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How to Get Three Meals from One Chicken


Guest post from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship

There’s no arguing with the fact that a whole chicken is just about the most frugal meat you can buy. But is it a waste to pay for all those bones?

Won’t your family eat more meat if you serve a whole chicken than if you serve a casserole with a few cut-up chicken breasts? Plus, how often can you serve roast chicken? You’d get tired of it once a week. Right?

Actually, I respectfully disagree. I think a whole chicken is the best meat purchase there is, even if it’s not on sale (gasp!).

Keep reading to learn how I get three meals plus leftovers plus ingredients for even more meals, all from one chicken – and I’m not going to roast it at all.

Meal #1: Chicken & Veggie Stir Fry

I’m no butcher, and I’ve never learned the trick of cutting up a whole chicken into chicken parts. All those bones!

But I do “harvest” the meat from my whole birds sometimes. I use kitchen scissors and hack away at the breast, snipping out bite-sized pieces that are perfect for a stir fry or pasta dish. It’s not pretty – don’t worry, I’m not including photos – but it works, and it doesn’t take all that long because I’m not seeking perfection. I just get some meat out for dinner number one.

It’s titled “Veggie & Chicken Stir Fry” because I don’t have a whole chicken breast for each person, so I make sure I’ve got lots of nourishing vegetables to round out the meal, and some cooked brown rice to go with it.

I always used to follow a recipe when I made stir fry, but now I just follow a pattern:

1. Cook chicken in a little bit of sesame or olive oil over medium-low heat until no pink is left in the center. Season it while stir frying with salt, pepper, and spices that sound good that day. I love to mix up ginger, cumin, sometimes curry and often a dash of cayenne. Sometimes I just use simple Italian seasoning and garlic powder.

2. Remove the chicken to a plate – you don’t want it to get tough.

3. Add veggies, starting with the ones that take longest to cook and cutting the others while the first ones are in the pan: onions and bell peppers, then carrots and broccoli stems, then pea pods and broccoli tops. If I have zucchini or some greens, like spinach or kale, those go in near the end. A stir fry is a great way to use up the veggies that are about to go bad in your crisper drawer, so it’s a money-saving meal because you don’t throw the money you already spent on groceries into the garbage.

4. Season the veggies in the same way as the chicken, then add the chicken back in to heat it up for the last few minutes.

5. Serve over rice with a soy sauce (I buy ones that don’t have any high fructose corn syrup in them).

Meal #2: Chicken Rice Soup

After I “harvest” that bit of breast meat, I put the rest of the whole chicken into a big old pot, cover it with cold water and a little vinegar, and let it sit for an hour. Then I bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook it all night long on low.

After lunch, I’ll add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic for another hour to finish off the homemade bone broth, and for dinner that night, we’ll have a simple chicken rice soup – in the same pot the stock was just in, because I hate doing dishes!

We usually end up using about half the broth and two cups of chicken, which leaves me with 4-8 cups more broth to stock my freezer and at least another two cups chicken for the next night’s meal.

Meal #3: Chicken with Rice and Green Beans

This dish is a new family favorite that couldn’t be simpler.

I reverse engineered it from a casserole recipe that called for chicken breasts, onion soup mix, instant rice, and lots of butter. I kept the butter and ditched everything else, remaking the processed part of the meal into a whole foods recipe that I feel great about putting on the table.

Because I know my weekly menu plan in advance, I would have made a double batch of rice with the stir fry two nights ago. And since there’s already cooked chicken from the stock-making endeavor in the fridge, I can put together this recipe in less than half an hour, with only 5-10 minutes active work time!

Three frugal, simple meals, all from one whole chicken.

If I’m lucky, I might even have another cup or two of chicken to freeze for the future, and remember I already have a few jars of stock ready for another meal.

The best part is yet to come: Did you know you can actually reuse the chicken bones for another batch of stock, and even a third? You should be able to get at least a half gallon of “seconds” broth which is great for white chicken chili, stir fry sauces, and other uses where the broth doesn’t have to be the spotlight, and the “thirds” work for cooking rice, adding to spicy chili, and mixing with “firsts” for any soup.

Katie Kimball is a mother of three from Michigan who spends a ton of time in the kitchen making real food with whole ingredients and then blogs about her successes and failures at Kitchen Stewardship.

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  • Rachel W says:

    I can’t get the links to her PDF version or the Kitchen Stewardship website to work. Any other website I try works… Maybe there’s an overload or something?

  • Tara H says:

    It is really slow, but it will work. I got mine.
    Hey Katie, if I bought a copy already can I share one or what? Thanks so much for your work on this!

  • Heather says:

    Great post! One reason that I use whole chickens is that it simply tastes better. The skin and bones are important for flavor. Boneless, skinless chicken usually needs lots of help in a recipe, and that help is often in the form of lots of cheese, canned soups, bad fats, sodium, breading and frying, etc. Not that I don’t ever use boneless, skinless breasts – they are great for certain recipes.

    It kills me to see a chicken soup recipe that calls for chopped chicken breast and then to add canned chicken broth or bouillon!

    About 20 years ago, living in France, I was shocked and puzzled in the grocery store when I realized that there were no Campbell’s soups. I thought, “How do they make casseroles? What do they eat?” It took a while, but I understand now, and I haven’t bought a can of creamed soup in years.

    Also, one easy thing I do to get broth: I roast the chicken for the first meal. Put the whole pan with the leftover chicken and juices in the fridge. In the morning, all the fat in the juices has congealed on top and is easy to scrape off. The broth/stock under the fat goes in the freezer for later meals.

    • Amanda says:

      That is exactly what I do. In fact, I can’t seem to help myself from boiling the bones down to make a stock to freeze even if I won’t be using it that week. This week, I cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot. We ate some chicken that night, and then I put a colander over my soup pot and drained all the juices into it. That went into the fridge, and in the morning I scraped all the fats off the top and on the stove it went to make a soup. Then I picked all the rest of the meat off the bones and saved that in a dish too. Had a nice chicken salad today and then the cooked meat is going into the freezer for the next meal that needs it. The soup itself (which I did use italian sausage in) will feed us all at least 4 meals. One last night, leftovers tonight, and then the rest goes in the freezer. Love it!

    • Heather,
      That’s a great story! Yes, that broth under a roast chicken is very high in gelatin, super healthy. And you can still use those bones in water to make a big batch of stock! 🙂 Katie

    • Angie says:

      So after you scrape the fat off the top do you throw it away or use it?

  • Susan says:

    Thanks for the tempting recipes.

    I like to roast whole chicken. It is the most economical way to buy chicken, for sure. If you keep the skin on it stays nice and moist. I can easily get several meals out of one chicken for my small family (there are just two of us). I like to keep pre-cooked roast chicken on hand that I can just toss with a salad or add to rice and cooked vegetables for a quick lunch or dinner.

    Chicken is so versatile that, without much creativity, you can eat it every day and not feel like you’re eating the same thing repeatedly. And it’s really hard to mess up.

  • Debbie L. says:

    Took a while but I got through and got it! Thanks so much to Katie and Crystal for the giveaway :). Can’t wait to check out these resources!

  • Whitney says:

    Great tips. Roast chicken is one of my family’s favorite meals, and one of the only ones all three of my kids eat without question. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that buying a whole chicken is the same as an already cooked rotisserie chicken. Even on sale, those things are $2.50 a pound! I was giving my SIL tips on how to roast a whole chicken, and she looked at me like I was crazy. “Why don’t you just buy one already cooked from Kroger? Isn’t it the same price per pound?” she said.

    I brine mine first, then roast it at 450 degrees in a cast iron skillet lined with foil. Almost no cleanup, and the high heat means it cooks very quickly and doesn’t dry out. I always buy the largest chicken in the cooler, because I figure it takes no extra effort to cook more meat, but the result is more dinners. We have roast chicken the first night, and then chicken quesadillas, chicken and noodles with mashed potatoes, bbq chicken sandwiches, and chicken noodle soup (to name a few). Even if I serve chicken multiple nights a week, my kids still request it on nights we’re having something else!

    • AJ says:

      Could you tell me more about how you do your chicken? Is it covered in the oven? How long do you cook it? Brine? I usually do mine in the crock pot, which works fine, but we don’t have much counter space as it is. Plus, I don’t really like cleaning my crockpot 🙂

      • i cook my chicken at 450 for the first 20 minutes, then at 350 for the rest of the time. allow about 20 minutes per pound, so a 5 lb chicken should take about 2 hours. i usually keep it simple- whole cloves of garlic (peeled), pepper, salt. then mist/rub with olive oil. i always put some of the garlic inside the chicken, and sometimes cut slits in the skin and put some cloves underneath. if i have fresh herbs, rosemary especially, then i put some inside/in skin too. here’s a fancier version too from my blog:

      • Whitney says:

        I’ve experimented for years, but the best tip was turning up the heat. It makes such a difference! Google recipes for brining poultry – it’s basically salt water with some sugar in it, and it makes a really cheap way to marinade and add flavor and juiciness. Typically you submerge the chicken in the brine for about an hour per pound.

        After that, the seasoning it up to you. Obviously, the more seasoning you add, the higher the cost. Melted butter rubbed all over the skin makes it incredibly crispy, but since we try to avoid eating the skin, this adds unnecessary expense. Rosemary and thyme are very complimentary to chicken. Just put some dried herbs on the skin. Garlic under the skin or in the cavity are also great, or half a lemon. If you brine the chicken first, you can skip most of the seasoning and you’ll still end up with great flavor.

        I never cover the chicken, and just use an oven proof thermometer set to 165 so I know when to take it out. Typically a 5 lb chicken at 450 takes an hour and a half.

      • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says:

        I hear you on the crockpot, I’m such a wimp about cleaning that thing. A roast chicken is going to be an entirely different experience than a slow-cooker chicken, too. I roast mine low and slow, 325 for 30 mins a pound, covered. Stop when it’s 180 and yum. Simple. But the cast iron thing at high temp is intriguing!
        🙂 Katie

      • AJ says:

        I have heard of crockpot liners. I have yet to use one though.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says:

      Oh, you’re making me hungry! I’ve never heard of the foil-lined cast iron, but I bet it’s wonderful and crispy. Smart shopping tips! At least if people do spring for the pre-cooked chicken, they can still make stock from the ones. That’s where your real savings starts to kick in…

      🙂 Katie

    • Samantha says:

      I usually roast a chicken every week or every other week. It’s our favorite way to have chicken. You can cook and season it so many ways, but the truth is you can also just wash the chicken, throw it in a roaster pan, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and cook at 325 for 3 hours or 350 for 2 hours. Your supposed to baste every hour, but there have been many times when I don’t touch it at all, and it turns out delicious still. If you cook it at 325 for 3 hours the meat will be falling off the bones, and the skin will be nice and crispy. It’s so easy and if you don’t have the time or energy to do anything to the chicken, it will still turn out great. Most of the flavor will come from the chicken itself! I’m starting to experiment with stock now and have been getting several batches out of each chicken. You just can’t beat the simplicity and cost!

  • I thought I was getting the pdf version, but it just charged me for the kindle one. Not happy.

    • Laura,
      I’m sorry for the mixup – there’s no such thing as a coupon code for Amazon for a single product, though. That’s way out of my hands. I dearly hope the book is still a great deal for your 99c, but if not, you know Amazon will always grant a refund. Thanks for trying! 🙂 Katie

  • Sandy says:

    I make pizza with left-over chicken to stretch out what I have and still stay on budget.

  • amy k says:

    I often do a whole chicken in the slow cooker, then every piece of meat falls off! I then freeze the meat and use the bones and such to make stock, then freeze that as well. Nothing gets wasted! Also, you can check out YouTube for how to cut up a whole chicken. 🙂

    • Chelsea says:

      I felt burdened a little over a year ago to begin transforming our very processed dinners into more whole variations. So far, it has been a great change for us. I am afraid of the whole chicken, but your posts and these comments might have convinced me to try it. Groceries are expensive and any savings help!

  • Ashley says:

    I really want to do chicken broth , what is the best way to store it ?

    • Ann says:

      I freeze mine in empty plastic frosting containers. They’re very durable and are about equal to a can of stock.

    • Bonnie says:

      I freeze my broth/stock in ice cube trays or small 4/6/8oz tupperware cups with lids. Then pop them out of the containers and into a freezer bag and you can take out as much as you need for whatever meal you’re cooking.

    • Kim says:

      I ladle broth or soups in used cottage cheese containers, let them cool, label them with masking tape & a sharpie, then put them in the freezer. Each 24 oz cottage cheese container holds 3 cups when full. They do take up more space than a square container in the freezer though.
      I just had soup I’d made in July from one (it had gotten forgot in the back of the freezer) & it tasted fine.

      That’s great to know you can reuse the bones three times to make stock. I’ll have to try that!!

    • Ashley,
      I tend toward glass containers just because the stock is often hot when I’m moving it around, and those plastic containers are all going to leach more chemicals with hot liquid. I just use spaghetti sauce or peanut butter jars – free! – or quart jars over and over again, and I also do some ice cube trays for when I just need a little bit.

      Once you try it and get the system down, you’ll never go back. I converted two of my friends IRL just this week: You’ll love it! If you get stuck, I have quite a few posts and troubleshooting on my site.

      🙂 Katie

    • Momof5 says:

      Yep, the freezer works great. I use cupcake pans instead of ice cube trays, and they make little broth cupcakes of about 1/2 cup – very handy to have in a ziploc to add flavor to rice, lighten up a cream sauce, whatever. I also freeze larger amounts in cottage cheese or those oversized yogurt containers, like Kim, plus some in really big containers (think cashews from Costco). They are nice to have because that’s an entire batch of soup in one container . . . but I’ve found they take forever to defrost (we don’t like to put plastic in the microwave) so they require a day’s planning.

      If you’d prefer to freeze in glass jars, like canning jars, I’ve found the broth needs to be cold already when it goes in the jar, and it needs quite a bit of space at the top to expand. I often freeze it without a lid just in case and add the lid later. But I’ve broken too many jars lately because of impatience and not letting it cool, so I’m back to just plastic.

    • I store mine in the freezer in freezer zip-top bags – just make sure to lay them flat while they are freezing or they’re a pain to add in with everything else!


  • Amanda says:

    Although whole chickens definitely seem economical, when feeding a large family, they are not cheap at all. Even when I can get an “oven stuffer” for $4 or $5, other chicken pieces, even boneless are a better deal. It’s almost impossible to find a chicken of any decent size for less then $12-$15 around here, and that’s crazy expensive for one meal, plus soup!

    • Bonnie says:

      I agree!! We’re a family of 7… although using lots of veggies to bulk up a meal is a great idea, I would be hard pressed to get more than one meal plus leftovers from a chicken. I *may* be able to get 2 meals plus stock from a very large chicken.

    • Amanda,
      Prices differ so much around the country, and if you’re buying organic, conventional, local, etc – that makes sense. But the bottom line is that buying any chicken with BONES is an awesome deal, because the stock/broth flowing from them saves a ton of money over buying broth at the store. I get soooo much broth from one batch of bones….

      🙂 Katie

  • Kacy says:

    Just bought the “better than a box” ebook, can’t wait to read it!

  • Sidney says:

    I found this post humerous because I just cut up my first whole chicken a few days ago, and will never do it again!
    I’ve always heard that buying a whole chicken is much cheaper than buying pieces, but where I live the regular price of a whole chicken is $1.39/lb and I can get boneless, skinless breasts (with no salt solution added) for $1.99/lb (regular price, not a sale price) By the time I cut up the chicken, which I know took longer than it normally would since it was my first attempt, and then disinfected the entire kitchen because the juices ended up EVERYWHERE, it took me close to an hour. And, when all was said and done we got one full meal (3 people), a few left-0vers for lunch the next day for my daughter and I, and three pints of chicken broth. To me my time is worth a lot more than the money I might have saved doing it myself.
    I do buy whole chickens if I need the whole chicken (like beer can chicken on the grill…yummy), but I’m going to let the “professionals” do the cutting/skinning/deboning for me from now on!

  • Donna says:

    I cook a whole chicken in the oven on Sunday. I make veggies and potatoes on the side. We eat chicken for 2 days, with a change in veggies the second day. Then the carcass goes in a pot and I cook it covered in water then strain the chicken/bones out and put the pot in the fridge. I pick the meat off the chicken. Next day I skim the fat, add veggies, and rice, or beans, or noodles and we have soup for 2-3 days. Works for us! We are a family of 3, all adults.

  • Anna says:

    This is fantastic! I’m absolutely excited over this post! And it’s probably not for the reason you would think. 😉 We raise our own almost range chickens, both for eggs and meat and I often find myself explaining how to get 3 meals from one chicken to raised eyelids and high-pitched, “really?” It’s so wonderful to see how someone else does it! Well done!

  • I regularly get at least three meals from a chicken – plus a jar or two of stock. I use a super simple crock pot method for making stock:

  • lyss says:

    I never learned how to cut up a chicken, either! And my family used to raise chickens! But instead of buying boneless chicken, I either roast whole, or I just stick the whole thing in a pot with water and cook till done. (In my opinion, cooking the meat all night makes it tough and flavorless, but do what works for you!) Then I debone the chicken and strain the broth…and end up with lots of cooked meat and a pot of broth. I save the bones for making more broth another day. For those intimidated by cooking whole chickens or making broth….it’s really not hard!

    I will say that sometimes buying chicken pieces is cheaper than buying it whole. At least where I am, prices fluctuate weekly! But I still usually follow the same rule…last week I cooked chicken legs in a pot of water just like I would a whole chicken.

    • Heather says:

      Yes! No reason that it has to be a whole chicken. Legs are often cheap here. I make a chicken soup where you toss 5-6 uncooked legs in the pot. So easy and it’s the best chicken soup ever. Simpler to pull the meat off of a few legs than off of a whole chicken. It has barley, black beans, onion, and the usual seasonings. Very hearty.

    • Lyss,
      Yes, I do a lot of little tweaks to my stock making, one of which is to (usually) take the chicken off a few hours into the process and return the bones to the pot. I can only get so detailed in a brief guest post though. 🙂

      And good point about the pieces – yes, any bones will do!
      🙂 Katie

  • christine says:

    I totally agree buying whole chix is super cost effective.

    In my area of MA it’s actually cheaper to buy a Costco whole roasted chix for 4.99.
    Avg cost of raw roaster is .99 – 1.09/lb.
    After adding in cost of prep (brining, butter, spices, cord for trussing) + cost of energy to cook + my labor a raw chix exceeds 4.99.

    I definitely get 3 meals out of it too. Sometimes 4 (fajitas from the dark meat) if crew hasn’t devoured it all.

  • Jackie/Jake says:

    I roasted a whole chicken recently ($8) and we had it with roasted potatoes and broccoli.
    I took the rest of the good meat of the bone and put it aside. The carcass then went into the soup pot with the fats from the roasting pan, the leftover potatoes, some onions and herbs.
    The good meat went into a pan with potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions and celery along with some spoonfuls of the chicken stock that was still simmering which was thickened and then I added a pastry for a pot pie. The soup will be strained and serve as lunch with rice or noodles and the remaining chicken will be shredded into the soup.

  • A.k says:

    If you “roast” it whole in the rice cooker, you won’t need the skin, and it won’t ever dry out. Just rub the chicken with spices, add into rice cooker with no water! Set on “white rice” option and let cook til done, we do this often! And cooks so nicely in under an hour. Next time I’ll be sure to save the bones for a stock.

  • Jen says:

    I have a pot of “thirds” chicken stock on my stove now. This is my first time going more than once, and I’m really excited! 🙂

    I buy “chicken frames” (necks and backs) and feet from my local farmer for much less than whole chickens. I started with 6 frames, pulled the carcasses after a few hours, and removed about 8 cups of meat from the bones. This is such a pain, and I don’t enjoy it, but it is so worth the effort! I put the bones back in the pot, added 6 feet, and gently simmered for about 36 hours. This yielded 2 gallons of beautiful, thick, golden broth.

    For the second time around, I added more water to the bones, 6 more feet, and simmered for 24 hours. I just strained it, and it looks like it will be about 5 or 6 quarts. It’s still a really golden color.

    Now I’m going for “thirds”, with no new additions. I just added water. I’m so happy that I’m going to have so much broth, and probably 3 meals out of the chicken (I already made chicken and dumplings… YUM!). I just recently came across the idea of using bones more than once for stock. What a great idea!

  • Mary says:

    My family routinely gets 3 meals from a chicken
    1) baked chicken
    2) strip left over chicken and use for enchiladas, chicken on top of salad, or chicken salad
    3) boil bones in crock pot over night for chicken soup…saved some chicken to add to soup

  • Vale says:

    Thank you for this post. I am working hard right now finding ways to save money on groceries. We have a large family with hungry athletic teens. When I have roasted a chicken (or turkey) in the past they eat every scrap. I still get some nice stock from the bones, but I haven’t found it cost effective. I get boneless breast for 1.99 per pound and whole chicken for .99 per pound (both on sale). Does anyone know if you get more meat from going with the whole chicken over the boneless breasts? If I get more meat from the whole chicken, I could always roast it and carve it for separate meals rather than putting it on the table for dinner. The stock would be a nice bonus since we make soups a lot. Also, I noticed that some people used chicken parts and made stock from the bones. Thighs and drumsticks are also .99 per pound right now. Is that a better deal than whole chicken since you can make stock?

    Also, since I noticed some other large families posting here…how do you manage to keep any leftovers? No matter how much extra I think that I have, it all gets eaten. My kids are slim, athletic and healthy eaters (lots of veggies). This is hard to figure out. I am thankful for them and want to feed them well.

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