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Are you new to raw or someone who feeds commercial raw, but you're not comfortable switching to DIY? When I started feeding raw eight years ago, I was feeding Darwin's Natural Pet Food and although they are still one of my favorite brands, raising four big dogs makes commercial raw too expensive for my budget. Therefore, I switched to DIY seven years ago. I used to spend up to ten hours doing meal prep once a month and although I knew raw feeding was best for my dogs, I began to wonder if the money I was saving doing DIY was worth the time that I spent thawing, grinding, chopping, and prepping raw dog food.
I tried making it easier by using a base mix by The Honest Kitchen, but eventually it didn't work for my dogs and I was having trouble justifying feeding potatoes. While they may be healthy for humans, they're not, in my opinion, great for dogs. And I learned that cooked potatoes aren't healthy at all and the base mix was dehydrated (heat = cooking).
Mixing up meals one item at a time didn't work for me. So this is a long story to share how I landed on the Dr. Harvey's website and why I love their base mixes. No potatoes, great ingredients, and it really does “balance” the raw dog food recipes I make for my dogs and I want to share my meal prep routine so that others can feed their dogs a healthier diet without breaking the bank or melting their brain.
Why I Use a Base Mix
Years ago, a fellow raw feeder told me that people who use a base mix are just too lazy to learn how to feed their dogs. I laugh at the memory of this today because she wasn't wrong. She wasn't right either.
I use a base mix because…
- it's easier than making meals from individual ingredients
- it works for my dogs, nutrient testing shows that their diet is balanced
- it's affordable; I buy a bag of base mix when it's on sale (sales are often)
- no software needed
I nutrient test my dogs every other year and their test results are excellent. I've only had to make two adjustments in the past four years.
- I add more vitamin B (via supplementation or food)
- I make sure the food dishes are rinsed thoroughly after washing
That's it! I don't have to do math. I'm not stressing over macro and micro nutrients. And raw feeding is easy. This is what works for me and my dogs and if you've found yourself overwhelmed with raw feeding, this may work for you too.
Now, on to my meal prep routine.
Easy Raw Dog Food Meal Prep Routine
This is crazy easy.
Tools that I use in My Meal Prep
Many of these things can be found at an affordable price at your local Walmart. All except the knives. Don't go cheap on your knives.
- 2-3 large roasting pans (for thawing)
- several 8-quart stainless steel bowls (for mixing)
- high quality meat clever
- sturdy (or wooden) mixing spoons
- mashed potato masher (makes breaking down meat easier)
You can also invest in a high quality meat grinder or a mixer; these tools will make life easier too but they're not necessary.
1 – Pull Food from the Freezer and Thaw
The day prior to meal prep, I pull food from the freezers – 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 10% organ meat. Because nothing in my freezer is labeled this way, an example of what I would thaw from the freezers include:
- 24 pounds of ground quail (includes bone) or ground duck (includes bone)
- 8 pounds of ground organ meat; I alternate between GreenTripe.com and grass-fed organ meat sourced from local farms
If the meat I thaw doesn't include bone like the quail and duck listed above – venison and pork, for example = this is what I would thaw from the freezers:
- 30 pounds of venison (or pork)
- 8-10 pounds of ground duck wings (includes bone)
- 12 pounds of organ meat
I do not do math to try and figure out if what I've thawed equates to 80/10/10. Those ratios are simply a guideline – not a rule.
2 – Hydrate a Base Mix
As I shared above, I use a base mix in my meal prep and it saves me time and money while making meal prep SOOOOO easy. I mix everything in 8-quart bowls, starting with one cup of Dr. Harvey's Paradigm (or Raw Vibrance) for each bowl. I add hot water to each bowl to get the party started (aka hydrate the base mix).
If you're trying to choose between the two options, I prefer Paradigm because it's low glycemic and this is the base mix I use most often.
3 – Add Ingredients
I divide the ingredients between the number of bowls I'm using that day, using a mashed potato masher (what's it really called?) and a sturdy spoon to break the meat down and mix everything together. If you have a KitchenAid mixer, it'll make all of this a lot easier and quicker. However, it does add a new step (or two) to the meal prep.
4 – Transfer Food to Freezer Safe Container
I stocked up on two sizes of sturdy freezer-safe containers at a local store, swapping them out every few years as needed. Yes, they're reusable plastic. No, I don't know what country they were made in. If you don't do plastic, then stock up on glassware.
- Large containers are for food that is meant for all of the dogs to share.
- Slightly smaller containers are for duck feet, rabbit feet, and food that is only for one or two of the dogs; for example, Rodrigo (geriatric) and Scout (cancer) often eat special meals due.
When the food is mixed thoroughly, I transfer it to freezer safe containers and store in the freezer (or the fridge if I'm feeding the food right away).
5 – Feed My Dogs and Add Supplemental Foods (or Supplements)
I feed my dogs twice daily. To figure out how much to feed my dogs, I used online raw food calculators and then adjusted each dog's diet based on their weight gain/loss. And, yep, I own a pet scale. When I'm prepping the daily meals, I add the following to the bowls a few days a week:
- pasture-raised, organic raw eggs
- canned or fresh sardines or mackerel, alternating with canned oysters
- a tablespoon of vegetable blend or Green JuJu
- supplements specific to each dog
And that's it. See what I mean? Meal prep can be easy.
So, What About Meal Prep for Puppies
Unlike others, I'm not 100% comfortable doing meal prep for puppies younger than 6 months of age. If a puppy joined our family at the traditional 8-10 weeks, I feed commercial raw, working with the company to better understand what I need to add to the diet to support their growth. Darwin's Natural Pet Products is really great about offering this support to their customers.
At six months, I have a better understanding of what an individual puppy would need in their diet and I slowly transition them to DIY. When Apollo joined our family, he was seven months I transitioned him cold turkey to DIY raw feeding and added more bone (calcium/phosphorus) and fermented fish stock and sardines (gut health/Omega 3 fatty acids) to his diet to support his growth and brain development.
Today, he's two years old and his ParsleyPet test came back with a score of “EXCELLENT!”
How I Know that My Dogs' Raw Diet is “Balanced?”
So, did you notice the quotes around “balanced?” Yeah, that's my way of saying “balance according to whom?” I have an entire blog post and YouTube video about this, so check it out above.
But, if you're reading this, you may still wonder if my meal prep really works and I don't blame you. I mentioned ParsleyPet Nutritional Blueprint Testing earlier. I began testing my dogs every other year (because it's expensive) six months after I started this meal prep regimen and they all tested outstanding with a few exceptions (mentioned above).
My dogs are healthy. I have a geriatric dog who is thriving and a cancer dog who is beating the odds. Raw feeding works.
So while some people prefer to delve into the macro/micro nutrients in their dogs' diet, this blog post is for those who are like me and don't want to do lots of math or follow a complicated book to feed their dogs. So many people have fed raw without using the NRC guide and without software before social media came along and introduced us to strangers who were happy to tell us that how we're feeding our dogs is wrong.
What I'm doing for my dogs (dogs, not puppies) is working for my pack. I'm sharing because I hope that this is a great start for your pack too.