Breakfast with Indie: 30 Days of Homemade Dog Food

It’s been a few years since Indie has popped in to say hello on the blog. Today, she wanted to invite you to breakfast. Or more accurately, to invite you to look at her breakfast.

In 2018, we published a post on the history of dog food and how you could easily make your own. This was and still is a daunting notion for some pet owners. But back then we were on a mission to dispel the myth that feeding your dog was a difficult, complicated ordeal. In that year, Indie was six and had strictly eaten a homemade diet since the moment she bounded into our yard during a Fourth of July barbeque four years earlier.

In the kitchen with Indie – 2018!

Now Indie is nine, considered a senior dog, and still eating that same homemade diet. Over the years, that post has sparked a lot of conversation. It connected us with a batch of fellow homemade dog food comrades who championed this from-scratch form of feeding and eating, and it also spurned a lot of questions about portion sizes and nutrition and what-if-I-do it-wrong worries. I totally understand. Feeding your pet from scratch can feel like a big responsibility. But Indie and I confidently declare, if you can feed yourself, you can feed your dog.

Today’s post is just one of several coming out this year regarding nutrition, aging, and balanced meals based on vintage dietary wisdom. In an effort to explore the ways our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived, ate, and gardened back in the 20th century, we are tackling nutrition in 2023 from a variety of angles that don’t necessarily receive so much attention. This dietary dive begins with our four-legged friends, our best pals, our constant companions. Since their overall health affects our overall health and vice versa, and since our food is also suited to be their food, this is a copacetic cooking arrangement that benefits both pets and people.

Indie is so pleased to be your food guide today through the delicious land we (and she!) call breakfast. For the past eight years now, these are the types of foods that have kept her healthy and happy.

Day 20

Each morning, throughout the entire month of December 2022, I photographed Indie’s breakfast. By sharing what she ate each day, I thought this might help show fellow home cooks how fun, easy, inexpensive, and healthy it can be to make your pup’s food from scratch. Albeit, it is not as easy as opening a can of condensed dog food or a bag of ready-made kibble pulled off the grocery store shelf, but for those of you that are interested in embarking on such a culinary adventure, with your dog’s overall health in mind, this glimpse will give you a good example of the types of foods that dogs can eat.

Ever since the commercialization of pet food in the United States, beginning in the 1860s, there have been debates about what to feed dogs, how much, and for what reasons. Motives have not always been scrupulous in the industry. And our pets have not always been considered worthy of high-quality ingredients. When mass farming and feed lots came into play in the mid-20th century, pet food manufacturers turned their focus towards cheaper ingredients and filler products rather than wholesome, natural foods. Even today when consumers are more educated than ever on balanced nutrition, this area of the food industry still remains complicated, obtuse, and not altogether transparent. Luckily, beginning in the 1970s small rumblings of a grass-roots movement began to emerge among pet owners – those who were concerned that their pets were not getting the nutritional attention they deserved. A focus towards more thoughtful diets that were less processed, less traveled and more custom to individual dogs began to take shape. Slowly across many decades, this passion has bloomed into a food love affair between people and pets.

So what exactly did Indie eat for breakfast last month? Let’s look…

In our 2018 post, we went through the basics of cooking for canines and how their diets have changed since the days of James Spratt and his meat fibrine biscuits in the 1860s. Refer to that post for specific information as to foods to embrace and foods to avoid, as well as notes on ratios and serving sizes. Below, we break down Indie’s breakfast bowls week by week, ingredient by ingredient, to show the simple combinations that make up a healthy dog’s diet.

Day 29

Indie is an English shepherd by breed and a gourmand by heart. She weighs 55 pounds and is considered a medium-sized dog. We feed her twice a day – morning and night. She gets a fair amount of exercise every day and she is always (always!) excited to see what’s in her bowl.

We stay away from anything that contains soy, wheat, and corn, as they are known allergens which affect most dogs in one way or another. Also, we stay clear of dried fruit, beer, bones, wine, citrus, onions, garlic, seeds, cores and fruit/vegetable pits when it comes to feeding Indie, as they contain toxic elements and/or possible choking hazards. Other than that, a bounty of edible options and combinations await every day.

Primarily Indie eats what is in season, so her breakfast is never the same month by month but does follow a typical consistent pattern of one to two proteins. one to two grains, and one to three vegetables at each serving. A great deal of what we feed her is influenced by what I’m making for our human meals each week as well. Since this record was kept during the month of December, many of Indie’s breakfasts were planned around holiday meals. But you’ll notice the throughlines that stayed the same each day. Protein, vegetable, grain.

In trying to care for Indie’s health and the environment as best we can, we only feed her food that we want to consume ourselves – organic vegetables, humanely raised chicken, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. All of her meat proteins are always cooked, never raw, and we generally buy bone-in chicken with the skin on since the bones can work double-duty as a flavor enhancer while cooking and the basis of a broth once the meat is chopped up for her meal. For dinner, Indie eats in the same fashion as breakfast, but we tend to change up her vegetables so that she has a little variation between day and night. We serve all of her meals warm to the touch but not hot and never cold from the fridge.

Rice and/or oatmeal are generally daily staples and she tends to cycle through a round of vegetables every three days or so. On days that she gets extra exercise, like going for a hike, or spending a great deal of time running around the yard, then we’ll feed her larger portions. On days, when she is more sedentary or housebound due to inclement weather, she’ll receive a little less food since she’s not exercising as much. So far this balance between portion size and activity level has worked out really well. We’ve managed to keep her at her wealthy weight of 55 lbs for all eight years following this same routine.

These days, her most favorite foods are chicken, carrots, sardines, potatoes, pancakes, cheese, and oatmeal, but every year she seems to enjoy a new love only to move on to something else the next year. One year she was all about green beans. The next year it was mackerel. Then came a love affair with roasted pumpkins. Every once in a while, she’ll boycott a vegetable at breakfast or decide to only eat some of it, leaving the rest in her bowl skillfully arranged, like she’s creating some sort of art. Note the lone brussels sprout and grain of rice here…

A left-over brussels sprout.

These left-behinds are always short-lived. As rare occurrences, if a few pieces happen to sit in her bowl after she’s walked away, we just scoop up what’s remaining, and refrigerate it until dinnertime. Then it gets thrown back into the mix with her nightly meal, never to be seen again.

So how do we know that Indie is meeting all her nutritional requirements?

First off, we can see it. Her eyes are bright, her hearing excellent, her mobility flexible, her coat ultra-soft and shiny and her responsiveness quick and intuitive. She greets each day with energy, enthusiasm and an infectious amount of joy. And most importantly, her appetite is very, very healthy.

We also have assurance from the vet community as well. When we moved to New England this past spring, we got Indie all set up with a new vet so that she could get her flea and trick program started. As part of the vet’s welcome program, all new pup patients need to have an exam before they are administered the flea and tick medicine. This once-over by a vet is always a great opportunity to see how Indie’s homemade diet is holding up. Will she get a good report? Will she be deficient in some areas? Will they tell us we’ve been doing it wrong all along? Par for the course, these worries never come to light. Every vet visit she has ever had ends with flying colors in the general overall health department. This last time, she was greeted with good news on all fronts – eyes, ears, teeth, coat, mobility, energy, and responsiveness. The vet said she was in fantastic shape and couldn’t believe she was nine years old. I attribute this continual good news about her health to her homemade diet.

So feeding your pup can be as simple as that. If you make oatmeal for breakfast, cook your dog some oats too. If you’re making a big pot of chicken noodle soup for dinner, chop up some extra chicken, celery and carrots for your pal. If you are serving watermelon in the summer or roasting pumpkin wedges in the winter, toss a few extra pieces into the pup’s bowl too. All you need is protein, vegetables, and grain and then you are on your way.

Indie is always ready to see what’s heading into her bowl.

Since we moved to New England, Indie’s been expanding her palate to include more homegrown garden vegetables and regional foods including slow-cooked beans, crab, cod, blueberries, apples, and the occasional bite or two of lobster roll. Just like Katharine Hepburn, she’s also decided that swimming in the Long Island Sound is her new favorite form of exercise.

With so many pet food recalls today, expensive vet visits, and food product companies importing unregulated dog food from other countries, making your own dog food from whole ingredients is one way to ensure a healthy, nutritious and fulfilling life for your pup. A gourmet world awaits once you get past the cans and the kibble.

If you are thinking about starting your pup out on a homemade diet this year, I hope this post helps your canine culinary adventures take shape. If you are already a fellow dog foodie, Indie would love to know what’s on the menu at your house.

Cheers to our pups and to healthy, homemade breakfasts! Bone Appetit!

The Adventure Begins!

Last weekend, we packed up the Vintage Kitchen, said bon voyage to Nashville and headed north on a big, new adventure. Replacing the city skyscrapers that have been our tour guides around town for the past five years, the tall highway trees fat and billowy with autumn color, escorted us north as we ventured 885 miles towards an exciting new future.

Four states and 15 hours later, we arrived! The destination…camp country. Also known as Phase 1 of a two-part plan, our temporary resting spot for the next two months is a 1940s-era waterside cottage in Pennsylvania. Here, some big little details will get sorted out that will eventually carry us onto Phase 2 – our final destination where a big surprise that has been brewing over the past couple of years will finally be revealed.

In the meantime, the cottage and the lake it sits on, is packed full of interesting things. There are kayaks in the shed, a fire pit in the yard, and plenty of wildlife to keep the binoculars busy. The lake is home to deer, ducks, geese, turtles, herons and a wide variety of songbirds. So far I’ve spotted chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, tufted titmice, woodpeckers and an unidentified grey and black-hatted bird that I suspect might be a nuthatch fluttering amongst the trees. At night, we can see the stars, clear and bright, for the first time in half a decade. The cottage comes with a dock too, which is endlessly fascinating for Indie who hasn’t stopped smiling at the lake since we arrived.

Not alone in her unabashed joy, as it turns out, this area of Pennsylvania is best known for its plethora (literally dozens) of summer sleepaway camps that have been attracting kids from surrounding metropolitan areas like New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. for the past one hundred years. These vintage postcards from the 1930s and 1940s hint at some of the fun that happens here…

I can totally understand the appeal. The rolling hills, the dense pockets of trees and the waterways that wind and weave their way practically around every corner are a paradise for nature lovers of all ages. Even in the off-season on a November day like yesterday, when it was 42 degrees and raining, there was a sense of refreshing exhilaration in the landscape. It might have been the exciting news that snow flurries were in the forecast for part of the day or the fact that its been half a dozen years since I’ve been surrounded by so much nature, but whatever the joy that has buoyed our spirits these days, this part of the state has turned out to be quite unexpectedly enchanting.

The cottage kitchen is a tiny one, but there is room enough to make and share a few vintage recipes while we are here in this pending place between past life and future dreams. So stayed tuned. Even though the shop is on a temporary break while we transition, the blog will be here sharing stories and snippets throughout the season.

Cheers to holiday cooking, cozy cottages and camp country!

In the Kitchen with Indie: A Brief History of Dog Food and How to Make Your Own

There once was a border collie from the Scottish Highlands who ate nothing but turnip greens and lived to be over 20 years old. Dogs in the 14th century ate bones and bread, goat milk and bean broth, meat, and eggs. In the latter half of the 19th century, dogs ate wheat meal, beetroot, and beef blood. In the early 20th century, they ate horsemeat. Today, dogs eat a variety of assorted things ranging from buffalo to chicken, brown rice to broccoli, fruit to fish oil.

Ken-L was the first canned dog food debuting in 1920 and featured horse meat. They added beef in 1921. Still, a popular ingredient through the 1960s, both horse meat and ground horse bone can be seen in the ingredient list on the mid-century can at right.

Since dogs were first domesticated over 12,000 years ago their diets have varied depending on geographic location, activity, and ownership. As descendants of wolves who eat mostly birds, fish, deer, rabbits, and other hoofed animals, dogs’ appetites have evolved to include vegetables, herbs, protein, and grains making food options more than abundant and diverse today.

There has never before been a time in history when there has been so much choice available in the dog food industry.  From traditional shelf-stable canned and dried foods to fresh meat patties, freeze-dried jerky, frozen bones and a bouquet of vitamin supplements, feeding your dog today involves nothing more than practical understanding and common sense.

James Spratt, the father of food for dogs, commercially speaking. Photo courtesy of chestofbooks.com

We have this guy, James Spratt to thank for first coming up with the idea to commercialize dog food in the 1860s. He invented the world’s first dog biscuit after he observed England’s seaside dogs fighting over hardtack biscuits that were cast aside by sailors down at the docks. This ignited James’ interest in the idea of creating a whole canine meal that came in a compact shape, just like a biscuit – something that was easy to carry, easy to dispense, and easy to store. Spratt’s Meat Fiberine Dog Cakes were born shortly after.

An 1876 ad for Spratt’s Meat Fribrine Dog Cakes.

The cakes became so popular many companies started making their own versions, thus creating competition and a burgeoning marketplace. Now, pet food is a $31 billion a year industry just in the U.S. alone, and feeding your dog has gone from Spratt’s biscuits in the 19th century to basic canned meats in the 20th century to gourmet ready-to-eat dinners in the 21st century. That’s quite an evolution in less than 200 years.

With all this choice, it can be tricky to navigate all the options of what to feed your dog- especially if you walk down the pet food aisle at your local grocery store and see a bamboozlement of advertising with each brand declaring their food the best, the most nutritious, the most natural or organic or beneficial. You can feed your dog like a wild wolf or a pampered princess or a farm animal. You can spend $5.00 on a giant economy bag of dry dog food or $20.00 on a petite gourmet bag of artisan-crafted pellets. There’s canned food that comes in a solid lump with ingredients that you can’t pronounce and there are ready-to-eat meals in plastic tubs that resemble the beef stew you are making for your own dinner.

So which food does Indie, the enthusiastic taste-tester of the Vintage Kitchen eat? None of the above.

Instead, every day she gets a combination of fresh foods consisting of easy-to-gather ingredients that are readily available.  Indie is a sociable pup and meets a lot of people in her city travels on a day-to-day basis. If there is one comment that she receives most often it is how soft and shiny her coat feels.  It’s been described as everything from a plush blanket to a mink coat to a thick carpet. People think that she is completely pampered with lots of regular trips to the groomer but Indie is a tom-boy at heart and could care less about her pretty fur. She’s never been to the groomer, and she’s only had three baths ever, (each of which she totally hated). We attribute her great state – her glossy coat, her bright eyes, her abundant energy level and her eager appetite all to the good food she eats.

By making her own dog food, we have the opportunity to eliminate preservatives, fillers, by-products and known skin-allergy-causing ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy from her diet. We have better control over her overall health and can feed her the nutrition she needs based on weekly changes in her activity and lifestyle levels. That means on days she is more active, she gets more protein and more carbs to fuel all her running and jumping. On days she’s less active she gets more vegetables and less carbs so that she doesn’t put on sedentary weight and get lethargic. We have been feeding Indie this way for over five years now. Needless to say, she’s been an enthusiastic eater from her first bowl forward!

You might think that making your own dog food is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive, but it is actually the complete opposite. As we learned above from dogs throughout history, their diet is pretty diverse just like ours.  All her dog food ingredients come from the same place where we shop for our food – the farmers market, the grocery store, etc.. It takes about one hour to prepare a week’s worth of food (up to 14 meals)  or 15 minutes a day if we decide to cook for her each night. Cost-wise on average, we spend about $10-$12 a week on the ingredients that make up her meals.

There are three main components to a healthy dog diet – protein, vegetables, and grains. Amounts of each vary depending on your dog’s size and activity level  (for example, the more active your pup is, the more protein they should eat), but every day, in every bowl Indie’s meal consists of at least one element from each of these three categories for balanced nutrition.

PROTEIN

Indie’s main source of protein is primarily salmon. Usually, it’s canned salmon that includes the skin and bones. Sometimes she eats fresh salmon or frozen as long as it’s wild-caught.  Occasional additions of chicken, eggs, beans and homemade broth also round out her main protein sources. Once every few months she’ll have a little bit of beef, pork, or lamb for variety.  There is a theory about serving your dog raw proteins but we always cook Indie’s (with the exception of the canned salmon) just to be on the safe side as far as bacteria. We cook her protein in one of three ways – sauteed in olive oil on the stove, poached in broth or baked in the oven.  Eggs are usually scrambled or hard-boiled. And beans are canned.

VEGETABLES

As a true gourmand, Indie loves most vegetables. Her regular rotation includes sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, apples, potatoes, carrots, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, pineapple, beets, celery,  pumpkin, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, avocado, pears, collard greens, cabbage and okra. Her vegetables either come from the farmer’s market or the grocery store. She mostly eats what’s in season, except for sweet potatoes and apples which she eats pretty much year-round. And while she eats all of these vegetables mentioned above, she doesn’t eat this whole list all at once. Generally, she eats 2-3 different types of vegetables in one meal.

GRAINS

Primarily her main grain is white rice but sometimes we’ll add in cooked oatmeal, barley, wild rice or quinoa for variety. White rice is better than brown rice because dogs have short digestive tracts (unlike people who have long digestive tracts) so rice passes through their system quite quickly. The main benefit of brown rice is that it acts like a scrub brush for the digestive system making it great for people but not necessary in dogs since it passes through too fast to benefit.

The part that takes the longest when in it comes to making homemade dog food is baking the potatoes (one hour in a 425-degree oven) and cooking the rice (15 minutes). While the potatoes are baking and the rice is cooking, we prepare the vegetables by chopping them into bite-sized pieces, and either sauteeing, boiling, or roasting them. We also use this time to boil the eggs, open the beans and/or cook the proteins as well.

By the time the potatoes are done – all the other dog food components are ready too. We let everything cool down to room temperature before adding all the ingredients together in one large mixing bowl and tossing it all to combine. When we make a big bach like this for the week, we divvy up the mixture into smaller, daily dose-sized containers and store them in the fridge.

Indie’s dinnertime bowl consisting of 1/3 cup canned salmon, 3/4 cup cooked white rice, one sauteed carrot, one half of a hard-boiled egg, two finger-sized sweet potatoes (with skin), a handful of sauteed spinach and one small new potato (with skin).

MEASUREMENTS

Indie eats usually 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice, 2/3 cup of protein and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. She eats twice a day – breakfast and dinner. She weighs 55 lbs and is moderately active as far as exercise.  What we feed her reflects her lifestyle and activity level so if you want to start making your own homemade dog food too, use it as a guide only and not specific measurements.  Adjustments and modifications will need to be made for your own dog’s size and energy level as well as how often you feed your dog per day and their own individual appetite preferences. Large dogs obviously need more food, small dogs less.

When we were visiting our friend’s house for the weekend, Indie let everyone know her true thoughts on the raw kale we newly introduced to her diet. No thank you!

PERSONALITY QUIRKS

One of the things that will become immediately apparent when you start making your own dog food is how quirky your buddy can be. For instance, Indie will only eat her kale if it is sauteed in a little bit of olive oil. If it’s included in her bowl raw, she’ll pick out all the pieces and lay them next to her bowl. Her not-so-subtle hint that kale is only great when it’s cooked!  She also usually likes most of her vegetables cooked unless they are finely grated like we sometimes do with raw carrots, celery, zucchini or broccoli. Usually, we just chop and boil, sautee, or oven-roast all of her vegetables until soft, but not mushy.

If you start making your own pup’s food, there are a few simple things to keep in mind when determining what’s good and bad for canine consumption…

A FEW FOODS NOT TO ADD

  • Never add salt or pepper to your pup’s protein while cooking.  (If you are using boneless, skinless chicken breasts or fresh fish cook them in olive oil instead of butter.)
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Rhubarb
  • Spices
  • Apple seeds and cores
  • Raisins, grapes or plums
  • Lemons or Limes
  • Bones of any kind (except the ones in canned salmon are fine)

ADDITIONAL FUN THINGS TO ADD ON OCCASION IN MODERATION

  • Greek Yogurt
  • Peanut Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Cheese
  • Applesauce
  • Bread
  • Nuts (finely chopped)

Basically, when it comes to cooking for your dog think of it like cooking for yourself. If you are making scrambled eggs for yourself for breakfast, portion some out for your pet too. If you are making steamed broccoli for your dinner, steam some extra for your pup.  Or if you are making a traditional spinach salad for your lunch, chop up some extra spinach, bacon and egg for the dog bowl. You’ll discover how fun and creative cooking can be for both you and your pal.

If you are uncertain whether or not you want to switch your dog’s diet to a 100% homemade one – start small with baby steps and throw in a cooked egg or a few slices of apple with their food and see how they like it and then expand little by little.

The nice thing about feeding your pup the food you make is that you can see results or benefits within a few days. Depending on how much fresh food you introduce, their coats will be shinier, their energy levels more balanced and their attention more focused (especially at mealtime!).  You will also be able to monitor their health by what’s going in and what’s coming out.  We have to pick up after Indie, since we live in the city so it’s a good opportunity to tell if everything is in balance and processing well. If her waste is runny or mucousy-looking rather then firm and solid then we know an ingredient is upsetting her stomach lining and we can quickly recall and identify which ingredients we’ve recently fed her and can adjust her fresh foods from there.

All in all, we hope that making your own dog food will be fun and enjoyable for both you and your pup.  If you already make your own homemade dog food, please share your story in the comments section below so that we can continue to learn together and create delicious meals for our wonderful companions. Indie is ALWAYS ready to test out a new recipe!

Cheers to our canine pals and to all the fresh dinners they inspire. Happy cooking!

An Indie Celebration!

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Fireworks flew high this weekend all over the place in celebration of the 4th. But in the Ology household the Jeannie’s were celebrating Independence day for a whole extra reason. Can you guess what it is dear readers? Here’s a little hint…

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This past weekend of the 4th marked the year of the 1st…

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The first year of Indie!

Exactly 365 days ago incredible Indie appeared like some sort of mythical, magical creature  – a gift of fate and of such good fortune Ms. Jeannie could hardly stand it.

First photo!
First photo – July 5th, 2014

Since that firecracker day, Indie’s bounded through the year like a champ.

She’s been a devoted roadtripper alongside Ms. Jeannie…

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A constant cat cuddler…

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An expert mover…

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And an ever so enthusiastic blog baker

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She graduated from being a book chewer…

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to being a *book lover…

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She’s figured out the best thunderstorm bunker is the laundry room…

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and the best water dish is the front yard bird bath…

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She’s run with the wild ones at the dog park…

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And enjoyed the quiet contemplation of a summer morning*…

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There have been wild wonder field trips… canine to cat conversations… and pretty photo-ops…

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A deliciously decadent year of all things dog. Of course, Ms. Jeannie had to ring in the year with a treat – a celebratory cake just for Indie made with peanut butter and apples and frosted with greek yogurt…

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Party approved! And most very importantly – puppy approved – 365 days over:) Happy first homecoming to Indie, Miss Independant, Indiana Bones and all the other little nicknames bestowed upon this one free spirit;)

*If you are curious as to what types of books Indie enjoys reading, click here.