While you might want to eat more organic food, the grocery store prices might scare you off. While we’ve looked at ways to save money on organic food by finding it for less, another strategy is to make the most of the food you buy.
Yes, you might reel backward when you see an organic, free-range whole chicken costs $30 — at least, that’s the price at my local store in Alberta, Canada — but you’ll feel a whole lot better when that chicken feeds you and your family well all week long.
Here’s the strategy I use to create five dinners for my family of four from a single chicken in a single pan. In addition to helping you save money, this trick will save you time in the kitchen and prevent food waste.
Sunday: Prep Day
Pick up your organic, free-range chicken, whether you choose to buy it from a grocery store, local farmer or butcher shop. I prioritize organic and free-range whenever possible because I’ve found that the meat holds up better throughout the week and yields a high-quality, flavorful broth for the soups, but you can certainly follow this same strategy with a conventionally raised chicken.
For my family of four, I look for a 5- or 6-pound chicken. If your family is bigger or you have kids with bigger appetites, you might want to pick up a slightly bigger bird.
When you get home, rinse the chicken in the sink and brine it overnight in a plastic bag filled with a gallon of water, ¼ cup of salt and ⅔ cup of brown sugar. This step is completely unnecessary, but it makes the chicken taste even better in your meals throughout the week.
Monday: Roasted Lemony Chicken
Rinse the chicken (whether or not you brined it yesterday), then stuff the cavity with pieces of lemon and onion. Put it in your biggest stovetop- and oven-safe pan (ours holds five quarts) along with a selection of seasoned veggies. We love the combination of chicken, carrots, celery, potatoes, grape tomatoes and more onion. Instead of throwing out the veggie peels, skins and tops, stick them in a bag in the fridge. Roast your chicken at 375 degrees until a meat thermometer in the thigh reads 185 degrees, about 1.5 to two hours.
Serve the chicken legs, thighs and wings for dinner, along with the veggies and a grain of your choice, like quinoa, couscous or rice. When you’re finished, put the bones back in the pan and put the pan in the fridge.
Tuesday: Homemade Chicken Soup
Peel off the breasts and any other meat from the chicken and put them in another container in the fridge. Discard the lemon from last night and dump your bag of veggie skins and tops into the pan. Fill the pan with water, add a bay leaf, salt, some peppercorns and more veggies if you’d like, and bring the whole thing to a boil on the stove. We use two burners to get enough heat distribution across the pan. Reduce to a simmer.
After an hour (or longer if you choose, up to a full day), you’ll have about 14 cups of delicious, homemade chicken broth. Strain your broth, discard the solids and put half the broth into a container in the fridge.
Use the other half, along with half of the reserved chicken meat, to make chicken soup for dinner. Bulk it up according to your taste and hunger level with veggies, rice, noodles, barley or other additions. You probably won’t have leftovers (we never do!), but there will be some scraps in the pan, so instead of washing it, stick it back in the fridge for tomorrow.
Wednesday: Chicken-Spiced Oven Hash
You’ll notice that your refrigerated broth has either formed a solid yellowish layer at the top of the jar or has taken on an overall jelly-like texture. This is a good thing! What you see is gelatin, a rich source of protein and many other nutrients that was drawn from the bones during yesterday’s broth-making session.
Add large portions of onion, potatoes, veggies and canned beans to the roasting pan, mix it up with a ¼ cup of your reserved chicken broth and a little bit of olive oil, and spice to taste. Roast the mixture until it’s deliciously caramelized. The broth will liquify again when it’s heated, so don’t worry about the jelly texture showing up in your dinner. The chicken gristle and bits from the broth and the bottom of the pan will infuse everything in the pan, resulting in a chicken-y mixture that you can serve over a grain left over from Monday or another grain option like quinoa, rice or couscous.
Make enough to leave some leftovers and stick the pan back in the fridge again.
Thursday: Chicken-Stuffed Burritos
Scoop any leftovers from last night into tortillas, add a can of beans and several pieces from the reserved chicken meat, and sprinkle on some cheese and salsa. Wrap in foil, bake for 10 minutes (in the same roasting pan, of course!) and voila: chicken/bean/veggie burritos that taste better, cost less and are ready to eat quicker than anything you can get in a restaurant.
Serve with sour cream, salsa, avocado or whatever else you like. After dinner, it’s finally time to wash the roasting pan. (It’ll go quickly because everything’s already been scraped out!)
Friday: Leftover Soup
Use whatever’s left of the chicken, broth, beans, grains, noodles and produce in your fridge to make Leftover Soup. The specific ingredients don’t really matter at this point; nearly every combination tastes delicious as a soup. And here’s another opportunity to reap the benefits of an organic chicken: the broth will still be rich and delicious, and the leftover meat will still be tender and full of flavor.
Your Leftover Soup will be delicious, no matter its ingredients, and it’ll empty out your fridge before you go grocery shopping for next week.
A single organic chicken really can feed your family for an entire week. The secret is to think of that chicken as only one ingredient in a wide variety of meals, rather than the star attraction of just one. I’d love to hear your favorite chicken recipes!
Your Turn: Have you ever made a chicken last all week? What are your favorite strategies?
Chantel Hamilton is a writer on a mission to prove that organics can be cheaper for families everywhere. Try it out for yourself, and see how much you can save.