Tuesday, August 28, 2012

5 Meals, One Chicken

This is a plan for making 5 simple, nutritious meals using one chicken plus pantry items.  The chicken is the only meat.  These meals feed three people plus enough for leftovers (or a surprise guest).  I purchase a 4-5 lb. chicken at Aldi for about $4-5.  I keep it in the freezer until I'm ready to cook it.  On a day that I'm home, I put the chicken in the oven at 325 and cook it about 4 hours (I don't thaw it first).  Depending on the time I have and my mood, I sometimes place the roasted chicken right in the fridge in its cooking pot.  Other times I pull all the meat off then while it's hot.  It's easier to remove the meat when it's hot.

Day One, I slice one side of the chicken breast (or shred it, depending!).  I put pieces of rye bread down on a baking sheet, spread them with pesto sauce or ranch dressing, lay the pieces of chicken on top, cover the top with swiss cheese, sprinkle with paprika, and place under the broiler on low for about 8-10 minutes.  Obviously you can change the cheese, seasoning, or spread, but the basic formula remains the same.  Half a good-size chicken breast will make 4-5 sandwiches.

Day Two, I chop up the other side of the chicken breast and use it for chicken pot pie.  I never liked chicken pot pie because I always had frozen ones.  Homemade is much better and not much harder.  I line a pie pan with premade pie crust (the rolled kind from the refrigerator section; they taste better than the frozen ones).  I put chicken, a can of mixed vegetables, and about 2-3 cups of white sauce.  I make my white sauce from scratch, but if this is a hurdle for you you could use 2 cans of condensed cream soup (cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, etc).

Day Three, I use the meat from the legs and thighs for chicken tacos (or enchiladas).  My daughter doesn't care for standard taco seasoning, so I use a seasoning from Penzey's called Arizona Dreaming.  It provides a nice flavor that she enjoys also.  Depending on what I have, we also put black beans, grilled veggies, avocado, tomato, lettuce, and/or cheese on them.

Day Four, I place the chicken carcass and all of the bones I've been picking into the pasta insert for my big pot.  I fill it with water and boil it for several hours.  I get nice clear soup because I can simply lift the pasta insert out of the broth and it takes all the bits of chicken and stuff with it.  I then pick through this and usually can get close to a cup of meat out of it.  Sometimes I put this meat in the broth and make chicken or chicken-vegetable soup.  Other times, I freeze this meat and use it for quesadillas, or for a small meal for just me and my daughter.  If I save up this "extra" meat from two rounds of chicken, I have enough for an extra meal for all of us.

This provides us with a lot of flexibility and makes budgeting much easier.  I spend much less on groceries than I did in the past.  I also never have to wrestle with a raw chicken (I never quite got the hang of that, and plus I feel like my kitchen is germy afterward).  I pick my frozen chicken and just go from there.  I never have to worry it's spoiling on me because it waits for me in the freezer.

Sometimes we have the roast chicken for dinner the night I make it, which will still give you multiple meals, but probably more like 3.

For an even easier version, you can get several meals from a pre roasted chicken that you can buy at the deli.  These chickens are smaller, and you pay a premium for having it cooked, but if you only cook for one person it might get you almost as much mileage.  The soup made from a well seasoned rotisserie chicken carcass is delicious!