Sunday, November 2, 2008

Save Money by Using a Whole Chicken in Three Meals

Ok, I promised you that I would explain a concept called "Rubber Chicken" to you and then life happened. But I promised so here I am up late so that it is waiting for ya'll in the morning.

Rubber chicken is the term for taking a whole chicken and making the meat stretch into three meals. The idea didn't originate with me but I have gotten it down to an art form for our family. Here's what we do....

photo by ninjapoodles @

Meal 1: Roast Chicken & sides

On the first night, I roast the chicken using only simple seasonings. Salt, pepper, and butter is all it takes to get a tasty chicken. With rubber chicken, you don't really want any extra flavors unless you know for sure that it will go well with what you have planned for meals 2 and 3. For us, simple works best.

In order to make sure I have enough meat to last us for three nights, I deliberately serve a smaller portion of chicken to each person. My older children each get a drumstick. My youngest gets some of a thigh. My husband and I both split most of a breast. When I say most of a breast, I'm saying that I don't try to carve out the whole breast. I leave quite a bit of it behind, actually. To make up for the smaller portions of meat, I serve extra sides. We'll have mashed potatoes and gravy (made from the drippings), stuffing, a vegetable, and dinner rolls. It almost feels like Thanksgiving!

To make life easy, I shove the leftover chicken and carcass into the fridge right in the dish I roasted it in. I usually use a corning ware dish.

Meal 2: Chicken and Bean Burritos/Chicken Taco Salad

We love burritos in this house so that's what I usually do for day 2. Our other choice is chicken taco salad. Like day 1, the idea here is for the chicken to be a part of the meal rather than the center of the meal. I pull off and chop up most of the remaining meat from the chicken, taking care not to strip it entirely. I'm usually looking for about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of chicken (not firmly packed). We make the burritos with refried beans, the chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and salsa. Yum! Taco salad is made up of refried beans, the chicken, tomato, cheddar cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips or strips (see my Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe for how to make homemade tortilla strips in the oven), all served on a bed of lettuce instead of wrapped in a tortilla.

You don't have to make burritos or taco salad; that's just what I do because we like it. You can use any casserole dish that can be made with leftover chicken.

Meal 3: Chicken Soup

For the third meal, I boil the carcass with any remaining meat to make chicken stock. After a few hours, I strain the stock and pull the meat off the bones before discarding the bones. Usually, I only get about a cup of meat (sometimes even a little less) but I have found that soup doesn't need a lot of meat in it. I then use the meat and stock to make some form of chicken soup. Some choices include Chicken Noodle, Chicken and Rice, Chicken Vegetable, and our favorite Chicken Tortilla Soup. Chicken Noodle is also good with a cup of salsa tossed in. It spices it up and adds a lot of flavor without a lot of salt. We like to have homemade rolls or grilled cheese sandwiches with our soup.

I use this method of stretching chicken regularly and find that one regular-sized whole chicken provides plenty of meat for our family of five when I am not centering the meal around the meat. Because meat is usually the most expensive part of the meal, reducing the amount you serve at each meal is one way to save money.

One thing that can help when it comes to stretching a chicken into three meals is to look for the largest chicken you can find. That will give you a bit more meat to work with.

I know that large families use this same technique for stretching whole chicken into three meals except that they start with two chickens.

One of the great things about this set of meals is that it actually makes more than three dinners. I usually make up a big pot of homemade beans for meal 2. After using some of them with dinner that night, I have enough left over to have burritos, tacos, or salad for a couple of lunches or another dinner. I've already done the work making the beans and just have to add a different meat to it. I usually use beef the second time. Or, the beans can be frozen for a later time. The soup usually has enough left over for another lunch or dinner if I served it with bread, sandwiches, or salad.

To keep us from feeling like we are eating the same thing every night, I usually will cook meals with other protein sources in between these three meals. A meal plan might look like this:

  1. Roast Chicken with sides
  2. Pot Roast in the slow cooker
  3. Chicken and Bean Burritos (leftover chicken)
  4. Pork chops and sides
  5. Chicken Noodle Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (leftover chicken)
  6. Beef and Bean Taco Salad (leftover roast and beans)
  7. Leftover Buffet with simple add-ons as needed
There you go...a whole week's menu utilizing only one chicken, one roast, and pork chops. can serve few pork chops if you cut them up into bite sized pieces, just like the chicken breasts.

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The Four Week Vegan said...

I roasted my chicken last night and it was sooooo good. And how much easier can you get with a meal - you stick it in and let it cook. Looking forward to trying the soup tomorrow night, I also don't serve the same protein two nights in a row if I can help it.