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Meal Prep Recommendations And Tips For a Home Cooked Diet

My name is Clarissa Dery, owner of Four Leaf Clover. I'm also a Certified Canine Nutritionist and a Certified Canine Herbalist. Please note these recommendations are for a home-cooked diet for dogs and cats, not for raw feeding.

Home-cooked diets for dogs and cats can seem daunting when the time comes to cook and mix the pet food. There is so much information available on how to cook food that many pet parents become overwhelmed because they are unsure of where to start.

There are many different ways to cook food. However, there are some ideal methods that pet parents can follow when preparing their pet’s food. It is important to remember that the recommendations outlined in this article are for cooking dog and cat food. They will not align with many cooking methods that humans find suitable for their own diet.

General Cooking Recommendations:

Raw ingredients should be cooked using gentle methods to preserve as much of the nutrients as possible. Cooking can stop and the food can be placed in a safe location to cool once the food has reached its safe internal temperature. The food should not be charred or browned in any way.

Avoid High Heat

To retain the most nutrients it is recommended to limit surface exposure to high-heat cooking temperatures. Grilling, broiling, and pan frying are cooking methods that should be avoided at all costs.

Separate Animal Products From Seafood & Vegetables

Each food type has its own unique cooking time. It is recommended to cook all animal proteins, seafood, and vegetables separately to avoid overcooking or undercooking various foods.

Avoid Long Cook Times

Pet food should be cooked in the shortest amount of time possible to avoid overcooking and excessive nutrient loss. Therefore, slow cookers are not ideal for cooking pet food.

Preserve Liquids

Dry heat cooking is ideal to limit nutrient loss. However, this method can easily overcook food. Additional small amounts of filtered water helps prevent overcooking in these situations. All moisture left over after cooking should be retained and fed.


Each food ingredient has its own unique minimum internal temperature for total bacteria reduction. Foods do not need to be cooked any longer once they have reached this temperature. The safest methods for cooking pet food include baking, pressure cooking, steaming, boiling, and sous-vide.

Animal Proteins

Boneless muscle meat and organs can be cooked together. The best cooking methods for these ingredients include baking, pressure cooking, and sous-vide; but not all methods will be convenient. The cooking method selected should depend on the size of the batch of food being cooked. Pressure cooking and sous-vide work well with smaller quantities of food. However, sous-vide requires more time whereas pressure cooking is faster. Both options may prove difficult with larger batches. Therefore, baking is the best cooking method for moderate to large quantities of food that need to be prepared at once. Cooking temperatures for muscle meat and organs depend on the cooking method selected. Electric pressure cookers are equipped with cooking settings based on the protein type that needs to be cooked. Sous-vide takes an estimated 20 minutes per 0.5in thick meat for the internal temperature to match the water bath. Baking can be done by preheating the oven to 300ºF (149ºC) and monitoring the internal temperature of the food with a meat thermometer. The time the food cooks is entirely dependent on the internal temperature of the food. It does not need to continue cooking once the meat and organs have reached the recommended minimum internal temperature. Remove the food from the cooking source and place in a safe location to cool before mixing. The recommended minimum safe internal temperature to decrease total bacteria count is dependent on the protein. Beef, pork, and lamb proteins have a minimum internal temperature of 160ºF (71ºC) and all poultry has a minimum temperature of 165ºF (74ºC).


All seafood should be cooked separately from animal proteins and vegetables. This is because seafood ingredients have different cooking times, temperatures, and methods in comparison to other ingredients. The essential fatty acids found in fish and shellfish are very delicate. Lower temperatures and cook times are recommended for these ingredients to preserve the valuable omega-3 fatty acids. Baking, pressure cooking, steaming, and sous-vide are cooking methods recommended for seafood products. Each cooking method has its positives and negatives as previously discussed. However, pressure cooking and sous-vide are methods that help contain the smell of cooked seafood. These two cooking methods are ideal for pet parents who are sensitive to smells. Cooking temperatures for seafood depend on the cooking method selected. Electric pressure cookers are equipped with seafood cooking settings. Sous-vide takes an estimated 20 minutes per 0.5in thick of seafood for the internal temperature to match the temperature of the water bath. Baking can be done by preheating the oven to 200ºF (94ºC) and monitoring the food with a meat thermometer. Steaming can be timed by monitoring the internal temperature of the seafood.

Since EPA and DHA are sensitive to heat it is only recommended to cook seafood until it has reached an internal temperature of 145ºF (63ºC).


Because dogs and cats are carnivores, most dogs and cats will have a hard time digesting grains. Therefore, all grains should be presoaked in a sodium-based solution for 24 hours before cooking (water with a few dashes of salt to draw out toxins). This is to reduce the total phytates in the grains which helps improve digestibility. Once the grains have been presoaked they should be strained and rinsed before cooking. Boiling grains is the recommended cooking method to ensure they are fully cooked. The addition of water is based on the type of grain used – Amaranth, Buckwheat, Quinoa, and Rice requires 2.5 cups of water per 1 cup of dry grain. Barley, Millet, Oats, and Wild Rice require 3.5 cups of water per 1 cup of dry grain. The grains should thoroughly cook until they easily mash and become gelatinous. The use of bone broth in lieu of water can be used for cooking grains to improve their palatability for picky pets.


All starchy vegetables need to be thoroughly cooked. These starchy vegetables include sweet potato, yams, white potato, parsnips, beets, and carrots. An easy rule of thumb to follow is: if it grows under the ground, it needs to be thoroughly cooked until it mashes with a fork. The recommended cooking methods for root vegetables are baking and pressure cooking. However, a pressure cooker is not suitable for large batches of food. Root vegetables can be baked by preheating the oven to 300ºF (149ºC) and removing them from the oven when they are soft enough to be mashed. These ingredients can be cooked alongside muscle meat and organs when baking. However, root vegetables may require longer cooking times in comparison to animal proteins. Therefore, keeping these ingredients in separate cooking dishes is important.

Low Glycemic Vegetables

High-fiber vegetables do not need to be cooked to include them in a home-prepared diet. Pureeing is the minimum recommended processing for low-glycemic vegetables. However, these ingredients can be cooked as well. Steaming and boiling are the recommended cooking methods for low-glycemic vegetables. Steaming has been proven to reduce the amount of oxalates in certain vegetables. However, it is important to remember to dispose of the leftover steaming liquid if the goal is to reduce oxalates in the diet. Alternatively, boiling vegetables in bone broth is a method to make vegetables more palatable for picky eaters. Since low glycemic vegetables can be fed raw, the cooking time varies based on the desired result and the individual pet’s preference. Fully cooked vegetables are often more palatable than raw vegetables which may be an ideal option for picky eaters.


Many home kitchens are stocked with the tools needed to prepare a home-cooked diet for a dog or cat. However, there are specific items pet parents can consider that will improve meal prep efficiency. This equipment is not a requirement. Although, they have been shown to make cooking easier for pet parents who choose to provide their pets with a home-cooked diet:

Baker’s Set of Measuring Spoons

A full set of baker’s measuring spoons provides more flexibility when measuring dry ingredients outside of the standard measuring spoon set. A baker’s measuring spoon set typically provides 13 measuring spoons ranging from 1/32 tsp to 1 tbsp.

Meat Thermometer

Using a meat thermometer allows pet parents to identify when the meat ingredients have reached their minimum internal temperature to reduce the amount of bacteria in the food. These are very useful to prevent over or undercooked meat and seafood.

Food Grade Plastic or Silicone Bowl Scraper

Scraping food out of a bowl with a spoon becomes tedious and often a lot of food is left behind. A curved, food-grade bowl scraper is useful to easily remove food from bowls with minimal residue.

Braising Pot & Lid

Baking ingredients in large batches requires a large braising pot to hold the ingredients effectively. These pots come in a variety of sizes. It is recommended to calculate the amount of food needed for a recipe batch to determine the size of the pot needed.

Stock Pot & Lid

Boiling ingredients in large quantities require a large stock pot to hold the ingredients and liquid effectively. These pots come in a variety of sizes. It is recommended to calculate the amount of food needing to be boiled to determine the size pot needed.

Meat Mixer

Mixing large quantities of cooked meat, seafood, organs, and vegetables can become difficult. A manual meat mixer that can hold up to 20 lbs (9kg) is a great option to decrease the physical labor involved in mixing large batches of cooked food.


It is much easier to thoroughly mix cooked food if the meat and organ ingredients are ground. Purchasing pre-ground meat is often more expensive than whole meats. Grinding meat at home is a way to reduce long-term budget expenses when purchasing ingredients.

Kitchen Scale

Raw diets are typically calculated in measurements of weight rather than cups. It is essential to use a food scale when preparing a raw diet. Weighing all ingredients accurately helps to ensure that the correct amount of food is fed. Overfeeding can result in diarrhea and unwanted weight gain, while underfeeding can result in weight loss. Digital food scales are very user-friendly, inexpensive, and worth the small investment. It is useful to select a scale with the ability to weigh in pounds, ounces, and grams.

High-Quality Knives

A sharp knife is useful when prepping large items. There are many types of knives that all perform different functions. Always remember to maintain each knife’s blade so that it remains sharp. Ceramic handheld sharpeners are a great option for sharpening knives.

Chef Knife Best for cutting meat & organs into chunks. Cleaver Beneficial for butchering poultry & fowl. Boning Knife Ideal for removing meat off bones.

Kitchen Shears

Kitchen shears are useful for breaking down whole chickens, ducks, and rabbits. Good kitchen shears can cut through smaller, lightweight bones and portion out smaller items instead of using larger knives.

Freezer Space

Having a portion of freezer space dedicated to the pet’s food is ideal. At minimum, it is a good idea to have at least 1 to 2 weeks of raw food on hand in the freezer. This will save the pet parent's daily trips to the grocery store!


All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage or retrieval systems without permission in writing from the author.

If your pet is not well, please take them to the veterinarian immediately for an examination, diagnostics, and treatment. You are in charge of your pet's health in a way that makes sense to you. Consult your integrative veterinarian for specific health recommendations for the animals in your care.

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