By Emily Malloy
It doesn't require a degree in economics to recognize that it is becoming exponentially more expensive to eat; an exponential growth with a momentum that seems to not be waning. Inflation is more than an economic buzzword thrown around by television pundits, and regardless of whether it is transitory, it is a harsh reality that is hitting every wallet across the nation as we try to feed our families.
Economizing the household budget is at the forefront of many minds. How can the home cook economize without sacrificing nourishment or deliciousness? It is a difficult task to be sure, but not impossible. I often say a foundational fact of anything home economic related depends upon two relative factors: cost and time.
Any budgeting decisions can be based on the reality that any action taking place within the home is discerned between the cost of having it outsourced versus the time it takes to complete it yourself. All actions toward frugality within my home usually begin with my decision to take on the action myself. So, in this instance: purchasing less processed and pre-packaged food and substituting these things for scratch cooking.
One of my favorite things to do in easing the strain of the food budget is to get the most out of any food item I purchase. I save vegetable scraps to make broth. I add diced mushrooms to a beef dish to make it stretch a bit further, as well as many more little tricks I have picked up along the way. But, my favorite way to be frugal with meal planning is to purchase a whole chicken instead of pre-packaged portions.
When it comes to purchasing meat, it is always more economical to buy the whole instead of the same weighted, pre-butchered parts. As of now, a whole chicken is still a wonderful inexpensive protein, but I fully acknowledge the ongoing egg and poultry crisis that is leaving some food shelves bare. So, with that in mind, this is a way to make the most of your chicken purchases!
In our family of 6, we have devised a method for making one whole chicken stretch into multiple dinners. It goes without saying that how far the meals stretch depends upon the number of mouths being fed, as well as those mouths’ appetites. However, the same principles can be applied to the portions needed to be cooked, for instance, if you tend to be a two-chickens-for-dinner family. No matter the quantity of chicken cooked, there will always be bits and pieces of meat left on the bone!
On average, from one 5-pound chicken, I manage to squeeze out three dinners. This is the typical routine:
Dinner One: consists of a whole roasted chicken with various sides. I recently shared my favorite recipe. After the meal is complete (and we typically have some meat leftover on plates and still hiding on the carcass), I place all remaining chicken pieces and carcass into a slow cooker along with vegetables. (I have a container for vegetable scraps that I fill throughout the week, i.e. carrot peels, potato skins, ends and bits of onions, celery, and the like). Finally, I sprinkle one tablespoon of salt, a few dashes of pepper, and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, along with lots of water to cover all of the items in the pot. Then, I cook it on low for 12+ hours.
The following day, I remove the solids from the broth (and tuck the broth aside) and carefully pick my way through the meat (once it has cooled slightly), bones, and vegetables. I make a trash pile for the bones and vegetable scraps and a pile for all the recovered chicken meat. Depending upon how hungry everyone was the night before, I can get anywhere from 2 to 4 cups of shredded chicken to put into the next meal (you will quickly realize in this process that a lot of chicken is hard to access in that first carving, so slow cooking the leftovers really ensures you get every last bit of meat)!
Dinner Two: The second dinner consists of chicken soup variations that I cycle: chicken noodle soup, chicken vegetable soup, or chicken and rice soup. I make use of all but 3 cups of broth in this batch of soup and set that aside to use for the third night's dinner. Our family loves soup and, even though some of our kids have second helpings, we are still fortunate to have soup left over to save for the following night!
Dinner Three: Sometimes, when I am very fortunate, there are enough soup leftovers to almost make a third dinner. However, it is not always enough for full portion sizes for everyone, so it becomes time to make the soup stretch! I pour the unused broth into the soup (as sometimes the broth can absorb into the pasta or rice overnight). There are several ways to stretch the soup into another meal: 1) add additional vegetables and/or starch or 2) make use of a bread bowl to serve the soup in or a quick and easy bake of drop biscuits to accompany the soup.
Once you develop these habits of using every ounce of food purchased, you will begin to see the savings accrue. Perhaps there will no longer be a need to buy vegetables for the sole purpose of making broth or maybe you can cut back the amount of money spent on meat each week by ensuring you're using every bit of a whole chicken.
It has been my experience that in these times, the most creative cooks are formed.