Nala Reviews: The Honest Kitchen’s Minimalist Marvel

So far, I haven’t talked a lot about food here. After all, this blog is about Nala’s world–about her behavior, her interests, what we do together that she finds fun, how we enrich our lives together.

However, I have been informed by a certain shepherd that food is very enriching

so hapy!
This is Nala’s food face! If she could type, all she would write about would be food, probably.

And she’s completely correct, right?

In its infinite varieties of smells, flavors, textures–meats mild and flaky or stewed and gamey or rolled into meatballs, caramelized, and braised in gravy; vegetables crisp and fresh in salads or steamed, nutty and brown when roasted, finished with tangy citrus; fruits, particularly sweet and fresh and juicy here at the end of a long summer. And oh, the songs I could sing for starches; the ditties I could compose for dairy; the odes I might write to herbs (in fact, I’ve been fantasizing about putting mint and basil on fresh peaches for days). I love food.

Nala loves food, too. And food enriches her life in countless ways: I use food games in training that call upon her inherent joy in chasing stuff, finding it with her nose, and working to access it. On rainy days, I used to scatter kibble on our red patterned carpet so that the only reliable way for Nala to locate it was with her nose. I also offer enrichment in the form of puzzle bowls, puzzle toys, and stuffed frozen kongs.

For some reason, though, it never occurred to me that food in and of itself might be as enriching for Nala as it often is for me. It was only recently, when we switched Nala to a raw diet rotating through a variety of proteins for other reasons, that I realized that getting a variety of foods in her meals–being surprised by the details of what protein, organ, or raw meaty bone was for breakfast or dinner that day–mattered to her, too. I love watching her air scent toward the counter as I prepare her meal, lay a few feet away from me barely able to contain her anticipation, and do a few tricks with singing eagerness before being sent to her mat to wait for her meal. She liked her kibble, but she loves the food she eats now.

So even though this mostly looks like a training blog, I don’t think it will be out of place for us to do some food and product reviews.

First up, a product for a company I’m really enthusiastic about–one of The Honest Kitchen’s new limited ingredient diets, Marvel.

Two puzzle toy options: West Paw Toppl and Outward Hound bowl.

Product: The Honest Kitchen Marvel: Grain-free turkey dog food
Price: $51.99 for a 4 lb box* on The Honest Kitchen’s website
Ingredients (all dehydrated): Cage-free turkey, parsnip, navy bean, organic coconut, pumpkin, parsley, plus vitamins and minerals
Guaranteed Analysis:

  • Calories per Dry Cup: 516
  • Protein: 24.50%
  • Fat: 18.50%
  • Carbohydrates: 33.20%
  • Fiber: 12.50%
  • Moisture: 6.00%
so cute! so informative!
THK updated their packaging pretty recently, and I really love these side panels that tell you exactly what went into each box.

Like I said before, I really love The Honest Kitchen as a company. Even though Nala eats a fairly DIY-style raw diet, we use Honest Kitchen products nearly every day. Where other raw feeders might use a multi-vitamin to assuage their concerns over not being able to source a sufficient quantity of weird organs to combat the risk for nutritional imbalances occurring over time, I reconstitute some THK base mix most mornings to add to Nala’s breakfast of gizzards, hearts, or other muscle meat. Nala especially likes Kindly–it reconstitutes to a smoother texture than Preference does.

But, like most raw feeders, I like to keep a few complete-and-balanced options on hand for days that I’ve forgotten to defrost meat, or am too tired or rushed to cut up gizzards. And hey, there are benefits to these lazy days–they let me evaluate whether Nala digests a recipe well with an abrupt transition and some probiotics, in case I need to board her or have her fed by a pet sitter or a relative who might not be comfortable watching my dog cronch through a raw turkey neck. I also like to use complete and balanced foods to stuff Kongs–and judging by the empty food toy thrown somewhere in the house when I get home each day, Nala loves them, too.

Since THK complete recipes for breakfast are a bit of a novelty around here, Nala has been really excited for the past week as we’ve tested Marvel out.

First, the obvious: is it palatable?

Apparently, yes! Absolutely! Nala spent the entire time that I mixed and hydrated her breakfast air-scenting toward the counter. It smelled delicious to me, too–savory but sweet and almost nutty (probably due to the dehydrated coconut). Unlike many of the Honest Kitchen’s recipes, this one doesn’t have any garlic–so if you have a very small dog and feeding any amount of garlic makes you nervous, this might be a good recipe for you to try. On the other hand, it looks very green–and while Nala seems to enjoy the veggie-ness of THK recipes (in fact, since she started eating it regularly, she’s stopped eating grass–she must have a personal salad quota), I know that some dogs have less of an appetite for veggies than she does.

so intent!
I used a few pieces of raw turkey heart to distract her with a little training during the torturous three minutes during which her dinner hydrates. Sit pretty—-!
This is her breakfast face.
Nala licked every inch of her puzzle bowl clean every morning that she got Marvel for breakfast, even the larger chunks of parsnip. I did top her meals with slices of raw turkey heart to boost the protein content a bit.

The second question of importance for me: does she digest it well?

For the sake of science, I tried transitioning Nala to this recipe in two ways–once in the slow, recommended manner, and one more abrupt transition to mimic the way that I would probably prefer to use it. Last week, I combined it gradually with foods that she eats on a regular basis, so that her breakfast was 25% Marvel, 75% Kindly and raw turkey heart mixture, with the proportions evening out over a few days. Then, this week, I abruptly switched her to Marvel topped with some chopped up raw turkey heart to boost the protein percentage for that meal. As always, Nala got kefir and prebiotics to aid her digestion (she might not need them, really, but I take a proactive attitude toward her digestive flora). No matter how I introduced it and how much of it she ate, Nala ate it with enthusiasm and digested it well–not something I can say for when she ate kibble with similar protein-to-fat ratios.

The final thing to consider is, of course, the cost. For a dog of Nala’s size and caloric requirements (even though she’s an easy keeper and on a diet), this food would, frankly, be pretty cost prohibitive to feed exclusively–she would go through a 4 lb box in just over a week, or a 10 lb box in a little over three weeks. For us, it works much better as a kong stuffer, occasional indulgence, or emergency ration for boarding and traveling in our rotation diet. Still, since this food is so calorically dense, a package will last longer than the back of the box suggests–they seem to have reprinted the same feeding instructions on all of the formulas, even though they have pretty different calorie counts.

On the other hand, for what it’s trying to do–be a limited ingredient diet for allergy dogs–it’s basically ideal. Turkey will be a novel protein for many dogs (although it is gaining popularity in commercial kibbles, it’s nowhere near as ubiquitous as chicken or beef). I’ve never seen navy beans in a dog food before, and parsnips are unusual, too–in fact, the only ingredient in this food that most dogs will probably have been exposed to before is pumpkin, so it would be a great food with which to start an elimination diet for a dog with food allergies and intolerances.

Even though it’s out of the range of our budget, I’m personally grateful that this food exists. I have several severe food allergies myself, and I know how exhausting it can be to go through the miles-long ingredients list of most foods only to find something I can’t have sneaking around halfway down the list. A food with six ingredients is, frankly, a relief. This is also the best fit for us among THK’s turkey foods: I’m not allergic to it (I’m allergic to wheat, eggs, fish, and several other things), so I’m comfortable handling it. And Nala digests it better than she does grain-inclusive recipes like THK Keen.

Finally, some things we noticed during our marvelous little food trial!

Like others, we noticed that this recipe requires much less water than other Honest Kitchen recipes. Most of the grain free recipes hydrate pretty well with a 1:1 food to water ratio; the grain inclusive ones seem thirstier, and can have up to twice as much water and still bulk up to a thick, oatmeal like consistency. It definitely took me a few tries to get the ratio right.

It's an interesting looking product, for sure.
Here’s what the product looks like dry: very green and with visible chunks of parsnip and…dehydrated something. Coconut? Turkey?
soupy!
Here’s my first attempt to hydrate this product without mixing it with something else. I used about equal parts dry mix and water. Way too soupy! Nala didn’t seem to mind, honestly, but your dog might. Not pictured: I reserved a little bit of this soupy mixture in my fridge for a couple of hours to see what would happen, planning to put it in a kong later. It thickened up quite a bit, yet didn’t seem to increase in volume the way the grain inclusive ones do.
yum, green goop!
Here’s what it looked like as I mixed in the perfect amount of water for us. Clockwise from the top left: 1. Water added but not yet stirred in–this is just under 3/4 cup of mix to about 1/2 cup of warm water. 2. I’ve stirred the water in but the mix hasn’t had a chance to sit. 3. After 3 minutes–you can see that it’s thicker now. 4. Thinned out with about half an ounce of kefir–still a little too thin, unfortunately, which is one of the reasons I topped it with turkey heart slices.

I’ve been wondering about the fact that this product takes less water than THK’s other recipes, particularly since I know that one of the benefits of feeding a raw or a dehydrated-then-rehydrated diet is the additional moisture. If this is something you’re concerned about but your dog won’t eat soupy food, you might try adding extra water and then letting it sit in the fridge to thicken.

I also want to note, again, that this is an unusually calorie-dense recipe–the recommendations on the back of the box are pretty wildly inaccurate. As a person whose dog has very recently been on a diet, I feel obligated to remind you that in addition to adding less water than you might be used to if you feed other THK recipes, you’ll probably also need to feed less food in general. And if, like us, you like to add things in or you do a lot of reward based training with food, you’ll be feeding even less.

Bottom line: this is a great addition to the THK lineup, and is well-formulated to meet the needs of people who are trying to do an elimination diet with their dogs. I’m thrilled to add it to our rotation as one of a few commercial foods that I am not allergic to, and can feed to Nala without any effort or tweaking when we’re traveling. None of this is too surprising, since The Honest Kitchen is a company with a philosophy and practices I can really get behind.

* We received a free 4 lb box of Marvel to review. But we weren’t compensated in any other way, and I won’t ever promote a product that I’m not comfortable using on my own dog and don’t fully support. 

Marvel doesn’t come in a 2 lb sample box, but if you’d like to try a variety of THK that does, please feel free to use our sample code for 50% off!

dat tongue tho
“The back of that spoon was delicious. Now can you please, for the love of all things furry, stop taking pictures and give me my breakfast?”

Wanna talk more about food, ask more questions about this particular recipe, or have me explain my weird allergies? Tell me about it in the comments!

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