by Kristie Mae
Sometimes, whether for lack of funds or reallocating money for other things, the grocery budget gets drastically cut. When this happens it is always best to have a plan. This is a menu developed for lean weeks. It is based around one large chicken, whole grains, and produce. It is healthy, hearty, and will fill your tummies without draining your wallet.
This menu is meant to serve two adults and two children. If you have a larger family, or teenagers you might want to bulk it up a bit, buy extra grains and vegetables or even add a second chicken. This shopping list also assumes that you have some pantry basics such as soy sauce, cornstarch, flour, and spices. These are loose recipes to take advantage of whatever is on sale. Substitute what you already have or what is cheapest.
- 1 large whole chicken
- 5 lb bag of potatoes
- 1-2 lbs of assorted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, etc.)
- 2lb bag of onions
- 2lbs of carrots
- 1 bunch celery
- 2 16oz bags of frozen mixed veggies
- 2 16 oz bags of broccoli
- 1-2 cans black beans
- 1 can sweet corn
- 2 lbs brown rice
- 1 jar salsa
- 1 pkg chicken flavored bouillon
- 1 package of two pre-made pie crusts if you don’t want to make your own
- 1 tube pre-made biscuits
- not necessary but nice
- 1 8 oz bag shredded cheese
- 1 16 oz tub sour cream
Meal #1 Roast Chicken Legs with Root Vegetables
Heat a oven to 425°. Remove the giblets and rinse the chicken under cold running water. Dry it off with paper towels and drizzle with a little olive oil or melted butter. Season with salt, pepper and whatever herbs and spices you like. If you prefer a brown crispy skin add a little sugar with the seasoning to help the skin caramelize. Place the chicken in a roasting pan and cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° and the juices run clear. How long this takes will depend on the size of your chicken, but it will take roughly an hour and a half.
Clean and cut up half of the bag of potatoes along with a few onions and about half of your carrots and the root vegetables. Try to get the pieces about the same size so that they all cook evenly. Toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425° in the same oven with the chicken. The vegetables are done when they are browned and soft when poked with a fork.
When the chicken is done remove it from the oven and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Remove the legs and thighs, and serve with the roast vegetables.
After dinner, pull all the meat you can from the chicken’s breasts. Shred the meat and set aside in the refrigerator for later meals. You should have 3-4 cups of shredded chicken meat. Don’t bother with trying to get all the meat off the bones. You will get the rest of the meat tomorrow after you make cheater’s stock. Put all the bones along with any skin and the giblets in a container or bag in the fridge overnight.
Meal #2 Burrito Bowls
Cook 2 pounds of brown rice as directed on the package. One third will be for tonight’s dinner and the rest will be used later in the week. Open and rinse the canned corn and the black beans.
To serve, put a layer of rice on each plate, then divide the corn and beans between the plates. Add ¼ cup of chicken to each pile and cover with salsa. If you opted to buy the cheese add this to the top. Microwave each plate until heated through and the cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream if desired. Save any leftovers in the freezer for smorgasbord night. On Friday bring the leftovers back to the fridge to thaw overnight.
Make cheater’s stock
Today is a good day to make cheater’s stock. If you make it a day ahead of time and let it cool overnight, you can easily skim the fat off of the top.
To make cheater’s stock fill a big pot with around four quarts of hot water. Dissolve bouillon cubes or small spoonfuls of granules one at a time in the water until it tastes like chicken but not too salty. Put the pot on a medium burner and start to heat it. Add the bag of bones, skin, and giblets to the water. Bring to a boil then turn it down and simmer for a couple hours. This can also be done in a crockpot if you like. Just toss everything into the crockpot in the morning, set it on low, and strain it when you get home from work. To strain put a colander in a bowl big enough to hold all your stock. Pour everything from your pot in this contraption, being very careful to not get burned by the steam. Lift out the colander with the bones and let them cool.
Put the stock in glass jars or any heatproof container and refrigerate overnight. When the chicken is cool enough to handle pick every shred of edible meat off the bones. Save this meat in the refrigerator for tomorrows’ soup.
Meal #3 Chicken and Rice Soup
To make the soup, chop up 4-5 ribs of celery and a couple onions. Pull the stock out of the fridge and skim the fat off the top – it should be white and fairly solid. Save most of this in a small jar but put a spoonful in the bottom of your soup pot.
Put the pot on a medium burner and melt the fat. Add the celery and onions and saute until soft. Add the meat you pulled from the bones after you made stock (not the shredded breast meat) and half the stock. Heat to a boil and add one bag of mixed vegetables. When the soup returns to a boil it is ready. To serve put a scoop of rice in a bowl and ladle the boiling soup over it. Let it sit for a minute to two. The boiling soup will heat the rice. Save any extra soup for chicken pot pie later this week.
Meal #4 Stir-fry
Add a small amount of oil on a medium-high burner. When the oil is hot carefully add one bag of broccoli. As the broccoli starts to warm up put half of the shredded chicken in the pan with it. Cook stirring frequently until the broccoli and chicken are hot.
Remove the pan from the heat and put the chicken broccoli mixture in a heatproof bowl. In the same pan make a sauce for the stir-fry. What type of sauce this is will depend on what you have. Good things to put in are soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, orange or pineapple juice, a little bit of the cheater’s stock, brown sugar, ginger (dry or fresh), rice wine vinegar, dried red pepper flakes, and fresh garlic or garlic powder. Put the liquids in the pan and heat on medium. Add your spices to taste. When the sauce is simmering mix a small spoon full of cornstarch with a little water until it is a thick liquid. Add the cornstarch mixture to your sauce and stir. The sauce should quickly thicken, then lower the heat and stir for another minute then remove from heat. Taste and adjust your seasonings.
Heat the last third of the rice in the microwave, adding a little water if it is too dry. To serve put a layer of rice on the plates, divide the chicken and broccoli mixture between them. Drizzle your sauce over the broccoli, chicken, and rice and enjoy. Save any leftovers for smorgasbord night.
Meal #5 Biscuits and gravy
Bake the biscuits as directed on the package. To make the gravy take the rest of the chicken fat that was skimmed off the stock and melt it in a medium-size pot over medium heat, there should be a couple tablespoons of fat. If not add enough butter to make a couple tablespoons. When the fat is melted add ¼ cup of flour and mix them into a sloppy paste. Add about four cups of the cold cheater’s stock very slowly using a whisk. Keep whisking the gravy until it boils and is thickened. Hopefully, you won’t get too many lumps. If you do and they bother you strain the gravy and return it to the pan.
Add the last of the shredded chicken and lower the heat to a simmer. To serve place a biscuit or two in each bowl and ladle the chicken gravy over top. Save any extra gravy for chicken pot pie tomorrow.
Meal #6 Chicken Pot Pie
If you bought a pie crust pull the whole package out and let it come to just under room temperature before you try to unroll it. Otherwise, it will crack. If you need to make a crust, make enough for a two crust pie. Lay the first crust over your pie pan and push it to the sides leaving extra crust past the edge.
To make chicken pot pie take the leftover soup and mix it with the leftover gravy in a pot. Add a bag of mixed vegetables to the soup and gravy mixture. If there isn’t enough to fill your pie plate add more stock or bouillon dissolved in water. If there is too much drain off some liquid. Heat over medium heat until boiling. Mix a spoon of cornstarch with a little cold water to make a thick liquid. Add the cornstarch to the boiling pot and stir till thickened. Turn off the heat.
Carefully ladle the filling into the crust. Lay the top crust over and crimp the two crusts together all around the edge. Make a small slit in the top of the crust to let out steam. Bake as directed by your pie crust recipe or box. When done let the pie cool for at least a half hour so that all the filling doesn’t run out when you cut it.
Meal #7 Smorgasbord
Scrub and bake off the rest of the potatoes for baked potatoes. Cut the rest of the carrots and celery into sticks. If you have any sour cream left, add some spices to make a dip for the carrots and celery. Pull out any leftovers from earlier in the week and heat. Serve all this buffet style and congratulate yourself for making it through the week.
What are your favorite thrifty meals?
So there you have it, how to make a week’s worth of meals from a chicken. If these meals don’t appeal to you or you have already done this menu once you can easily switch out the recipes or adapt them as you like. Any meal that doesn’t require a lot of meat to be satisfying works well. Some ideas are BBQ chicken pizza, chicken enchiladas, and buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese.
Hopefully, you will never need to drastically cut your grocery budget but if you do this is a viable backup plan. What is your favorite way to get through a thrifty week?
About the Author
I’m a reformed spendthrift and mother of two living the frugal life in the suburbs. I dream of one day moving back to the farm I grew up on and working towards self-sufficiency and sustainability