Learn how to stretch chicken into multiple meals! Use this guide to make 7 meals from one whole chicken. You CAN feed your family good food on a budget! Meals like jalapeno chicken popper casserole and buffalo chicken pizza make your chicken go further!
How many delicious, absolutely easy meals does one chicken make? Several!
It is a juggling act to ensure there is enough real food in the house, yet still stick to a real budget. As a working mom who loves to cook and needs to feed her family, dinners need to be nutritious, easy to throw together, leave enough leftover to use for lunches for at least the next day and not be too expensive.
That’s not too high of an order, right?
If you can relate to the constant challenge of feeding your family on a budget, here is a great way to survive the kitchen madness.
On your meal plan, plan to take a whole chicken, roast it, and use the shredded meat in several, absolutely easy meals throughout the week.
You will be so glad you did! Be sure to pick meals which will make a lot so you can use the leftovers for either a freezer meal for later or for lunches.
Why Buy Whole Chickens
Hands down, a whole chicken is cheaper than buying chicken pieces.
Costco has the best price for organic chicken in my area, and if you buy a case of whole organic chickens from Costco, the price can go even lower.
You can store the chickens in your freezer or split the case with a friend if you don’t have that much room.
If you don’t have a Costco in your area, Butcher Box may be a good option for you. They’re a subscription service that delivers grass-fed beef, organic chicken and pastured pork to your door each month. Their pork chops are the best I’ve ever had!
You can read my honest review on Butcher Box, plus my updated Butcher Box review, and how we make Butcher Box work for our budget each month.
No matter where you shop, use a price book to learn what grocery store carries the best priced chicken for you! (Here’s how to get started with a price book.)
Stretch a Whole Chicken into Multiple Meals
Once you have your whole chicken, it’s time to cook it! My favorite method is in the Instant Pot. You can also cook it in the slow cooker or roast it in the oven or spatchcock it if you’re tight on time.
ALWAYS save the bones and skin for making homemade chicken stock. Again, use the Instant Pot or crock pot! (You don’t even have to clean out your pot after cooking the whole chicken, just add water, apple cider vinegar, and kitchen scraps! Here’s the tutorial.)
After your chicken is cooked, you’ll want to shred that baby up. This is best done while the chicken is still warm, but not hot. The cooked chicken falls apart much easier. I typically get about 6 cups of shredded chicken from one whole chicken.
I will either use most of that chicken on my meal plan the week of cooking it. Or put the chicken in 2 cup portions in freezer bags for later. This practice helps me keep real food on hand which in turn makes me capable of feeding my family healthy food AND saving money.
Ways to Use a Whole Chicken
If I were to use that whole chicken for all my meals in one week, here’s one way I would make it work:
- Spinach and Chicken Enchiladas. Use 2 cups of shredded chicken and add black beans. Double the other ingredients and make a pan for the freezer. Win-win! Serve with a side salad to increase those veggies.
- Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken. Reduce the shredded chicken to 1 cup. Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, or homemade tortillas.
- Weeknight Stir Fry. Use 1 cup shredded chicken or skip it and call it a meatless night and save the chicken in the freezer for later. Serve with rice or cauliflower rice.
- Southwest Chicken Salad. Use ½ cup of shredded chicken. Add a loaf of artisan bread on the side for those who need to beef up the meal a bit.
- Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup. Use ½ cup of chicken and add extra veggies. Use chicken broth from earlier in the week. This would be amazing with homemade dinner biscuits or a side salad.
- Buffalo Chicken Pizza. Spread out 1 cup chicken on your pizza. This meal is very filling without using a lot of meat. Add a side salad. That’s really one of the best ways to just get more veggies on the table!
- You made a lot of food this week, so call it a leftover night! Or if you ate it all up for lunches, use the chicken you skipped on stir-fry night to make Chicken Alfredo or Cobb Pasta Salad. (Or make those meals meatless!)
This isn’t a TON of chicken in each meal. But honestly, that is how my family has been able to afford quality meat and still keep our budget low. We view meat more as a side or compliment to our meal, not the main star.
Here’s another week’s worth of chicken meals to help you stretch your chicken!
How to Stretch One Chicken Breast
You might be thinking all this meat stretching is great, but you don’t want to go out and buy a whole chicken when you have some chicken breasts in the freezer. So what are your options?
Psst! That is the FIRST thing I recommend to my Grocery Budget Bootcamp students. Use the food you already have!
Instead of serving up the chicken breast as a whole, you can cook it solo in the slow cooker, Instant Pot, boil it, or bake it, then shred the meat! Here are some ways we like to use shredded breast meat and make it stretch.
- Chicken Fried Rice
- Buffalo Chicken Ranch Salad
- Greek Pitas
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Creole (if it’s mostly chicken)
- BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
If Mr. Crumbs is craving a chicken sandwich for a quick and easy meal, I try to use just half of a breast, or leftover chicken from previous meals. A little bit of chicken goes a long way on a sandwich that’s full of veggies.
How to Break Down a Whole Chicken
While the best way to stretch a whole chicken is to use the shredded meat in multiple meals, sometimes we do need a meal that uses chicken pieces. A great idea to make that happen is to cut your own whole chicken.
Use this tutorial to learn how to cut a whole chicken. There are a couple of tricks that will help you make the most of your whole chicken. Even when you break down a whole chicken, you can still make chicken broth with the bones and skin. Even the innards are great for stock!
Chicken Meal Prep PlanSign up to get instant access to my Chicken Meal Prep Plan, complete with recipes and shopping list!
Cut Up Chicken Recipes
These are my favorite ways to use chicken in pieces.
- Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- Sweet and Sticky Chicken
- Chinese Five Spice Chicken
- One Pot Chicken and Rice
More Chicken Dinner Recipes
Beyond the recipes shared above, there are 38 ways to use a rotisserie chicken! Some of them include:
Great article, I’ve been cooking a whole chicken for a while and making stock with the carcass for a while now but was looking for new ways to use the chicken – there are several new ideas presented here I will enjoy trying!
31 meals even at 4 servings a meal would be physically impossible with a single chicken.
Oh, you mean 2 meals for 4 with a couple servings left over for dad to take as lunches.
Good article, wrong title.
Helene – while some will agree with you that the title may be misleading, a serving for one is technically a meal. 😉 Glad you enjoyed the article!
While this could feed one person up to 31 times, it does not make 31 meals. Even those who cook for one expect a meal to create 1-3 servings of leftovers, or to serve four initially. Even with leftovers counted and using broth as part of the chicken, I expected more than four recipes in a post promising 31 meals.
Yes, it contained some nice nuggets of information. However, you’ve had people repeatedly through the years comment on how misleading the title is and your responses have increasingly made it seem purposeful. This is despite many saying they would have happily read the article even with a more accurate title. As a small business, I would think you’d want to foster trust in the potential clients reading your blog. This behavior certainly does not do that and personally has turned me off even the idea of trying your meal plans; what if they too promise 31 meals and provide only 4, due to technicalities?
tiffany people who are complaining about your title may just have too much time on their hands and not enough gratitude in their hearts .
Folks this gal bother to put together all this stuff and you get it free. And do you say thank you — no you take her down because YOU think her title is not exact enough for you. So who the heck are you? Just what did you post to help others with their budgets? Right you did nothing but (what is that word)? —-
Karen @ Team Crumbs
Thank you for your kind words. We love that you appreciate the work we do to help people eat real food on a budget. The title of the post was previously updated to more clearly reflect the content of the post. 🙂
I’ve never cooked a whole chicken overnight in a crock pot or bought a case of organic chickens, but those are excellent ideas that I will definitely try!
I often buy whole 3 lb. rotisserie chickens from Sam’s Club for less than $5 each (about $1.66/lb), pull off the meat (shred some and cube some), and freeze it in freezer bags. Then, I make chicken stock from the carcass. I can easily make three dinners for my family of three adults and one teenager out of one chicken (with leftovers). It is wonderful having cooked chicken pre-portioned and ready to thaw and throw into a recipe, as well as always having homemade chicken stock handy when you need it.
I think one of the keys to stretching the chicken is smaller portions. When I serve whole chicken breasts, my hubby thinks he needs to eat an entire breast — sometimes two. But, if I were to cut up or shred the breasts to put into a meal, I might use only two breasts to feed the four of us. Or, I might cut a breast in half and pound it into a thin cutlet. His eyes fool his brain (and stomach) into thinking he is eating more than he is. I also will sometimes decrease the amount of chicken in a recipe and increase the other items, like vegetables, rice or pasta.
To stave away the chicken-for-dinner-again boredom, I keep a Chicken board on Pinterest that I am constantly adding recipes to. Some of my family’s favorites are: BBQ chicken nachos, chicken enchiladas, chicken noodle soup, chicken chili, chicken tacos, chicken fried rice and chicken pot pie.
How are you getting organic whole chickens from Costco for $.50/lb?
Nicole – she means 50¢/lb LESS per pound.
Hi Tiffany! Thanks for sharing such great post. I will admit the title of this post caught my eye. As I looked through the recipes I found a few that my family would enjoy. I am looking forward to trying them out this week! I have my chicken in the crock pot now and I am planning to make the stir fry tonight. I am excited to see how it turns out! I will keep you posted.
I will also be sharing my experience on my Facebook page — Our Daily Bread on a Budget. The goal of the page is to help foster a community for people to find helpful resources and recipes to use for themselves and their families that are healthy, cost effective and fairly easy to make. I would love for you to check in out when you get a chance and let me know what you think of it! Thanks again for sharing your great ideas with the world 🙂
Jenn, thank you for your kind compliments. How did the stir fry turn out? I love your whole chicken challenge that you posted on Our Daily Bread on a Budget and am excited to see how it turns out.
Question on the chicken in the crockpot. Do you need to make sure the chicken is fully covered by water? Or how much do you put in?
Disregard. I missed the link the first time. Thank you!
Hi Brandi! I’m glad you figured out how to cook the chicken. Thanks for stopping by.
I’m confused. 4 meals that serve about 5 people per meal, right? Doesn’t that come out to 20 meals? Am I missing something?
Thanks ; )
Hi Debbie, I made four meals for two people (which is 8 servings). The meals made enough to have 23 servings of leftovers. Each meal could easily serve 4, with the soups and enchiladas serving 6-8 people, especially if you had a couple of side dishes (which I did not count). Hope that helps! Thank you for commenting!
Melissa in Colorado
This is a great post! How much did the 1 – $9.00 chicken weigh? If you got a case of organic chickens from Costco for $0.50/pound that chicken should weigh 18 pounds.
Thanks for sharing that you could get a case of organic chickens from Costco with Tiffany’s readers. That’s a great deal! My local Costco charges $1.93/pound for whole organic chickens by the case. Not nearly as good as the deal you received but better than Whole Foods $1.99/pound on sale price.
Also love the idea of putting the chicken in the crockpot to keep it safe! How many hours do you cook the chicken in the crockpot?
Hi Melissa, thank you! To clarify, I was able to get $0.50 LESS per pound bringing the cost to about $1.99/lb by buying a case. An average chicken is 4.5-5lbs. I wish I could get a deal like $0.50/lb, lol! With just two at my house, I can’t make use of everything at Costco, but the chicken savings more than makes up for the membership cost.
I cook my chicken usually 8-10 hours, though sometimes it ends up being 11-12 hours, on low.
Awesome! I am glad you like the recipes (they are really good, promise!). Yes, buying a case of chickens is such a huge help with keeping the grocery budget down. Thanks for stopping by Wendy!
This is brilliant! I’m going to try your tips on cooking a chicken overnight then making the chicken stock immediately after…I’ve tried to store the bones and extras to make stock later and it never happens. I love this idea!!!!
Oh thank you! Sometimes it is simply easiest to throw all the bones back in the crock after pulling off all the meat to make stock. And, you will only have to wash the crock once! I usually put all the shredded meat in a covered bowl in the fridge to deal with later. You’ll like the ease of this approach a lot, Valerie, thanks for stopping by!
Ahh, Charissa, you continue to inspire me! Great job!
Thank you Holly! You inspire me all the time too.
Congrats on your your new gig girlie!! Very inspiring to take on a new opportunity!!
Thank you Janelle! I was/am thrilled to have written a guest post for Tiffany here at Don’t Waste the Crumbs! Tiffany has been great to work with.
Is there a secret to getting a case of chickens from Costco? I’ve never seen that advertises in store and online the largest I see is a 5 pack (and at a worse price than what I pay for a two-pack in store).
I hope Charissa will chime in, but I believe you can call ahead and coordinate with the meat department to have a case set aside for you. You could probably walk in and ask too, but calling ahead ensures availability.
Hi Darcey, the organic chickens do not have a case price listed. I go to the meat window, and politely ask the meat guy to get me a case of the organic fryers. If they have a whole case in the back, they will be happy to get it for you. But knowing the organic chickens don’t have a case price listed, don’t be surprised for it to take a while for the guy to look through all of his books to give you a price.
You can certainly call ahead and ask for a case to be set aside, several of the meat guys have told me I can do that (normally I forget).
Wow thank you!!
I have heard the reports too saying yes and no about thawing meat before putting it in the crock pot. I try to get the chicken out a couple days before I plan on cooking it and let it thaw in the fridge.Yet, there are several times where I fill up a kitchen sink with cold water and put the chicken into it (still in the plastic) to thaw for a couple hours, making sure the water stays cold. However, I have put a frozen chicken into the crock pot on occasion and either start off with high for a couple of hours or cook it longer. Just don’t thaw your chicken on the counter. Thanks for commenting!
I’m not a food inspector, nor do I play one on tv. I am, however, a busy mom who sometimes forgets to thaw something that HAS to be cooked that day (and far more often than I care to admit!). My rule of thumb is this: NEVER put a whole frozen chicken into the crockpot unless I know the cavities are empty (no organs inside in a paper/plastic bag). It just isn’t good eating. If I do put in a whole frozen chicken, it has to cook a very long time (usually 10-12 hours), so that it is falling apart.
Otherwise, I have no problem with putting chicken pieces in while frozen. Again, be sure it’s completely cooked before you eat it. (Use a meat thermometer if you don’t know how to look at chicken for doneness.)
Great tips Kathleen! Thanks for sharing.
Do you thaw the chicken before putting it in the crockpot? I’ve heard mixed answers about whether or not you have to thaw meat for food safety before using a crockpot. Skipping that step would be amazing. If you do thaw, any tips? Thawing a whole chicken has never worked well for me. Thank you so much for sharing this info! Can’t wait to try these recipies!
Yay! I think you will like both of those recipes Amy! Thanks for commenting!
Just to clarify, this is 31 single-serving meals, not 31 meals (that might feed, say a family of 4), right? I thought I was doing GREAT to get three meals out of a single chicken (including broth). But I’m feeding an active family of 5 that includes 2 teenage boys. That equates to about 8-10 “servings” per meal + sides, such as salad and beans, etc. So its roughly the same.
The sour cream enchiladas recipe looks divine. We’re going to have to try that one soon.
Hi Kathleen, yes this is talking about 31 servings, but 4 meals. Sounds like you are doing an awesome job feeding your family! Both the Psole and the Chicken Tortilla soups and the Sour Cream enchiladas all make quite a bit of food, especially if you add sides. I hope you like the enchiladas! Thanks!
Love these ideas! However, I would appreciate it if the post title were changed. Using the word “meals” when you mean “servings” is misleading. “31 meals” sounds like a month’s worth… not a week’s worth. Most people consider a “meal” to be 4-6 servings, i.e. a whole pot of food. I was really excited, until I realized it meant servings. Just a little friendly “food for thought” (pun intended)!
I will try asking about a whole case of chickens at Costco! That sounds great. 🙂
I agree, this title is very misleading and frustrating. I feel tricked. Maybe “How to Make 1 Chicken Last All Week”?
I’m sorry you felt mis-led by the title Elizabeth, but there are still great nuggets of tips in this post!
Thank you Tiffany for letting me come visit with a guest post! This was so much fun to work with you.
Do these meals freeze well? I am a single person household and usually like to freeze n go
Thank you for the post. I thought it was going to be 31 different single serving meals because that is what I do… lol seems everybody has their own situations. I cook a whole bird stuffed with onion celery and thyme on a wire rack with l cup water in an instant pot on high 1 hour and leave overnight. This makes a beautiful golden bird which I pull out. The stock left is glorious and usually 2 quarts…I pour it into a saucepan which I use to make gravies, chicken and dumplings stroganoff or anything that requires a stronger chicken flavor.I enjoy one baked chicken meal then harvest the rest into 30 baggies. The really teeny parts goes back into the broth. I then place all the bones, skin and stuffing back into the instant pot and cover with water and cook on high again for soup stock. I always buy all my veggies from the dollar bin. Needless to say… I have plenty to eat for about $50 per month with lots of variety as I whip up one single meal each time.
That’s incredible, what a way to make it stretch. I’m so glad I found this blog. TONS of great ideas here.
Kyare - Team Crumbs
So glad you enjoy this site, Melissa!