Stretching a Whole Chicken Into 16 Meals

In a world where we’ve become accustomed to purchasing just our favorite parts of the chicken — breast or thigh? — the humble whole roasting chicken takes a beating. But stretching a whole chicken into multiple meals can save you a bundle at the store. It might also mean that you can opt for a more expensive organic bird, as it did for us.

Check out these tips for serving healthy meals on a budget.

roasted chicken in casserole dish from above

Finding balance

There are two different local farmers who raise fryers within an hour’s drive of my house. Both keep their birds on fresh forage and I applaud each of them. One feeds with standard high protein chicken food. The other uses certified organic, non-GMO feed. (The next batch will be corn and soy free as well.)

These options are both more expensive than the organic chicken my grocery store carries, and quite a lot more expensive than store brand, conventionally raised birds.

I’ve tried fryers from both farms and I have to say: Wow. The flavor is phenomenal, making store bought chicken—conventional and organic—seem utterly tasteless. Both are good, both are locally grown, but here’s what I decided: If I’m already paying over-the-top high prices for a roaster, I’d just as soon spend an extra buck or so per pound to have the GMO-free option.

Update: We’re currently harvesting some of our own chickens when the rooster population gets out of control, so it’s been awhile since I’ve purchased chickens from either of these farmers.

Our own GMO-free fryers are quite tasty, but on the small side. My calculations for stretching a whole chicken are based on the larger chickens purchased from our local farmer.

I paid $28 for a GMO-free chicken

Twenty-eight dollars. It sure felt crazy when I wrote out that check, but I saw it as a chance to put my money where my mouth is. Let’s be clear. I haven’t completely converted to GMO-free chicken in my kitchen. But I do like to support my local farmers when I can.

I’m trying to eliminate GMOs from our diet as much as possible. But I’m also a fan of supporting local agriculture.

If I buy just one whole chicken from these hard-working farmers, I’m supporting their efforts, helping them to thrive in a business that they believe in wholeheartedly. And one that I believe in wholeheartedly. Plus, the trickle down effect means that if they feed their chickens non-GMO feed, they’re helping to support grain growers who embrace varieties that have not been genetically engineered.

Certainly my family’s buying habits won’t change the world, but they might help send a message.
chicken casserole in a blue baking dish
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Stretching a whole chicken into four family meals


My $28 bird weighed about five pounds; bigger than the usual store bought fryer. My family of four includes myself, my husband, and our two young adult sons.

Meal 1 (four servings)

  • Roasted chicken, served with salad and veggies (four servings)

Following dinner, strip the meat from the carcass and refrigerate. Put the carcass and pan drippings into the slow cooker to make broth. [Detailed instructions for making broth here.]

Taking these two steps will make the rest of the week easier, as you’ll have a lot of the prep work already done.

Meal 2 (four servings)

Meal 3 (four servings)

  • Added shredded chicken to quesadillas, salad, or sandwiches

Meal 4 (four servings or more)

  • Used remaining meat in an enchilada casserole

That’s four different meals from one whole chicken

Now, the amount of chicken varied in each meal. We used more chicken per serving the first night than for subsequent meals, but these are still all meals that came from that $28 chicken.

Cost for each serving of chicken? $1.91 

Not nearly as inexpensive as conventionally raised chicken on sale for 69 cents a pound, but even adding in the various side dishes and other ingredients—another dollar or two per serving at most, probably a whole lot less—each non-GMO meal cost us less per serving than a meal deal at McDonalds.

Stretching a whole chicken like this allows me to get as much mileage as possible from one bird.

Is buying chicken like this feasible for everyone?

Absolutely not. And it’s a choice we shouldn’t have to be making. We shouldn’t have to pay more to opt out of frankenfood. But when I can, I’ll order a chicken or two, knowing that somewhere down the line somebody might be getting a message. And maybe someday, GMO-free chicken will be the norm and affordable for everyone.

Hawaii Island folks, if you’d like to get in on the GMO-free birds, visit Punachicks online.

roasted chicken in baking dish from above -- stretching a whole chicken

Originally posted September, 2013; this post has been updated.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

6 comments… add one
  • Tracy Jan 21, 2015 @ 1:45

    Sounds like a bargain to me.
    I was just thinking of you today when I ecstatically found a place that sells non certified organic meats, and just shelled out 26.78 Euros (more than $30) on half a chicken. (And, yes, it was the smaller half without the neck!)
    Ironically, a lot of the organic beef they offered is imported to Spain from the US. So, while some is local, if I want to avoid GMOs, most isn’t. 🙁

  • Candi Jan 11, 2015 @ 8:36

    I completely agree. Every time I go shopping I remember that I am voting for whatever I buy. Whether I’m at walmart, a health-food store, or the local farmers market, what I chose to spend money on sends a message. Thanks for buying the chicken!

  • Annette Oct 18, 2014 @ 1:33

    I am saving money,from not buying any junk foods.I am buying real butter,almond milk,olive oil and just trying to eat healthier .I have gotten real good product of containers that help food last longer.I am getting together recipes for taco spice mixes and the like to save even more money to be able to buy GMO free foods.Thanks for your posts because it reminds me all that time how to think differently about foods and how to save money.

  • Wynne Oct 17, 2014 @ 10:06

    Love this. We spent last year living abroad. A GMO-free organic turkey cost over NZ$80. Fed a group of 6 for hearty thanksgiving, plus at least 4 more meals thereafter. Worth every bit, and every bite delicious. So pleased to be supporting the choices and hard work of the farmers that raised them.

  • Dava C. Serbantes Sep 26, 2013 @ 22:30

    I am so happy to have read this! This January, I will be resigning my current over-the-road truck driving job which I do with my husband in order to go into raising chickens and selling eggs. Though I have raised chickens for personal use before, my intention is to have them be cage-free, pasture-raised, GMO free, soy & corn free. I have researched the feed I will need and have chosen a company called Scratch & Peck out of WA. Fabulous feed, but oh so expensive and since I am in CA, I have to tack on an additional $165.00 per pallet for delivery. I have spent the past year slowly buying all the things I will be needing to start. Sheds, fencing, incubators, feeders, waterers, etc. The start up alone is thousands of dollars. This business will be a good year or two before I ever see a profit., if I ever do.

    But it is a labor of love not only for my family but for my extended family, friends and community. No one should be forced to eat food raised on GMO’s! It is my sincerest hope folks can see the need to support those of us willing to go the extra mile to keep GMO’s out of our food and provide animals with their full rights to a happy, healthy life before they are sacrificed to to our needs.

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 27, 2013 @ 8:16

      Good luck to you! (I’ve heard good things about Scratch & Peck.)

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