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Cook Once, Eat 10 Times (Chicken Edition)

Warning–really long post!

Whenever boneless, skinless chicken breasts are on sale for $1.99/lb or less, I stock up and do a big cooking session. When I did this with ground beef, I went over why I cook ahead and how it saves me time and money. Just to review, here are a couple of points:

  • Original once-a-month cooking calls for a month's worth of groceries, recipes, and cooking. I've made this manageable for myself by focusing on one type of meat (chicken, ground beef, etc.) at a time.
  • By sticking with one type of meat, I'm saving money because I'm doing the cooking when the meat is on sale instead of purchasing a month's worth of food no matter what it costs.
  • If 10 lbs. seems like too much to you, just buy one “big pack” and start with that.

Where do I Start?
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts were on sale last week for $1.99/lb. Usually, I would wait until they go down to $1.69-1.79/lb, but my freezer was empty so I needed them now. I bought a little over 10 lbs. Again, I stick with that amount because I find it's the “right” amount for me; I get tired after working with raw chicken for an hour, and it's plenty to fill up the freezer and last me a month till the next sale.

With the chicken, I sat down with my recipe book and figured out which meals I wanted to have; that told me how much chicken I needed pre-cooked, cut into certain sizes, or to leave whole. My plan was for 10-12 meals' worth (I list the recipes below): 2 1/2 cups of pre-cooked chicken, 3 bags of uncooked fillets, 2 bags of diced uncooked chicken, a bag of uncooked bits for soup, and the rest for the crockpot meals.

What do I need?
Besides the chicken breasts, you’ll also need:
Garlic, I use the diced kind in a jar, but you could use fresh
Gallon-size zipper bags, Quart-size zipper bags
Sauce pot (to boil water and chicken)
Can of diced tomatoes, Crockpot (if you're making shredded chicken)
2 cutting boards (one for raw, one for cooked chicken), sharp knife
Paper towels and soap for LOTS of hand washing

Here we go:

  1. I opened the first package of chicken and took out 2 of the breasts, cutting them up a bit to fit better in the pot. I put them in a medium pot and added enough water to cover them, plus a big spoonful of garlic. I set it to boil for 10 minutes. While you're waiting…
  2. Add two of the chicken breasts to the Crockpot. Dump a can of diced tomatoes on top (with green chiles for mild, jalapenos for spicy). This should cook on low for 5-8 hours, high for 3-4 hours for shredded chicken. This will make shredded chicken tacos for tonight, then you can use the leftovers for another meal.
  3. Once the chicken breasts have boiled, drain them and let them cool on another (clean!) cutting board. Once they've cooled, you can dice them, then put them in a freezer bag. It's so handy to have cooked chicken on hand when to save you time cooking during the dinner hour. I list a few recipes below (Chicken & Broccoli Pie and the Chicken Vegetable Chowder), but you probably have a few recipes of your own that call for cooked chicken.
  4. Start slicing the other chicken breasts from the package(s). I try to slice them to make uniform breast pieces so that when I grill or saute them, they'll cook evenly. I put these pieces in individual zipper bags (one meal's worth in each bag), then I chop some of the chicken into smaller pieces for recipes like Stroganoff and Chicken, Pepper, and Potatoes (recipes below). These go into their own freezer bags as well.
  5. I collect all the little leftover bits in a bag for chicken soup. It's okay not to measure this, since I can stretch the chicken soup with veggies, or if I have a lot of chicken leftover, I'll make a double batch of soup. Soups are a great way to stretch meat of any kind, but especially expensive chicken. By adding bulk with vegetables, it's both healthier AND less expensive.

Notes:

  • Don’t forget to label your bags with the date and what’s in them.
  • Freeze these bags flat, then you can stack them or store them upright like books and they’ll take up very little space. You can store these in a side-by-side freezer that way.
  • It took me exactly an hour to process (cut and cook) 10 lbs of raw chicken, but that was with many kid interruptions.
  • If I'd had more time, I would have cooked the chicken soup while I was doing the other tasks and just frozen it for later meals.

Let’s eat!
Since I do my meal planning each Monday, I know what days I need to take something out of the freezer to defrost. Make sure you defrost in the fridge for at least 24 hours (safety guidelines here).

  • Chicken Breasts—I pull them out one day ahead to defrost, and often I'll add some Italian dressing or Balsamic Viniagrette to marinate the chicken before I grill or saute it.
  • Crockpot Shredded Chicken—After slow-cooking the chicken with a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (you can also use jalapeno if you like it spicier), I shred the chicken with two forks. This makes a meal of chicken tacos, then I use the leftovers for Chicken & Spinach Quesadillas or Chicken Enchiladas.
  • Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore—I'll take 1-2 of the chicken breasts, lay them in the crockpot with chopped onion, mushrooms, and green peppers, then top it with a jar of spaghetti sauce. Served with pasta, it's a very fast meal.
  • Easy Cheesy Vegetable-Chicken Chowder—With the cooler weather, I'm excited to have soups again. This recipe is one of my family's favorites. Using the pre-cooked chicken, it's a very fast, savory meal.
  • Chicken and Broccoli Pie—With the chicken pre-cooked, I just need to defrost it the night before and it makes prepping this meal even easier.
  • Stroganoff-Style Chickenthis recipe is another family favorite. I prep the chicken by slicing up 3/4 lb. in its own bag. By thawing the night before, this is ready to go at dinnertime.
  • Chicken, Peppers, and Potatoes—yet another easy recipe (now posted here). Again, I just cut up the 3/4 lb. that the recipe calls for and have it ready to defrost in its own bag.
  • Chicken Soup—After slicing and dicing, I use all the little leftover bits of chicken to make chicken soup. We'll eat it one night for dinner, then I freeze the leftovers for a lunch or dinner on another day.

What are your thoughts?
Do you find the Cook Once, Eat 10 Times posts helpful? I'm working on a ground beef winter edition to include casseroles and soups now that the weather is getting cooler.

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