The Veggies War

By David Dickson

Getting children to eat their veggies — all their veggies — has been a mealtime struggle since the dawn of time. And the parrots at Best Friends could give any human kid a run for their money when it comes to being picky about vegetables.

Here’s how the routine typically went. Caregivers would lovingly, carefully cut up a wide variety of vegetables to give the birds a healthy selection of greens. They’d serve up gourmet salads that looked as if they belonged in a five-star restaurant, at which point the parrots would pick out the corn and scrap the rest. "They wasted most of it," explains Best Friends parrot manager Jacque Johnson.

Recently, parrot staffers tried a new program that changed everything. This new feeding system is the brainchild of Patricia Sund of

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, who came to Best Friends and spent 10 days teaching the staff all about it. It’s faster and more convenient, and the birds now love their greens. Yes, all of them.

Mix and mash

By using a food processor to chop a wide variety of veggies and bird-safe grains into a fine mash, caregivers now present the parrots with a dish that makes it so it’s no longer an easy option to pick out their favorite veggies. Oddly enough, though, the birds vastly prefer their greens this way. "They’re really excited at feeding time," says Jacque.

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Eat your veggies.

Now, instead of the birds selecting out one or two of their favorites, they’re eating a veritable smorgasbord of more than 45 different ingredients: everything from jalapeno peppers to steel-cut oats and Swiss chard. They gobble every morsel. As a side note, veggies and grains are only part of their overall diet. They also receive pellets as part of a mainstay, and sparing portions of fruit and other treats.

Enthusiastic about nutrition

With this new feeding system, the parrots consume a more balanced diet than ever. Consider Skylar, a green cheek Amazon who used to get as excited about greens as most people do about preparing their taxes. However, with this new system, he practically dives head-first into the bowl.

Even better, the new chop method is convenient. While it might sound like a big job to get so many ingredients ready, it’s not bad with a food processor. Plus, you can make the mash in bulk and store it in the freezer for a month at a time.

Spreading the word

Visitors and volunteers ask about the program all the time, and caregivers are happy to explain the basics. "We really have been pushing this," says Jacque. This also makes it easier for families to keep going with the feeding program after they bring home a Best Friends parrot.

Another benefit is versatility. The ingredient list changes every time. "We use what is in season," Jacque explains. And, the birds respond with enthusiasm to each variation.

In the never-ending war between picky eaters and veggies, this is clearly a major victory for healthy eating.

Help a parrot in need

There are a variety of ways you can help the parrots at the Sanctuary. Consider sponsoring a parrot.

Photos by Molly Wald