Series: How to stretch a whole chicken into many healthy meals

This is the introduction to a multiple part series called How to stretch a whole chicken into many healthy meals.

Don’t ever invite me over for dinner. I might just open your fridge, check out your leftovers, and start photographing your food. That’s exactly what happened to Kazia and Logan Mullin when they opened their door to my crazy and let me walk through.

Frugal Chicken Series:
  1. Introduction
  2. 1 Organic Chicken, 22 Meals, $49 Bucks
  3. Oven baked whole chicken
  4. Homemade Chicken Stock
  5. White Chicken Chili
  6. Chicken Noodle Soup
  7. Chicken Stew
  8. Chicken Lentil Soup

You see, the Mullins are an interesting bunch — they have three kids (three-year-old Sadie is the youngest, Harrison or ‘Harry’ is 6, and big brother Alias is 8), they live on a budget, and they eat healthy, mostly organic meals throughout the week. Since Logan works full-time in IT and Kazia runs her own small business — Kitchen Table Marketing, digital strategies for online businesses — I had to wonder: how does this busy family of five manage to get dinner done?

It only takes a peek into their freezer to figure it out. Go on, take a look…

…and looky here too…

…have you figured it out it? Now don’t cry fowl — the Mullins dine well on an organic dime (or two) because they know how to stretch a chicken until it squawks. Using one whole organic chicken, they can re-spin that clucker into multiple healthy meals by making homemade chicken stock, and using the remaining meat to slow cook soups and stews. Amazing, non?

Now I’m no stranger to stretching meals to save time and money, but I think the Mullins have me beat. Here is the Mullins’ plucky money saving method:

The Mullin Method:

  1. Buy a whole organic chicken, around 6-7 lbs.
  2. Bake whole chicken, eat family meal.
  3. Make homemade chicken broth in slow cooker.
  4. Make a stir-fry or fajita dinner.
  5. Slow cook a chicken soup-type meal.
  6. Slow cook a chicken stew-type meal.
  7. Depending on what’s left, another stew or soup.
  8. Freeze remaining chicken stock, if any.

If you’ve been stretching a single chicken for decades then you know this method is nothing new. The internets are buzzing with bloggers who boast about the distance their dinner travels on one bird, and the mileage they muster from their leftover chicken meat. For example, Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar goes the distance in The Frugal Whole Chicken, J.D. Roth over at Get Rich Slowly makes Simple Homemade Chicken Stock, and Kristen Swensson Sturt at Cheap Healthy Good ruffles a few feathers in 1 Chicken, 17 Healthy Meals, $26 Bucks, No Mayo.

Since I’m impressed by the Mullins’ Method and I’ve never fully stretched a chicken until it frugaliciously squawked, I’ve decided to throw my slow cooker into the mix and do my best to get dinner done with one bird flying across multiple meals. But there are rules:

Squawky’s Chicken Stretching Rules:

  1. Rule One: Must use a whole organic chicken (reason below).
  2. Rule Two: Meals must be healthy and frugalicious. No deep fried battered chickens on a stick.
  3. Rule Three: Most food must be from fridge or pantry. No big shopping trips!
  4. Rule Four: Each meal must feed at least two people, leftovers are encouraged.
  5. Rule Five: Meals must have some variety.
  6. Rule Six: Meals must all be made in my slow cooker. I’m lazy, busy, and I love coming home to a hot meal.
  7. Rule Seven: The cost must be reasonable — I’m not trying to out cheap the internets, but rather have an honest go at making healthy meals with the food in my house while using mostly organic ingredients. Cheapest isn’t always bestest, anyways.

These are the rules, and I’m sticking to them. If you’re new to slow cooked meals (or just need a little convincing), check out 6 Reasons to use a Slow Cooker and then see How to Buy a Slow Cooker for many helpful tips.

Why buy an organic whole chicken?

Yes, an organic whole chicken costs A LOT more than a supermarket rotisserie chicken. So why spend your hard-earned money on organic meat?

I have an obvious bias since I live on an organic cattle ranch where the cattle eat nothing but grass and roam freely on pasture — they are grass fed animals and they are exceptionally healthy. The farmer who lives next door to me (which is several miles away) raises organic chicken — they are free-range, they roam, and they are exceptionally healthy.

The beef and chicken you generally buy in the supermarket is mass produced in feed lots or in small confined cages — these animals are not necessarily unhealthy, but they cannot be compared to those animals who roam and live a life outside on pasture.

In his article on Animal Welfare, author Michael Pollan answers the questions: Is grass fed meat really better for me?, Where can I buy grass fed meat?, and Why aren’t you a vegetarian?. As the mega bestselling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, I think Mr. Pollan is far better equipped than I am to tackle the challenging subjects of food cost, mass production, and dietary choices.

If you think that the cheapest food is the best deal, you may think again after seeing Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. — an excellent and disturbing movie that examines the costs of putting value and convenience over nutrition and environmental impact. Go see it. Then share it with your friends.

Next Steps

I’m playing by the rules, so I can’t go over to my neighbor’s and pluck a fresh chicken from their farm. Instead, I went to the local butcher shop to buy that free-range chicken I keep squawking about. Here’s the proof:

Yes, the butcher thought I was nuts when I photographed my chicken on the scale. I live in a smallish town, so everyone knows everybody. Sigh. Anyways, buying your chicken should be a lot less embarrassing, just leave your camera at home.

The proof is in the price. So far my total cost is $21.92, and I’m totally OK with that. Over the next while I’ll show you how I applied the ‘Mullin Method’ to stretch this bird — I’ll share my successes, my failures, and you can follow along with my frugal foodie experiment.

Squawkback: Got a tip to share when it comes to stretching a chicken? I could use a little plucky advice.

Your two cents:

  1. Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple January 14th, 2011

    Ooh! Can’t wait to read the rest of the series. When I started down the frugal path 8 years ago or so, and even when I started blogging, I focused my meat eating on the sales of chicken for $0.59/lb at the grocery store, even though we didn’t eat much meat.

    Boy how times have changed. I buy chickens at the farmer’s market for $12 to $14 (these are small chickens, about 3-4 lbs), and I bought my first free range turkey from a local farm for Thanksgiving. $56. Boy was it good. Still have some meat and stock in the freezer.

  2. Kerry January 14th, 2011

    @Marcia Times HAVE changed. :) Free range turkeys are amazing.

  3. Kerry January 14th, 2011

    A couple of shy readers have emailed me comments:

    “Hi! We take the bits of chicken left at the end and add them to black bean soup. Adds variety and veggies. This is the main course and we serve with a sprinkle of shredded cheese, sour cream, or a couple of crumbled tortilla chips. Those can also be home made.”

    I’ve got some soup cookin’ right now. ;)

    “Hey there, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the way you write. Have a great weekend,”

    Thank you!

  4. Natasha January 14th, 2011

    Makes me hungry for a chicken!

    I usually get a nice big chicken and roast it with lots of veggies — parsnips, turnips, carrots, potatoes…whatever looks good at the Food4Less. I rub it with olive oil and pat on crushed garlic, put that in the oven and it warms the house.

    Day 1. Chicken with roasted veggies, and quinoa
    Day 2. Chicken with roasted veggies and quinoa and a mole sauce. (Mole is a savory Mexican chocolate sauce — it’s a PITB to make from scratch, so I usually get a jar of concentrate in the Mexican section of the grocery, and take 1 tbl of paste and turn it into a sauce with about 1/2 cup chicken broth (which is what is cooking in the crockpot.) I often add more garlic and chocolate and hot pepper until it tastes the way I want. The concentrate lasts about 3 months or so in the fridge.
    Day 3. Crockpot chicken soup
    Day 4. Crockpot chicken soup with added chickpeas, cumin and garlic, served with couscous and harissa (a spicy Moroccan sauce)
    Day 5. The husband is tired of chicken and grills some hamburgers.
    Day 6. The end of the chicken soup, extended with some swiss chard…actually, a lot of swiss chard. And served with a loaf of crusty homemade bread.

  5. Merlin January 14th, 2011

    I agree organic is better. And as a former farmer I dislike the way alot of our food animals are treated. Thankfully it is getting better and will get better.

    But answer me this, how are you going to feed the whole world or nation for that matter on organic? The reason food is mass produced is because population is massive.

  6. Stephanie January 14th, 2011

    I look forward to seeing how this goes! I’d love to be so resourceful.

  7. deb January 15th, 2011

    The pictures of this dead chicken look totally revolting to me & it scares me to think our uncritically you are advocating killing animals. Agree with Merlin that not everyone can afford to eat ethically raised organic chicken – so effectively this post will be supporting factory farming.

  8. deb-incorrect January 15th, 2011

    Deb, did you read the whole article? In it there were 4 statements and 5 links which were pro free range, organic and anti factory farming. So how you can reason that out to support factory farming based on your assumption of everyone’s” income is beyond me.

    If the sight of a dead chicken revolts you why did you read a post entitled “How to stretch a whole chicken into many healthy meals”?

    If man wasn’t meant to eat animals God wouldn’t have made them from meat.

  9. Kris January 16th, 2011

    Kerry, great article! I like your angle and information.

    @Deb. Stop complaining and see the glass half full instead of half empty. All this negative energy put out by doomsy people is just not helping. Try living rurally for a while, grow all your own food, tofu, beans etc… live through a few winters. Have a couple of children. Raise them on your diet and then come back and talk to us in a more constructive manner.

  10. Fiona January 16th, 2011

    In my opinion this article shows that anyone can afford organic chicken by making a variety of meals out of one chicken. People choose what they can afford versus not afford. If you plan your meals, chose what is in season, and don’t waste then you too can afford organic even if you are on a budget.

    Also @Deb I find it hard to understand your comments when most of the article is demonstrating why organic is better option even if it a little bit more expensive. I also don’t believe a large population is a reason to spray crap all over our food. We don’t need to mass produce food…we just need everyone (or atleast some people) to stop over eating.

  11. Shannon January 16th, 2011

    Don’t forget the livers!! Save your livers from the next few free range chickens you buy, then when you have a few in your freezer, fry them up with green onions, mushrooms, salt and pepper, then add that mixture plus butter, hot sauce and white wine to your blender and whiz it up. You can dip raw veggies into this for lunch, or have it as an appetizer. Yum. Might as well use as much of the bird as possible, right?

  12. Merlin January 18th, 2011

    A photograph I saw a few years ago illustrates my point. It was a young boy rooting through a garbage dump in Bangladesh. He had just found a half rotten orange, and the look on his face as he scarfed it down clearly showed his good fortune. I doubt he was concerned whether it was organic or not.

    Organic can be accomplished on a small niche basis, but the very high labour requirements of most organic food will keep the cost to a point that availability will be very limited to the world’s masses.

  13. liz April 23rd, 2011

    I buy Trader Joe s organic free range chicken – never more than $14. I guess free range means they go outside, cage-free does not ?

  14. rob May 30th, 2011

    @liz:

    It’s sad to say but unless you buy your chicken from a local farmer where you can see how they treat their birds, you can’t really guarantee anything. If it’s at trader joe’s it’s there to make trader joe’s a profit, not keep you healthy.

    The broad difference between cage-free and free-range is the ACCESS to the outdoors. But there’s a big difference between 20,000 chickens with a door to the outside that is open on occasion and PASTURED chickens like my friends’. They spend the day outside eating bugs, worms, grass, and whatever else they can scarf down. While my friends don’t eat their birds (not these ones, anyway) the eggs are fan-freaking tastic. Michael Polan talks about Polyface Farms in Virginia that pastures their animals as well.

    There is almost certainly a local farmer that treats his chickens well. You might pay a little more for the bird, but you also have the pleasure of knowing that it’s an animal that lived a good life and had one bad day, and is now going to add benefit to your life.

  15. rob May 30th, 2011

    @Liz:

    I forgot – as Barbara Kingsolver explores in her book “Animal, vegetable, miracle”, the other advantage to buying from your local farmer rather than Trader Joe’s is that you’re recycling your money into your community, and making it possible for your neighborhood farmers to survive. The same logic applies to joining a CSA.

  16. Hellen M September 28th, 2011

    I have been lucky to be able to have range free chichens delivered to my door every fall. I buy then from a relitive. One way to strech a chicken is in chicken pot pie just do like I did one time forget to put the chicken in. lol
    It tasted real good as the gravey was from a free range chicken which has a lot more flavour.

  17. Meredith December 11th, 2012

    I have not handled a chicken in 20 years due to guilt of the dead body. Though I still eat chicken as long as I can not tell what it was from(goes to all meat.)

    This is a reason for me to get over it. I would have so much more control and in my pinion it makes organic expensive chicken into regular seeming priced chicken.

    I don’t think comparing a starving child in Bangledash to this blog is applicable. Or a starving person anywhere. However, if those are a persons concerns, that is great and maybe they can try to help people. My family certainly helps in many ways that we can (usually the teach to fish method without adding religion as a stipulation.)

    I love the idea of healthier food. I hate chicken nuggets and Mac and cheese. (Well they taste good, but!)

    I thank you for this piece. It will likely help many families stretch their funds for other things. We are always trying to be frugal as my medical bills are much larger than my mortgage. Eating better is going to make me better and you are one more stop towards freedom. Thanks!

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