Part One of Seven:
This post is the first in a series covering how to stretch one chicken over 6 meals …
Frugality with food is something that was second nature for our grandmothers. These days however, it’s much easier to just grab something from the supermarket at the last minute and get on with your busy life. Great when you’re flush with cash, but not great when your wallet’s feeling light.
That’s where the humble roast chook comes in. Can you really stretch a roast chicken for 4/5/6 meals? The internet says you can and so do I.
I don’t want healthy cheap meals to be boring though and I’m guessing neither do you. Let’s go beyond just a mash up of chicken soup, cheese filled chicken quesadillas and chicken rolls. A quick Google search on how to stretch a chicken over multiple meals will return many variations of meals like this.
I like quesadillas as much as the next person, but they aren’t really stretching the limits of creativity and with cheese being the major ingredient they are high in calories. Instead let’s create healthy meals that are high in taste, nutrition and importantly, don’t make you feel like you’re eating leftovers all week.
So whether you’re an absolute novice, or just need a bit more inspiration, I’m going to show you how I go about turning one chicken into nearly a weeks worth of dinners for two people. From choosing the chicken, making stock and how to create your own meal plan from what’s already in your cupboard, this guide has got you covered.
Think it all sounds like too much hard work? I promise you, with a little time invested in planning the meals you will have 6 days of yummy healthy dinners for what actually amounts to fairly minimal effort. If even that sounds too hard, don’t worry I’ve created a plan for you!
So let’s get to it …
How to make 6 meals from 1 chicken, including how to create your own meal plan from what’s in the cupboard
1: Choosing the right chicken
What size chicken should you buy?
Ultimately the size of your bird is probably going to come down to what’s available to you. I bought mine on special and well, beggars can’t be choosers. My chicken was 1.6kg (or size 16), which means stretching it across so many meals is really quite commendable even if I do say so myself!
Had I had more choice I would have gone for a chicken closer to 2kg (size 20) which would have yielded a lot more meat. After we ate the legs on the first day (meal plan at the end of the post) I stripped all the remaining meat of the bird which came to 400gm cooked chicken. If you manage to get your hands on a 2kg bird then you’ll probably end up with something closer to 550gm shredded chicken which means you’ll be able to either eat higher protein meals or stretch the chicken for another night.
Free range/Organic/Hormone free/Antibiotic free?
First and foremost it’s important to note that it’s been illegal to use hormones in chickens in Australia since the 1960s. If you see labelling on chickens in supermarkets claiming “hormone free” know that this is purely for marketing purposes and doesn’t make the chicken anymore superior that the one next to it.
Whether you choose to purchase organic or free range or “normal” chicken is really down to your personal preference and most likely, your budget. Anyone who has tasted organic chicken can attest to the big difference in flavour, but the reality is that the price puts organic meat out of the reach of most budgets.
Personally I choose to buy free range chicken because I’d like to think that the bird had some semblance of a humane life before it was slaughtered for my dinner. This particular chicken was a Lilydale bird, which also happens to be the brand I generally buy because it’s so readily available in all the major supermarkets and is accredited with Free Range Egg & Poultry Australia (FREPA), who are an independent certification body.
The use of antibiotics in chicken (and other meats) is a bit of a hot topic at the moment. If it’s something you are worried about you should know that if antibiotics are required for the health of the chicken it cannot be sold as free range under FREPA’s guidelines. So you can purchase a free range chicken and rest easy that it hasn’t been pumped full of antibiotics.
2: Make your own chicken stock
To really get to the heart of budget cooking we need to talk about making your own stock. Stay with me, I promise it isn’t hard!
Why you should make your own stock
Number one, you’ll be reducing food waste. Number two, it’s actually pretty simple. And number three, you’ll get a kick out of feeling like a culinary genius. Or at least I did the first time I made my own stock!
Reduce food waste
To me the most fundamental behaviour we should all adopt is simply not wasting food.
Sadly the habit of just throwing away the food that we buy is very much prevalent in kitchens in this country. According to FoodWise the average Australian household wastes $1,036 of food per year. To help put that in perspective, that $1,000 would feed that same household for one month!
It’s definitely not an insignificant sum, particularly if you’re on a budget or saving for something special.
If you do want to read more about food waste I’d suggest starting with this nifty infographic which explains all the FoodWise stats more succinctly than I can.
Making your own stock is a great way to turn leftover bones from meat and vegetable scraps into a rich satisfying broth which is a great starting point for soup or can be used to cook rice or quinoa.
Tip: Freeze leftover bones until you have enough to make a batch of stock.
Demystifying the process
Try not to let the idea of making your own stock intimidate you!
For years I was under the impression that the realm of broth or stock making was shrouded in mystery and known only to chefs and Vietnamese grandmothers. Once I finally braved the process in my own kitchen I was completely surprised by just how easy it is. Even if you are an absolute novice in the kitchen you can handle stock making. Promise.
All you need to do is keep all the bones and carcass of the bird when you’ve finished either eating or stripping the meat. Then throw them in a large pot with a couple of bay leaves, vegetables, herbs, salt and fill with water. Let it bubble away for a couple of hours. Job done.
Some recipes might have you hovering around skimming fat and all that. Follow my recipe and you can avoid all that nonsense and still have a lovely healthy broth at the end of it.
It’s completely foolproof and requires only the barest of attention.
Tip: Freeze stock in ice cube trays for later use
3: Planning the meals
I should preface this section by saying that I LOVE menu planning. I’m totally happy squirrelling away in the cupboard and planning out the week in a spreadsheet (yes, that really happens).
Now I get that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea and in all likelihood you can think of a million more important/interesting things to do than plan your food for the week. Normally I’d be fully supportive of your desire to fly by the seat of your pants, but in this instance those few minutes planning really will save you time and perhaps more importantly, dollars.
So bear with me while we cover this.
Step 1. Take a look in your cupboard
Pretty obvious. Yet most people have no idea what’s in their pantry at any given point in time. Quite silly really given that your pantry is your new best friend when you’re experiencing a particularly lean week or trying to reduce your grocery bill.
The vast majority of us could probably subsist quite comfortably on not much more than the contents of our cupboard, fridge and freezer for several weeks, maybe longer.
Don’t believe me? Go and check out the Simple Savings $21 Challenge and try it for yourself. JD and I once managed to complete week long challenge despite having what most people would regard as an empty fridge!
So grab a notebook, duck your head in the cupboard and note down anything that stand out for use over the week. In my case the pantry items I ended up using were:
- Oil (olive & sesame)
- Canned chickpeas
- Tomato passata
- Vermicelli noodles
- Soba noodles
- Spices and dried herbs
- Sesame seeds
- Tomato paste
While you’re at it stick your head in the freezer to see if you’ve got any frozen vegetables you can use such as peas, beans, corn, etc. Thanks to JD’s ice-cream addiction our freezer was only housing some frozen peas and chillies.
And finally, don’t forsake the fridge. Look for vegetables, wilting herbs, half used jars of curry paste, Asian sauces, etc. For me that included:
- Salad leaves
- Green beans
- Greek yoghurt
- A vast array of Asian sauces
You should now be feeling some inspiration bubbling to the surface and maybe some meal ideas forming. The next step is to think about how you want to break up the chicken.
Step 2. Decide when you will eat each part of the chicken
This was a pretty simple step for me. I BBQ’d the chook and I knew the legs would be lovely and juicy, so it was a no-brainer to plan that as the first meal. I’m of the opinion that thigh meat doesn’t get any better than straight of the grill so why delay the eating of it.
There’s also the added bonus that it make the first meal very simple to prepare which is great if like me, you plan to make your stock that night as well.
That leaves all the breast and back meat to use for the remaining meals which is quite convenient as it’s pre-shredded when you come to cook them. See what we’re doing here – convenience!
The legs are quite a decent size meal, so you could always chop the drumsticks off and just eat those or the thigh if you prefer to keep more meat for the other meals. There was little chance of that in our house, those legs were gobbled up in the blink of an eye!
Step 3: How to plan healthy meals that aren’t boring
The easiest way to plan a balanced meal is to think of it as a formula:
Chicken + grain + vegetables + flavour = awesome healthy meal
Your kitchen inspection earlier should have yielded a list of items that fall more or less into these categories.
I use the term grain very loosely – pasta, rice, quinoa, noodles, lentils, chickpeas or wraps/tortillas.
Anything fresh or frozen that you managed to dig up out of the fridge/freezer, as well as any canned vegetables from the pantry.
Hopefully you have a rough idea of what’s in your spice rack, plus you should also have an assortment of sauces, pastes, vinegar, fresh and dried herbs, citrus fruits and more to choose from.
A good rule of thumb is to pick one or two flavours to set the tone for the dish e.g. curry paste and lime, tomato passata and oregano, ginger and soy, etc.
There really are limitless options for the meals to make from your chicken. If you’re getting stuck for ideas you can also think about the different style of dishes you can make. Salads, soups, stews, wraps, bakes, quiches, pies, etc.
Or if you’re completely stuck, skip all of that and just follow my menu plan!
4. My menu plan day by day
Day 1: Lemon BBQ Roast Chicken Legs with salad
Pair these lovely lemony legs with a simple green salad for a super easy dinner on your first day. Forgo the cutlery and tuck in with your hands. The meat will be falling off the bone and wonderfully juicy.
Day 2: Asian Chicken & Vermicelli Salad
Fresh and spicy, this vermicelli noodle salad is a great light weekday dinner. The noodles soak up the chilli lime dressing so you have a meal that’s bursting with flavour.
Day 3: Yellow Chicken & Rice
This dish is visually brilliant and equally tasty. Best of all it’s made from ingredient that are mostly from the pantry and makes 4 large serves saving you time later in the week.
Day 4: 10 minute Chicken & Soba Noodle Soup
This soup comes together in only a few minutes and delivers a flavoursome broth, fresh greens and noodles perfect for slurping.
Day 5: Indian Chicken & Potatoes with Quinoa
The shredded chicken softens beautifully in this Indian inspired stew of potatoes, spices, tomato and chickpeas. Served with quinoa this makes a hearty meal freshened up with coriander, Greek yogurt and a squeeze of lime.
Day 6: Yellow Chicken & Rice
Take tonight off in the kitchen and gobble up what’s left of the Yellow Chicken & rice accompanied by a fresh leafy salad.
5. How much does it all cost?
The chicken was on special for $7 and I focused on using as much as possible that I already had which kept the cost very low. I only needed to buy a few vegetables and bits and pieces during the week which came to a grand total of $9.70.
So all in all I only spent an additional $16.70 to produce 6 meals for two people. Pretty good!
Average cost per serve
That brings the average cost per serve for the week to $1.39.
Of course that doesn’t include the cost of food in the pantry, but that’s the point. It’s highly likely you’ve got a treasure trove in your own pantry just begging to be used. So why not give it a try?
My shopping list
This list includes the items I bought in addition to what I had in my pantry/fridge/freezer listed above.
- Snow peas
- Chinese spinach
- Salad leaves
Tips for those on a tight budget
Whether you got a bit excited and spent all your pennies before remembering pay day wasn’t for another week, are saving for something special or a tight budget is your daily existence there’s a few simple things you can do to stretch your dollars a bit further.
- Buy meat when it’s on special – My local supermarket always has meat specials on a Sunday evening. Pay attention to the patterns of your own supermarket and adjust your shopping schedule accordingly.
- Grow your own herbs – A packet of seeds is basically the same price as a bunch of fresh herbs. If you’ve got a bit of sun or your balcony or window sill, pot your favourite herbs and start saving.
- Eat seasonally – become familiar with what’s in season in your local area. It’s likely to be the cheapest produce in the fruit and vegetable section.
- Buy only what you need – We go to a local co-op to buy legumes, nuts and other dried goods. You bring your own container and purchase based on weight. No more having to buy a huge bag of lentils when you only want 1 cup. Even the major supermarkets are getting in on this approach now.
- Look for an Asian grocer – these are becoming more and more common in Australia and are several times cheaper for noodles, Asian sauces, frozen dumplings and dried goods than the Asian aisle in your local supermarket.
This post is the first in a series of seven that I’ll be sending out over the next week covering roasting your chicken, how to make chicken stock and each of the recipes listed above.
I really hope you found this post useful! Please share with anyone you think it would help and leave your own budget cooking tips in the comments below.