Dear Home-Ec 101,
My husband was recently laid off -sound familiar?- and we really need to cut our food budget while he looks for a new job. In your opinion, what’s the most economical cut of meat or poultry I can get to feed our family? I pretty much stuck to boneless skinless chicken breasts before, but right now they don’t seem to be such a good deal.
Stretching in Stratton
First of all, I feel for you guys. I hope he finds something soon.
When budgets are tight, it’s really hard to beat chicken thighs as an economical cut of poultry. I’m not a huge fan of dark meat, but I’ve matured enough (hush, peanut gallery) to know that sometimes my preferences just don’t matter that much.
Here are some recipes that work perfectly, without extra steps, for chicken thighs (even if they say chicken pieces, you can use a package of thighs):
Some people will try to argue that the thigh bone makes the difference in cost between BSCBs and chicken thighs acceptable. I completely disagree. Whether you first remove the thigh before cooking or separate them after cooking, those chicken thigh bones are valuable. Save the bones in a freezer bag and use them to make chicken stock.
If you’ve never made chicken stock before, here are two ways to make chicken stock, and Eugene in the comments offers his method for making stock in his slow cooker. Homemade chicken stock sounds like a luxury, but using it to make rice or vegetables can significantly improve their flavor and boost the nutritional value without adding a ton of sodium.
So what else can you make with these budget friendly chicken thighs?
Any recipe calling for boneless skinless chicken breasts can be made with skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Debone the thighs yourself.
Any recipe calling for a whole, cut up chicken.
Any recipe calling for leg quarters.
If you find a recipe for chicken and want to alter it specifically for chicken thighs, here is a guide to altering chicken recipes based on cut.
Whole chickens are economical in their own right. Here’s how to cut up a whole chicken. With a little practice, this takes about five minutes and gives you a break from only dark meat.
Don’t forget your side dishes.
When you are trying to reduce your overall food budget side dishes become extremely important. Ounce per consumable ounce, vegetables, grains, and legumes are often significantly cheaper than meat.
When planning your meals allot your 10 – 35% of the calories to come from protein. That leaves a LOT of room for vegetables and whole grains. Treat your protein source as the after thought and focus on filling your dinner plates with other lower cost items. This doesn’t mean only empty calories, sides like: lentil pilaf, rice and peas, roasted broccoli, collard greens with northern beans, and roasted vegetables all are filling, but not terribly expensive. -With the broccoli, peel and slice the stems so they don’t go to waste). And don’t forget the poor maligned potato, just keep them out of the fryer. Try your hand at roasted potatoes or ranch potato wedges. Don’t be scared to get creative.