may do best with 90-92% meat and organs with less than 10% veggies (our 12% balance can be adjusted a bit). Cats and dogs suffering from kidney disease may require reduced protein levels in their diet. Work with an animal nutritionist who is qualified to help you modify the diet if this is the case with your cat.

Protein is the foundation of a carnivore’s diet, necessary for the formation of healthy cells, enzymes, hormones, ligaments, tendons, organs and protective tissue. Protein is an integral part of every cell of the body. Next to water, it makes up the majority of our pet’s body weight. The body can manufacture many of the building blocks to make the proteins it needs, but some proteins must be provided in the diet. These are the essential amino acids. Proteins help the body rebuild and repair. Organ and muscle meats provide necessary vitamins and minerals. Meat, bone and organs really can’t be thought of as just protein. The bone portion of the large percentage of the diet contributed by muscle, bone and organ contains both the hard bone we see and the marrow inside the bone, which is mostly fat with some water, so “meat and bone and organs” really can’t be thought of as just protein.

Fat in the ancestral diet comes from the fat we see when we look at meat, and also includes substantial substantial amounts from bone marrow, eyes, and brains. Though muscle meat, bone and organs make up a large percentage of the diet, when the ingredients are analyzed they look different. Because fat has more than twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate, the fat adds up to almost half of the calories in the ancestral diet.

1 pound (2 cups) of 80% lean beef = 1129 calories 1 pound (2 cups) of 95% lean beef = 579 calories If your dog eats 2 cups of food, this difference (allowing for the veggie component) could add 400 calories a day to our recipe, over 3800 calories a week. In one week, this surplus could add almost a pound to your dog.   Becker DVM, Karen. Dr Becker’s Real Food For Healthy Dogs & Cats: Simple Homemade Food (p. 15). Kindle Edition.

The diets of “raw” feeders who are not aware of this difference may be much higher than this level of fat, promoting an imbalance which may result in 75% of the calories (or more) coming from fat. Fat provides fuel, essential vitamins and fatty acids. Fatty acids are necessary for a host of body functions including reproduction, normal cell membrane synthesis, normal healing and normal skin and coat. Dogs can get some of these fats from plant sources, but they do better with animal sources. Cats are obligate carnivores, and must get certain fatty acids (arachidonic acid) from meat sources. Fats are very delicate. At high temperatures or exposed to air, they spoil rapidly. Commercial foods usually include antioxidants to protect the fats, but fat still spoils quickly. Your fresh homemade food, with lots of variety, will give your animal more fresh nutritious fats than any commercial food.

 The fat level of our program is at the level of the ancestral diet. About 6% of the diet is fat – which contributes more than 40% of the calories.  There is a difference between functional fats and essential fats. The ancestral diet is low in functional fats – fat used as fuel – but proportionately high in EPA and DHA, two essential fatty acids. Many raw feeders believe that they can add any amount of extra fat to their food and be ok. The ancestral diet was lean – prey animals are lean. Too much fat offsets critical nutrients – so pay attention to the percentage of fat in the meats you buy. Most of the fat in our program comes with the food, with small additions of fatty acids. More important information on fats can be found in See Spot Live Longer, available at our website, naturalpetproductions.com, and in Steve Brown’s book, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet.

Carbohydrate in the diet of dogs comes from the intestinal contents of small prey and from grazing and scavenging. Cats also get carbohydrates from the intestinal contents of prey and they graze on grasses. In both species, small prey animals are eaten whole. With large prey or carrion, dogs often omit the stomach and stomach contents. For dogs, the carbohydrate portion might be as high as 25% or as low as 10%. Cats might average between 5% and 7% (these estimates are by volume, not on a DM basis). The calorie contribution of dietary carbohydrates is very low, but the vitamin, antioxidant, phytonutrient and fiber value is very high. We supply those carbohydrates with vitamin- and mineral-rich vegetables and fruits. If you omit produce your animal will be phytonutrient and antioxidant deficient. We use a slightly higher volume of carbohydrate than that of the ancestral diet in the form of vegetables and fruits to compensate for the sedentary lifestyle of our pets and to provide additional antioxidants to help the body deal with the inevitable toxins our pets encounter. A review of wild canid and felid feces over a 30-year period confirms that the natural diet of these species does not include the high-carbohydrate end of the plant spectrum, seeds, grains, and legumes, except as they may be pre-digested by small prey animals. Dogs and cats (and many people) are not designed to cope with large quantities of grains without long-term metabolic consequences, chronic illness and dysfunction, specifically unregulated inflammation. You will not find rice, barley, oats or any high-carbohydrate foods in our program (except for small amounts of sweet potatoes and squash). For most animals, these foods contribute to poor gut health, slower healing, and the chronic inflammation that leads to general ill health. We’ve worked with pets with skin problems, “allergy” issues, organ dysfunction, maldigestion, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, dysbiosis, Leaky Gut Syndrome, and the entire array of immune system disorders that are influenced by diet. The healing of all these conditions is based in healing the gut. For proper flora to grow in the gut, so that all systems can work at their best, we need to put the proper food in that gut. Supplements can help healing, as can various modalities. But choosing to use foods that contribute to an unhealthy balance of flora in the gut is putting a large obstacle on the road to a healthy pet. A starchy diet is a pro-inflammatory diet. The ways in which canine and feline bodies handle starches promote the production of pro-inflammatory hormones (certain prostaglandins and cytokines). Carbohydrates, in the form of grains, break down in the body to sugar. Carbohydrates require the pancreas to secrete larger amounts of amylase (the enzyme necessary to process carbohydrates) and insulin (the hormone necessary to balance the elevated blood sugar resulting from the metabolism of the grains). The drop in blood sugar resulting from the release of insulin signals the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, a hormone that affects the body in many ways, increasing blood sugar levels and decreasing immune function. Over time, the endocrine and immune systems become stressed and off balance, leading to a host of degenerative diseases. These include immune system over-reactions (auto-immune diseases), immune system failure (chronic infections and cancer) and endocrine imbalances: hypo-and hyperthyroidism, adrenal over- and under-production of cortisol (Cushing’s and Addison’s disease) and pancreatic disease (pancreatitis and diabetes). When you look at your healthy dog or cat it can be tempting to say “He’s really healthy, he can handle it.” But what about if or when he can’t handle it any longer? Then it’s too late. A problem has been created and you have no idea what other problems you’ve contributed to down the road. Keeping a healthy balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory hormones is a critical factor in maintaining health. It’s better to be pro-active and maintain health than to try to remedy problems later. Starchy foods could definitely reduce the cost of a fresh food diet, and some feel this is reason enough to add them to the diets of healthy dogs and cats. When we look at our healthy dogs and cats, we aren’t willing to make the potential health tradeoff. If you do make that choice, be sure you use a program that has been analyzed to contain all the necessary components. Most we have seen do not. If an animal is in organ failure or end-stage organ disease, no longer able to process protein well, then he may need to consume more starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or pumpkin, or even rice. These dietary alterations should be supervised by a veterinarian who has experience with fresh food diets – and who has the software to ensure that a lower protein, starchy diet still provides all essential nutrients. Choose carefully. Whoever you choose to consult should be able to actually analyze your diet to ensure nutritional adequacy. The majority of recipes we’ve analyzed suggest that the authors are guessing.

Water is a dietary component we give little thought to. If your water is clean and toxin free, you’re very lucky. Much urban water has chlorine and fluoride and other substances that are not desirable. For yourself and your animals, we suggest taking a look at your water. At the very least, a water filter pitcher (like a Brita®) can take some of the toxins out. Some water purifiers take out the minerals — we want to leave the minerals in the water. Bottled water might be a good answer, but many bottled waters are without minerals and others are no better than tap water. The use of bottled water certainly contributes to our recycling problems. Do some research on this topic and you’ll come up with a solution that will be appropriate for your life.

Meats

Our plan is designed to include all the meats and vegetables we’ve given you in the recipes. The nutritional analysis on the complete rotation was done with half poultry and half other protein sources: mostly beef with substantial (and needed) quantities of eggs and sardines. This basic program provides good variety and balance. We’ll briefly discuss some meats other than those included in the recipes so you’ll have some information we think is important. If you decide to use different meat, the minerals needed and the fat balance will change somewhat. As long as you stick to lean meats, and the balance of our recipes, you should be close. At the grocery store level, careful shopping can reduce the cost of meat. Discount stores like Costco® and Sam’s Club® regularly offer chicken at very low prices. Turkeys are cheap around Thanksgiving. Produce markets and ethnic stores are good sources for reasonably priced meats and organs. Independent grocers are sometimes willing to meet the prices of big chains if you purchase in bulk. Get to know the meat people — they usually love to help and can’t believe that you’re really making dog and cat food. They can tell you when sales are coming up or help you find exactly what you need. The trick for taking advantage of many promotions is storage. You must have room to store large quantities of food.

The meat we buy at grocery stores usually comes from animals that have been raised on antibiotics and fed pesticide-laden feed that’s inappropriate for their bodies. It’s likely that there are some residues in the meat that do not promote health. However, a fresh diet from grocery store ingredients is many steps above highly processed pet food in a bag or a can that’s made from conventional grocery or lower quality ingredients. Even products at the very highest end of the spectrum of dry and canned pet foods are still highly processed.

In “organic” or “natural” meat purchasing, there are no bargains. One reason to buy organic is that currently it’s a relatively easy way to reduce the possibility that you are feeding meat (and produce) from animals that have been fed genetically modified organisms. There is much to learn in order to get what you think you’re getting. It’s beyond the scope of this book to educate you about this big area, but as with any product, let the buyer be educated. For example, “grass-fed beef” is trendy and it’s better for you in a lot of ways than regular grocery store meat — but “grass-fed” may not mean “grass-finished.” That beef you’re paying a lot for may have been “finished” in a feedlot on grain, which means that the fatty acid balance you hope to obtain will not be present. This is just one small example. The best way to know what you’re buying is to get your meat from small family farms that are concerned with good farming practices and the humane raising of food animals.

Resources abound. Natural food buying clubs and co-ops are not hard to find. Sustainable farmers have websites. When you start looking you’ll be amazed. Remember that fat contains more than twice the calories as an equal amount of protein. Our plan calls for lean meats to allow space for good fats — sardines, krill oil and others. If supplemental fats (krill oil or other beneficial fats) are added to an already high-fat diet, the resulting caloric balance may be higher in fat than any other nutrient. It is very tempting to buy the cheaper, higher fat products like 75% lean beef. Often it’s not immediately clear that the frozen “chub” of turkey is really cheap because it is 75% lean (25% fat) versus 93% lean like the more expensive product next to it in the freezer case. You may read about dogs who are healthy on a diet that is mostly fat. This might be acceptable if other nutrition needs are met, but the conditions that make this work are not often found in the life of a pet dog, and never in the life of a pet cat – this would be a life in which thousands more calories were expended in a week than is possible for our pets. Working sled dogs, hunting dogs working in the field, swimming in icy water – these are situations when a very high fat diet would be appropriate, when those calories would be burned for energy. If a very high fat diet is fed under normal conditions, there will be less room for protein in an animal’s caloric allowance. If meat is higher in fat than suggested, mineral levels and other nutrients will be reduced and the natural balance of nutrients will be compromised. If your animal’s liver or digestive system is overtaxed, serious problems may occur and you may see a worsening worsening of symptoms you are trying to improve. A deficiency in Tryptophan is one possibility as a result of a high fat and proportionately lower protein diet. We specify mostly dark meat of chicken and turkey in our recipes. Dark meat provides higher levels of some nutrients. You can use lean ground meats, too, if you desire. The discussion below is to give you a wider base of information. Buy lean meat. The fat level of the natural diet of dogs and cats varies seasonally, but it averages around 7% of the diet as fed. Fatty beef, pork and chicken contain much more fat than the natural diet. 90-93% lean meat is what’s needed to provide the optimal fat profiles found in our recipes. Check the fat content. Don’t assume that you know. Turkey and beef are often 70% lean, 30% fat. Ground chicken may be high in fat. We found several “organic” ground chicken and turkey products that were very high in fat – but it took some label reading (and sometimes magnifying glasses) to figure this out. Organic or natural frozen ground meats are often made more affordable by adding fat. People who make cooked food sometimes think that it is economical to buy cheaper, fattier cuts and drain off the fat after cooking. It seems logical, but after you drain the fat you have less meat. It’s no bargain. Whole pieces of meat are easier to evaluate than ground meat because you can see the fat. Does it seem that we are repeating ourselves about fat? We are. It’s confusing that fat should have so many more calories than protein and carbohydrate, and it takes thinking about it a few times to get that idea integrated. If you buy meat ground, it’s safest to buy frozen “chubs.” They have been frozen since they were packed, unlike “fresh” ground meat, which may have had inconsistent handling at the grocery store, increasing the possibility of a high bacterial load. If your grocer will grind meat at the time of purchase, this is less of an issue. Some ground meats have been subjected to various pasteurization processes. These products are usually free of pathogens but have they been affected otherwise? Opinions are mixed. They are, however, free of pathogenic organisms at the time of processing. If you are cooking, inconsistent handling is not as much of an issue. Any heavy load of pathogens will be destroyed (though their byproducts may not, and this can be a problem). Buy meat that’s fresh and not close to its “sell by” date.

Turkey thigh and breast are both easily found. In freezer cases, you’ll find one- or two-pound “chubs” at reasonable prices, already ground. It’s usually lean, but check. Sometimes the cheap products are 25% fat, a level that is too high for our plan. Whole turkeys can be affordable, especially after holidays. You’ll see organic turkeys in regular grocery stores and turkey farmers can be found not too far from big cities. For example, close to us there is a turkey farm that sells legs, thighs and organs for the cost of cheap chicken. To make use of these bargains, you need a big grinder. Turkey bones are too big to feed whole without risk. You can debone a turkey, but it’s a lot of work, and legs are impossible to debone efficiently. We’ve chosen turkey thighs for our recipes but you can use ground meat if it is 90 – 93% lean.

Chicken is a cheap meat to feed your animals, but don’t rely on it for the entire diet. Chicken is high in Omega-6 fatty acids, so balance is necessary. Variety is necessary. The dark meat of chicken may have lots of fat you need to remove. Chicken breast without the skin is lean. You may find the chicken in chubs like turkey, but make sure to check the fat content — it varies a lot. Our recipes call for mostly boneless thighs. You can use ground meat if it is 90 – 93% lean, sometimes labeled 7%. If you use whole chickens, strip the fat and most of the skin before using. Strip the fat from pieces as well. The smaller the chicken, the less fat it will have. Even organic chickens often have a hefty layer of fat under their skin.