My kids have always called me the “Queen of Leftovers”. I’ve gone through many lean years where we simply couldn’t afford to throw food away, so every leftover managed to find it’s way into a future meal. The trick was always to do it in such a way as to let the kids believe it was a “brand-new” meal, and not leftovers. We never did do much “fast food”. First of all, it is very expensive and secondly most of it is seriously lacking in nutrition.
One of the best “fast foods” that we have done is the deli chicken. You’ve seen them at most grocery stores.. a fully cooked, ready to go roasted chicken. The price is usually under $6 and can often be less. Check with your favorite grocery store and ask them to call you at the end of the day if they have unsold chickens. One of my friends gets them for as little as 99 cents, but usually they are just offered for around $4.00.
Here’s how you can stretch a chicken out to get 4 meals for a family of four, plus a tasty dinner for your dog.
Day 1: Cut the chicken into the following sections: 2 legs, 2 thighs, two wings, two breasts, back and tail. Next, d-bone each piece (except for the back and tail) saving all the bones and other bits. Serve the thighs and drumsticks along with a salad and potatoes for your first meal. Remember, a correct portion size for health is about the size of a deck of cards. One thigh or one drumstick is a healthy portion.
Day 2: Throw all the bones and scraps into a stock pot. Add 12 or more cups of water and carrot peels, celery stalks, and onion (unless you are planning a meal for your dog, then leave out the onions). Bring the pot to a boil, then lower heat and simmer the stock for 2 to 5 hours. The longer you simmer, the more flavor your stock will have. I always throw in the back and tail, but take most of the meat off the back first. Cut the breasts into 1/2 inch chunks. Divide chunks into thirds. I’ll stick each third into a plastic baggie for the next meals. Use the first third for your second meal. Our favorite is a chicken stir-fry with the kids favorite veggies, fried or white rice, and a spicy cucumber salad.
Day 3: Strain all the bones and veggie scraps from your broth. If you have a dog, don’t throw out the scraps. Pour 1 cup of the broth into a container and save for day 4 meal. Put the remainder of the broth into a clean stock pot, and add carrots, celery, and onions. Cook until the veggies are tender, then add noodles and the second third of your cut up chicken breast. Add salt and pepper (or a chicken bouillon cube) to taste, and serve chicken noodle soup with bread or bread sticks.
For the dog: Pick through the scraps from the stock, and remove all bones. Veggie scraps, bits of chicken and cartilage are all super yummy to your dog. Toss the bones and put all scraps into a small pot. Add any leftover rice from your dinner on day 2, and enough water to cover. Simmer until most of the water is gone and the rice is a bit “soupy”. Cool completely, then mix some with your dog’s regular food or if you have enough, just use to replace one of your dog’s regular meals. We have a beagle, so we get several meals from this method.
Day 4: Shred the meat from the wings and the last third of your breast, and make chicken tacos or a chicken taco salad. Instead of adding water as most taco seasonings call for, add the 1 cup of stock that you reserved from day 3 to make the tacos more flavorful.
All of these left-over chicken bits could be frozen and served at some other time during the month if you can’t handle chicken for 4 days in a row. These meals are so different from each other that your family will probably be quite happy. So, there you have it. Four healthy, easy meals from one chicken. If you have big eaters in your family, just buy two chickens and double all the quantities.
I’m including my own recipe for home made stock. This recipe is for a vegetable stock which can be the base for any meat stock as well. Just follow the procedures for the vegetable stock and add meat scraps and bones for your meat stock.
When you bring produce home from the store or farmers market wash all items before storage in your frig. Designate a gallon size freezer bag or container for stock items. When you prep the veggies for your meals, place all scraps into the freezer container. Examples would be: carrot peels, ends of celery stalks, stems and tough parts of chard, asparagus, broccoli, or other greens. Onion and garlic peels, outer lettuce and cabbage leaves, etc. The only items I do not use are potato skins or other starchy veggies. I will also add tomato ends and bell pepper scraps or skins.
When you have a full bag, or want to make stock (I will usually wait until I have two or three containers full) just put all your scraps into a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and simmer until stock is reduced by half. Sometimes I will even add a few cups more water and reduce again. Strain stock, put in freezer containers and you will always have stock on hand for recipes. Best of all, since you normally throw all these items into the trash, your stock is basically FREE!