As I roll through the checkout line with two toddlers beside me and a newborn strapped to my chest, I look at my cart filled with diapers, goldfish, and enough dinner ingredients for a small army - I can’t help but feel nostalgic. Nostalgic for the good old days, when I was a newlywed, a student, and broke. I managed to feed my husband and myself for a whole month on less than what I now spend per week.
One trick I that fell back on when money was really tight was challenging myself to see how far I could stretch a single piece of meat. A pork loin could be paired with potatoes one night and then what was left could be used for tacos, a ragu, or BBQ sandwiches.
Obviously, the chicken is the cornerstone of this whole thing. On Sunday evening, take a few hours and roast your chicken. There are a lot of great recipes for simple, roasted chicken online, but I generally stick to the same routine.
After unpackaging the chicken, remove the giblets (if there are any). Generously rub the chicken down in salt and pepper and then season well with rosemary, thyme and sage. Pop it in the oven at 375 and cook it until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Normally, this takes about an hour, but varies based on the size your bird. That’s it! Let the bird cool, wrap it up, and stick it in the fridge.
Monday: Chicken and Veggies
Monday is the simplest, and most meat-centric, day of the week. First up, remove the drumsticks from the chicken and serve with vegetables. In the fall and winter, I love to eat chicken with a baked sweet potato and roasted broccoli. Summer squash, asparagus, or even just a nice crisp salad work, too.
Tuesday: Chicken Tacos and Spanish Rice
On Tuesday, debone the chicken and shred the meat. I have found that a 4 to 5 pound chicken will yield close to four cups of meat, but this will vary based on how much fat is present on the chicken. Divide the meat into four portions, setting 3 portions aside in the fridge for the rest of the week.
Is it even Tuesday if you don’t eat Tacos? Using your first portion of chicken, create a taco filing by combining with a can of black beans, diced tomatoes, and a few shakes of taco seasoning. Top with your favorite fixins’—shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream— and pair with a Spanish rice. It’s super cheap and easy to make with this recipe from LEAF.
Wednesday: Autumn Salad
Create an autumn salad with a 5 oz bag of leafy greens, ¼ cup dried cranberries, ¼ cup toasted pecans and a little crumbled goat cheese. Top with a portion of the shredded chicken.
To make your dressing, just combine ¼ cup balsamic vinegar, ¾ cup olive oil, a tablespoon of maple syrup, salt and pepper in a mason jar. Shake well before tossing with the salad. Now you’ll never buy salad dressing again.
Thursday: Chicken Noodle Soup
On Wednesday before bed or Thursday before work, chop a large carrot, a celery stalk and half of a yellow onion. Throw it all in a slow cooker along with three cups of chicken broth, one portion of the shredded chicken, salt, pepper and thyme. Turn the slow cooker to low and cook for 7-8 hours. About 15 minutes before you dig in, put in 2 servings of egg noodles. Enjoy with toasted sourdough bread or leftover salad from yesterday.
Friday: Chicken and Pea “Risotto”
Cooking risotto is an involved process, requiring loads of patience and your full attention. When I am feeling in a rush, or distracted by other tasks, I like to throw together a one-pot dish inspired by traditional risotto, but much easier.
Prepare 1 cup of long grain rice according the package directions. Once cooked through, add ¼ cup chicken broth, ¼ shredded Parmesan cheese, ½ cup frozen sweet peas, and the last portion of chicken. Salt & pepper well and top with fresh parsley.