I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the idea of one day of cooking and having meals done for a month. Apparently, it can be done. One giant grocery store trip, and a weekend in the kitchen can supposedly yield a month’s worth of dinners. To be honest, I don’t have the attention span to make such a comprehensive shopping list or spend two days cooking and not eating the results of my labor. And even if I did make 25 entrees to be freezer ready, I don’t have the freezer space in which to store them.
I have, however, developed as system that does cut down on weeknight madness, and it’s pretty simple: never cook just one meal at a time. That’s it. If I’m making pasta, I make enough for two meals. If I cook a roast, I cook the whole thing, serve some and save the rest. If I cook ground beef or turkey, I cook up the whole family pack. Over the next few weeks, I’ll go into each one of those items. Today’s topic is going to be chicken.
The most economical way to buy chicken, they say, is to buy the whole roasting chicken. It’s probably true, but it kind of grosses me out. Instead, I buy the family pack of either boneless/skinless breasts or thighs, whatever is on sale. In my head, I rationalize that when I buy the chicken that way, it’s all usable meat. There’s no waste in the skin and the bones. In reality, it saves me the most unpleasant tasks of serious poultry handling. ANYWAY.
At one time, I’d break up the family pack and freeze the meat, two chicken breasts at time. After awhile though, I realized I could cook it all at once, and then divvy up the cooked portions as I see fit, and save some time in the future.
Meals from a Chicken Family Pack
1) I bake the entire package (about 5lbs) all at once, with maybe a little pepper & garlic salt.
Meal One: Baked Chicken with Baked Potatoes
The night I bake the chicken, we eat some, with baked potatoes, since the oven is on anyway. The potatoes take about an hour at 350, the chicken, about 45 minutes, depending on the size of each piece. Cook the chicken until the internal temperature is about 170 for breasts.
2) I set aside four chicken breasts for Chicken Enchiladas. Either I simmer the meat and the sauce while I’m cleaning up after dinner that night, or I make plans to whip those up about two days later (who wants to eat chicken every night of the week?)
Meal Two: Chicken Enchiladas
With the chicken already cooked, these are a snap to throw together. I always split the batch – I make two 8×8 pans, which hold four enchiladas each (on enchilada night, my kids prefer to eat quesadillas). The second pan gets covered in aluminum foil, labeled, and put in the freezer for a later date. You can get as fancy as you like with these — you can make your own sauce, or just put the cooked chicken in with a can of enchilada sauce and simmer until the chicken shreds with two forks.I originally got this recipe from Passionate Homemaking, but have made some improvisations along the way. Her post also describes how to make these with beef, and a slow cooker variation as well.
3) There are typically 8 breasts in these packages, so the last two breasts have a few options. I typically slice these two pieces up and they meet one of the following fates: chicken salad for a few lunches (mayo based), chicken on top of a green salad, chicken alfredo, chicken marinara, or bbq chicken. Depending on what the week looks like, I may freeze this last bit for another week, or serve it two days after the enchiladas.
Meal Three: Chicken Alfredo
You could make your own Alfredo sauce, or you could just buy a jar and add the chicken to it. Either way, I’ve found room temperature water boils faster than straight out of the tap. On pasta nights, I fill the pot and place it on the stove before I leave the house for the day. This way, when I am ready to start dinner, I just turn the stove on and it boils a few minutes faster. Boil the pasta (cook the whole box, you’ll be using it again), warm the sauce with the already cooked chicken. Dinner’s Done.