Want To Eat On The Cheap All Week? Cook A Chicken!

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Sorry, chicken. You’re what’s for dinner … and then lunch, and then dinner again

Sorry, chicken. You’re what’s for dinner … and then lunch, and then dinner again.

Inexperienced cooks are often inclined to buy the easiest cuts of meat to deal with. Boneless, skinless chicken breast is a great ingredient for minimal prep work and fast cooking times, but it’s also the priciest chicken in the store (and not just because bone-in adds to the weight without adding to the meat). As with any prepared, or partially- prepared food, the store charges for a convenience factor.

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Buying a whole chicken may seem like a lot of work, but a small bird will cook in just a few hours and it will feed one person for a week. A slightly larger chicken can feed two or more people for several days.

I regularly cook a chicken on a Sunday night and use the leftovers for a full work week of quick and easy dinners, plus leftovers for packing lunches at work. If you plan your meals carefully, you’ll realize that many tasty, simple chicken recipes call for overlapping ingredients—making for an efficient and affordable grocery shopping experience.

Cooking The Chicken

I cook my chicken in a 7-quart slow cooker following this recipe pretty closely. I do, however, tweak it a bit to make it even more budget friendly. For example, the recipe calls for a lot of lemons, carrots, and celery. I only use about half the amount of these ingredients and it still comes out great.

I find the slow cooker to be really convenient and it makes tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. I included it as the top item in my list of kitchen appliances that can save you money. If you don’t have one, you can cook your chicken in the oven using your favorite recipe.

I originally chose this specific recipe because I thought the dry rub ingredients would be pretty neutral and mix well with the other chicken recipes I wanted to try making with the leftovers. You can also vary the rub mixture based on what’s available in your spice rack. I didn’t go out of my way to purchase paprika, thyme, or white pepper. I think the most important flavors are the salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. Other than those, I just add whatever else is available.

Making Broth

It is super-easy to make broth from the leftover chicken, bones, drippings from cooking the bird, and the well-done veggies left in the pot (which may be a little too mushy to eat on their own).  After carving the chicken, place the picked-over bones back into the slow cooker with the drippings and veggies, and fill the slow cooker with water. It may also be a good idea to add some more fresh veggies and spices for added flavor, if you like.

I usually keep the broth cooking on low overnight. You can also easily make this in a stock pot on the stove top, too. The broth will make an excellent base for chicken noodle soup. It’s also useful for cooking numerous other dishes that call for cooking with chicken broth rather than water. The broth can be stored long-term in the freezer.

Quickie Chicken Meal Ideas

One fast, easy lunch idea is a simple salad of baby-spinach, grated carrots, diced avocado, celery, and sliced grape tomatoes with shredded chicken and whatever dressing you have on hand.

Spinach chicken quesadillas are another tasty and fast meal. This recipe calls for several of the same ingredients as the salad. Every recipe can be modified based on your budget. (Tip: If avocadoes aren’t on sale, skip them this week.) To stretch your food dollars, try shopping at a discount produce market for great deals on fresh fruit and veggies.

Big-Batch Chicken Recipes For Days Of Leftovers

Making a huge batch of chicken noodle soup will provide lunches all week. I recommend not adding your pre-cooked chicken until you are ready to eat the serving of soup, though. Long-term soaking can actually harden and dries it out the meat.

If you’re not a fan of chicken soup (or only like it when you’re sick), whip up this broccoli chicken and rice casserole instead for a nice dinner (plus a several days of lunches). If you think you might get sick of eating it for several days in a row, this dish can be frozen and reheated later on. Another yummy meal that would last for several days is chicken Florentine pasta, which also conveniently shares ingredients with the salad and quesadilla recipes above.

Do you have any cheap and easy recipes that call for leftover chicken? How about other tips to stretch your food budget? Share them in the comments!

(Photo: Wikimedia)

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