Just when meal planning was the biggest pain on my plate, I made it exponentially more tedious. Don't get me wrong: I don't begrudge my happy, healthy doggos a bit, but when we started preparing food for the combined hundred-plus pounds of pups in our house, answering the eternal "What do we make for dinner tonight?" question became double the trouble.
Since starting to cook for our two dogs a few months ago (and seeing how much they love it and how much healthier our elder dog Truffle has become) we've experimented with how best to fold their meal planning into our own.
According to our vet, the key in a homemade dog-food diet is variety. (Our vet also cautioned that too much variety too fast could result in stomach troubles; it was recommended that we slowly transition to a new and varied diet.) Because we're aiming for variety, we can't just add X, Y, and Z to our shopping list every week and call it done — but there is a formula, so we pick up a protein, a produce, and a grain while out shopping. Maybe beef, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal this week, and maybe turkey (until we found out our big guy is allergic to poultry, bummer!), applesauce, and brown rice next.
The trouble with that was Cassius (Cash) Thunderpaws plows through the food so fast we couldn't get enough meat on our once-a-week grocery run to fit in our fridge (see: I Bought a Tiny "Parisian" Fridge and I Totally Regret It) and still have room for our own stuff. So we opted to stock up on the less-perishable staples (hence the Costco-size box of oats in our pantry!) and come home from the store to prep huge batches of their meals in one marathon session and fill a slew of storage containers. Even though stackable containers were easier to contend with than bulky packages of meat, it was still too much to jam into our fridge. (Also, bye bye, Sunday evening.) Finally, we settled on cooking every three days, give or take — which means planning ahead (and moving the dogs' food to a mini-fridge just for them!).
I wish I could say we have it down to a science, but we so do not. Some weeks we'll lose track of whose turn it is to cook for the dogs and have to raid the high-quality kibble stash we keep on hand for just such emergencies (and for supplementing Cash's diet when he eats all his real food and is still hungry), or crowd together at the stove while one of us makes our dinner and the other one whisks up scrambled eggs and oatmeal for the dogs. Other times we've planned ahead for them, so the pups happily chow down on steak (we check the clearance section of the meat department at the grocery every week and find some absolute steals!) and roasted carrots while we scrounge around the freezer for anything from Trader Joe's that can resemble a meal.
On an ideal week, we sit down on Sunday and make both our meal lists, check our stock of doggie and human ingredients on hand, and buy everything we need for the whole family. Some things — like sweet potatoes, carrots, and other veggies, along with eggs — we can share. When we were still giving them turkey, we hit the jackpot with an after-Thanksgiving bird that fed them for days and made enough turkey salad for the humans for multiple lunches. We'll make a batch of dog food over the weekend, and one more during the week. Any time we cook bone-in meat (for them or for us) we throw the bones in a baggie in the freezer until we have enough to make broth for them (that we use to make kibble more palatable and nutritious). Some Sunday mornings find us using up bits and bobs for a strata that all of us enjoy. And yes, we break that old rule about table scraps and will often scrape our dinner leftovers (barring anything dogs shouldn't eat) into their bowls.
Next level will be finding recipes for things we can all eat, or that are easy to modify to keep them safe for dogs (meaning no onions) and still yummy for us and incorporating that in once or twice a week. Meaning, if you've found some canine- and human-friendly recipes, I'd love to hear them!
Do you meal plan and cook for your pets? Tell us how you manage it all and what you make in the comments below!