One whole chicken goes a long way when you live by yourself. I learned this when I was in graduate school and living in a tiny studio apartment, doing my best to stick to a budget that was even tinier. The best way for me to stretch my dollars and still enjoy healthy, delicious meals wasn't by eating packets of ramen or rice and beans every night for dinner, but by roasting a whole chicken once a week.
My Roast Chicken Budget Strategy
Sticking to a financial plan is still important for me. I'm a writer with a budget that's slightly bigger, but not by much, than the one I lived off of as a graduate student. I generally plan to spend around $200 a month — or about $50 a week — on groceries. This covers the majority of my meals in a given week. I bring a packed lunch to work every day, and prepare an average of five meals a week at home. And I still turn to my most trusted budget-friendly meals on a nearly weekly basis.
My biggest reason for doing so is because buying a whole chicken is always going to be cheaper than buying any of its individual parts. At Wegmans, the store where I do most of my grocery shopping, roasting chickens are priced at $0.99/pound. The same chicken, once broken down into split breasts, drums, and thighs costs $1.88/pound. If I were to buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I would have to pay $3.79/pound. And chicken breast tenderloins cost $4.49/pound.
Roasting a chicken every Sunday, I've found, is a sure way of guaranteeing I'll maintain my monthly grocery budget. I look for a four- to five-pound roasting chicken, grab a lemon, one onion, and a bulb of garlic, and for less than $10 have almost everything I need. My go-to method of roasting a whole chicken is in my beloved cast iron skillet, in which the bird fits snuggly into — low-and-slow cooking is key.
Roast Chicken Makes the Best Leftovers
After the bird has cooled and I've eaten the parts of it I wanted to for dinner —including the crispy, crunchy skin, which never tastes as good once reheated — I break the chicken down and start planning all the ways I'll repurpose the leftover meat. Back in grad school, when I was still learning how to reuse leftovers in ways beyond their original recipe, I ate a lot of reheated chicken and mashed potatoes. I've come a long way since then, and now have dozens of tried-and-tested methods of using up all the leftover scraps of chicken.
The first step: I always, always, always make homemade chicken stock with the bird's carcass and whatever vegetables and aromatics I have on hand. (Never dispose of a perfectly useful chicken carcass!) When the weather is cooler or I feel a cold coming on, the stock goes into making chicken noodle soup from scratch. Otherwise, I might use it in a risotto with in-season vegetables later in the week, or I'll just stick it in the freezer for the future.
The meat that remains after my Sunday chicken dinner is enough to last me through the week. I mix up what recipes I repurpose the leftovers in week to week, as to not get bored by the routine. The breasts sometimes become some kind of chicken salad, like this version with yogurt and dill or this peak-summer pesto chicken salad, which I'll pack atop a bed of greens or roll into a collard green chicken salad wrap for an easy yet satisfying packed lunch. I've also used leftover meat to make a quick weeknight pasta dish, like in a hearty tomato sauce or an easy one-skillet chicken Alfredo meal. And I always have tortillas on hand for a taco or fajita night.
It seems silly, I know, but the simple act of roasting a chicken once a week keeps my budget in check.