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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stretching the Dollar

We have always had to be careful with money as we have a very small income and inherited a great big debt with the farm. I try my best to get by on $600/month for groceries, toiletries, and cleaning supplies. This has to include our co-op budget, as with the many food allergies I can't just serve hot dogs and mac-n-cheese. So it has been quite a challenge, especially lately with food prices going up due to fuel and shortages. I know I love to hear about how others save money and still make good food (and by good I mean what our bodies really need and not 99 cent pizzas that go straight into the arteries). Buying in bulk is one of my best weapons, but sometimes that can be daunting as well.

One thing that I had some trouble adjusting to was chicken. I like the breast, whether it is baked, roasted, grilled, or in lunch slices. I have never really enjoyed dark meat. It is also much more fatty, and greasy dishes/hands stress me out. But white meat is suddenly the choice part. It used to be that the dark meat was everyone's favorite, but with the onslaught of diets and buffalo wings, white meat is now premium (price wise, too). So I just had to figure out a way to make the dark meat do-able. As I was prepping my chicken last night, I thought it might be of interest to someone else trying to stretch the budget by using cheaper cuts. Meats are not generally foods that interfere with allergen diets (unless you are super-sensitive to grains and then you have to find truly grass-fed meats). It is one of the easiest places for me to cut costs.

Making $4.00 of chicken last three meals
If you are very smart, you can find a better deal than even this. Stores have sales, or you can buy very large quantities for even cheaper. But we shop once a month, and until we get our barn built, have only the freezer space that is built into the fridge, so I'm going to go with the current price for leg quarters at $0.69/lb. Just for anyone who might not know (hey, we all start somewhere) the quarter is the drumstick and the thigh still attached. If we were going to splurge, I would cut them into pieces (which would be 5 drums and 5 thighs) and fry them for fried chicken. I take the skin off when I do this because the dark meat, plus skin, plus oil to fry it is way too much fat! Sometimes I will also bread them and bake for oven-fried chicken, thus saving even more grease!

But for this week, I had to stretch the chicken because we had another splurge for the holiday. I have a 6 quart crock-pot, which is perfect. Last night before bed I put the chicken in the pot and filled it to the top with water. I let it cook on high for 10 hours. This morning I took the meat out (which was slipping from the bones and so tender) and set it aside to cool. What was left in the pot was about 2 quarts of broth. But this is not just broth- this is extra strength broth. With all the bones present in dark meat and the fat in the skin and the meat itself, this broth would be way too thick and strong by itself. So I had a 1/2 gallon Mason jar that I filled half-way with broth. I fill it the rest of the way with water and let it cool. When cooled, I can put the lid on and put in the fridge (or in a freezer container to freeze if I am not planning to use it right away).

Next I added a quart of water to the crockpot to thin out the broth left in there. When the meat was cool, I divided it into three bowls- one for bones, one for fat and gristle, and one for meat. The bones are thrown away. If I had a grinder, I could make bone meal for the pets with them, but I currently don't have one. PLEASE don't ever give your poultry bones to cats and dogs. As I have recounted before, my dad watched a dog die when he was little because it got a chicken bone caught in its throat. Other bones are fine, but chicken bones splinter are are bad. The bowl of skin and gristle goes to the pets. This is especially good for them if you have to save money by buying cheaper pet foods (or if you are running a kitten orphanage like we are). The fat helps with their joints and skin.

What is then left is about 3 pounds of shredded meat. I put a pound in the crockpot for my chicken and dumplings. One pound is put either in the broth jar or a freezer bag for chicken noodle soup. One pound I put in the processor with onion, garlic, mustard, mayo, rosemary, and celery seed for chicken salad sandwiches. You may be thinking that one pound of meat is not going to go far. I serve 9 people with it. Americans are too used to making meat the main course instead of a garnish. Look around you- do you see anybody suffering from protein deficiency? I serve larger portions of vegetables or whole grain breads instead. This chicken salad will make 10 sandwiches. The pot of chicken and dumplings filled us up. We didn't even go for the optional fruit afterward. Just too full.

Making 3 meals out of a 3 pound roast
Nothing says farm life like beef stew and biscuits! To stretch out (and tenderize) a cheap roast, I first put it in the crockpot and cover with water. This usually gets cooked for 6 hours. If you don't have a crockpot, you can put it in the oven in a pan with water about half way up and cover with a lid or foil. It is really important to have both liquid and a cover in order to allow convection to tenderize the meat. If cooking in the oven, it is best to use low heat and longer cooking time. When the roast is done, I place it on my cutting board. From here, I have a few options as to which meals I want to make and in which order.

The broth in the pot is either a good stew base or great for making bean soup. I generally use the broth for beans and just use a bouillon cube and water to make the stew because the meat is there to fill out the flavor. I will cut the roast in half. One half can be served sliced thin for dinner with horseradish sauce, YUM! The other half is cubed and used for stew meat. The ends and bits are usually added to the bean soup, though the fat and broth left from the roasting are very good and don't need bouillon added to them. So from one 3 pound roast, I made bean soup, roast beef, and beef stew.

A few other odd-n-ends
Going with the idea that we do not need as much meat as we have been led to believe, I cut the meat portion in everything I make. I will buy a 3 pound package of ground beef and break it down to four blocks. I just take off the plastic, score the meat down the middle and across, and put each quarter in a freezer container. You really don't miss the little bit when you are making chili, tacos, or gravy, but it stretches the meat even further.

I will divide a gallon of whole milk (for the kids who can have it) into two gallon pitchers and fill with water. I get two gallons for the price of one. You can't even do this with skim milk in the store- two gallons of skim will cost more than one of whole. They swear they don't notice the difference. I do keep a gallon of full-strength milk for the daughter with anorexia because she needs the calorie overload.

Bacon can be expensive, and turkey bacon can be even more expensive. A splurge for us would be BLTs, which use up a large package of turkey bacon. But for breakfasts or club sandwiches, I cut the bacon in half and bake it in the oven on a cookie sheet, draining the fat into a small jar as I go. I then mix a little of the bacon fat into my mayo when I make it. You are not ingesting any more fat than you would have if you pan-fried the bacon. But the drippings have enough of the flavor to make the sandwich spread stretch the bacon taste. I also use the bacon grease instead of shortening in my breakfast biscuits and that gives them more bacon flavor without using as much bacon. The half-slices aren't even noticed!

The last little thing I wanted to add here is probably a given, but you never know! Often when a recipe calls for butter, I leave it out. When it calls for milk, I either use my diluted milk or substitute half the milk with water. I truly have never missed it. It saves calories and money.


a soldier's wife said...

very interesting and helpful article. We eat a lot of chicken at my house, but I always buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I'm going to add leg quarters to my next shopping list and give that a try, and try you other suggestions later too. Thanks so much!

Berean Wife said...

Our local Wal-mart often has leg quarters in a 10 pound bag for less than $5. They are usually just stuck in a bottom corner in the meat area.

Once-a-Month cooking is a great way to save on meal prices. Just don't follow the published recipes in the books (too expensive!). Convert your own recipes.

One day I'll do ground beef meals - spaghetti, chili, tacos, manwiche, etc. Then another day I'll do chicken meals - sweet & sour, BBQ, chicken packets, soup, etc. Preparing ahead of time and freezing will cut down on wasted food and time.

Anonymous said...

This was wonderful information. I will remember it when I do my next menu and shopping list.

I'm trying to slowly teach my family that meat does not have to be the main part of the meal. With prices going up on everything they may have to learn fast.

Growing up I remember mom taking our Sunday chicken or roast and making great chicken and rice meals or roast and rice meals the next day. Our roast served us Sunday after church, Sunday night for sandwiches and Monday with rice for lunch. Chicken was done the same way. Back then I didn't know she was stretching the dollar. It was just great food.LOL

God Bless

Robin said...

This is such a helpful article. Thank you for sharing it.

All In A Day's Work said...

I found your blog yesterday and have enjoyed reading it. I see you are in Ohio. I am as well... born and raised.

I have a question for you regarding homeschooling. How do you deal with the yearly asessment that has to be turned in when notifying of homeschooling here in Ohio? I find this to be a major pain especially with my son.

Again, I truly enjoy your blog! Have a great day.

Kaira said...

please remove my previous comment.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for the tips,we need them with the prices going so high:-)

Deeny said...

I try to get all our groceries and household stuff such as the paper goods and cleaners etc for $150.00 a week. Sometimes if I am stocking up it can be higher but that is my goal. I use to be able to do it for under 100 but that was by making absolutely everything from scratch. But we are just a family of 5 and I think your family is bigger. I use most of the tips you've mentioned. However i can still get boneless skinless chicken breast on sale for $1.88 a pound so I stock up when it goes on sale. I think that is the best price I've seen for it lately. When it is not on sale it can be over 5$ a pound. Back when we needed to be more frugal I bought the chicken leg quarters and would boil or bake them and de-meat them and use the meat to make big batches of chicken and yellow rice. I still buy them from time to time but like you I prefer the breast. I have made some nice meals though with chicken thighs too.
You may already be aware of this site but I found it about a year ago. It is the Hillbilly housewife site. There are lots of ideas menus, grocery lists and ideas for stretching the dollar on a tight food budget. It is my go to site.
There was also a book I bought several years ago called Miserly Moms. However I have lost it, but she has a website too

I have tried the once a month cooking and just can't do it. But When I roast a chicken or casserole I always cook 2. One for now and one for later. I do smaller batch bulk cooking. When I make pancakes or french toast I always make extra to freeze.

I love to cook and do almost all my cooking from scratch, but i have the time to because I am a stay at home mom and my kids are older. I know a lot of young women and even moms my age that say they don't cook. How can you not cook in todays age? It is just so much cheaper. I just gawk at all the ready made stuff in the grocery store.

Ok I didn't mean for this to be a super long post. i don't think I added any to your wonderful post.
Anyway have a good evening.

Tracy said...

very helpful post!!! I know exactly what you mean about making that dollar stretch and it actually feels good to get as much as we can out of hubby's hard earned money.. thanks for the great tips:)