Wednesday, January 23, 2013

One Chicken, Six Dinners Challenge

 I'm trying to be extra frugal this year and actually track my spending.  I mean, I'm always pretty frugal out of necessity and principle, but I only know estimates of what I spend on things, and this year I'm keeping track to see how I do.  As a fun project, I wanted to see if I could stretch one chicken into six dinners. I saw something similar on a blog a few years ago, and the idea has stayed with me.

First, a few disclaimers: I am not a food stylist, nor do I pretend to be. Even worse, I do not have a good camera, so I totally realize that these pictures are not the beautiful "I've got to make that!" kind of pictures. I'm so sorry about that. But the pictures serve the purpose of documentation, and that's the best I could do.

Also, while I wish this had been an organic, free range chicken, it was not. It was merely a hormone-free chicken, on sale, and right now that's the best I could do. So, for the sake of data, it weighed 5.21 pounds, and I got it for $4.53 on sale. So, this is some mighty cheap protein when stretched into so many meals.

The first thing I did was boil the chicken all day long and make stock. Here it is just getting going. Later I added some carrots, celery, and parsley. (And it cooked covered.) Cooking it slowly will bring the gelatin from the bones into the stock and make it extra rich and nourishing.

When I was done, I ended up with 12 cups of stock and 6 cups of shredded meat. I was completely amazed (and my OCD tendencies were so satisfied) with how perfectly even my beginning arsenal was. I divided up the meat into six one-cup portions and the stock into 3 cup portions and froze most of it. I knew I was going to make six dinners, but I didn't want chicken six nights in a row, so I did this over about two and a half weeks. The kids were totally in on it, and they loved it. By the way, most days I was feeding four people, with one of them being a teenage boy. And since most of the meals made enough for two full meals, you can think of it as each meal being enough for eight.

Dinner #1: The obvious, Chicken Noodle Soup. I used 6 cups of the stock and 1 cup of chicken. Served with Cheese and Herb Biscuits. 

(This pot of soup actually made enough for us to have a complete other meal, for lunch a few days later, plus another bowl that someone had another day.)

Dinner #2: Chicken and Rice. I used 3 cups of broth and 1 cup of chicken. Some people had cheese on top, others (like me) had chicken gravy on top (made with the broth). Served with veggies and salad.

This also made two complete meals.

Dinner #3: Some kind of Mexican Quesadilla Concoction. I don't know what to call them, but they were good. I didn't have flour tortillas, but I had tons of corn ones. I had half of a green pepper and a red pepper and about a quarter of a bag of frozen corn, so I sauteed that up with some onion, threw in 1 cup of chicken, and put it on a corn tortilla, topped with another corn tortilla and fried in a bit of oil.

Served with salsa, sour cream, and beans. They were good, whatever they are.

This was only one meal, but there was enough of the filling mixture (about 1/2 cup) to throw into a batch of scrambled eggs for another day.

Dinner #4: Chicken Tortilla Soup. A favorite around here. I used the last 3 cups of stock and 1 cup of chicken. Added diced tomatoes, corn, black beans, and spices. Then we served it with sour cream, cheese, and tortilla chips. Delicious!

And again, this made two complete meals.

Dinner #5: Chicken Tetrazini. Used 1 cup of chicken. Except I didn't have spaghetti noodles. I did, however, have two half-full boxes of fettuccine, so I used those instead. (I love making use of odd things left over like that!) Served with garlic bread and salad, we had it for dinner one night, and lunch on Sunday after church the next day. Total comfort food.

Dinner #6: Chicken Pot Pies. I got these ramekins at Target on clearance more than a year ago, and I've been dying to use them. They made pretty big servings, so we only got one meal from this. (Well, except that Conor didn't finish his and I ate the rest for lunch the next day.) I used my last cup of chicken. These were so good. I could have made the crusts fancier, but I was in a hurry.

So, there you go! It is possible to get six dinners from one chicken! And really, we ended up getting ten (TEN!) meals from that chicken. For $4.53, that ain't bad!

Stretching meat this far obviously does not make the meat the star of the show. It is an accompaniment, an ingredient, a nourishing highlight. But we also know that meat is better consumed that way. We eat far too much protein in this country and you definitely can have too much of a good thing. We also eat like gluttonous, entitled pigs sometimes, as if chickens just show up in the grocery store and are not living creatures whose lives should be taken and consumed with gratitude and humility. We found that while there was less chicken in these familiar dishes than we might have been accustomed to, we didn't miss the excess and were still completely satisfied.

All in all, it was a fun experiment and a success!

I'm not promising I will always make a chicken last for six dinners. I probably won't, usually. But I can do better than I've done and be more thoughtful in our consumption, saving money (and chicken lives!)

What do you think? Would you try it?


Luisa Perkins said...

SO impressed and proud! I was thinking of you tonight as we had chicken soup with dumplings.

Sarah said...

Wow... quite impressive! We love chicken, but I usually buy it boneless, skinless because I am lazy (yes, I admit it)... it motivates me to buy a whole chicken and see what I can do with it all!!!

Sarah said...

I wish we could go with less meat around here. I have a husband however, who does not eat vegetables and there is very little else that I can convince him to try. Way to go though! I ran into a problem a couple Sundays ago when I wanted to make burritos for lunch on Sunday, only to realize that I didn't have enough flour tortillas. I made some homemade and they were so good! So simple, too!

Anonymous said...

Good Job Miss Jenna!!! Love this idea. It makes me get more motivated to budget my inventory of spending as well.