You probably realize, if you read this blog regularly, that I am a big fan of my Sunday Roast Chicken. In fact, my respect for this particular menu item is at the level of Why-Don’t-You-Just-Kiss-It-And-Marry-It-Already.  I already make sure it hits the rotation at least once a month, but as the weather gets colder, I’m contemplating calling on my Sunday Chicken more often.  It’s just that good.  And beyond being good, it’s the most versatile friend on my meal plan.

I sing the praises of the Sunday Chicken today for two reasons, both of them coming from the RRG Comments board.  First, there’s the fact that more than one person has asked for the recipe for my Chicken Pot Pie with Pumpkin Crust...which is made from the remains of the Sunday Chicken Dinner.  Then, there’s the string of extremely important and detailed questions from faithful reader Blanca, whose issues with meal planning are not only real and undoubtedly frustrating, but far more complex than mine.  I’m blessed with a husband who will eat whatever I make, and two children who have grown up with the “you’ll eat it and like it, or you won’t eat” approach from the moment they started solid foods.  These advantages make planning and cooking the way I do much, much easier, to be sure.

But for Blanca…it just seems harder.  She writes of struggles with a picky husband who will barely eat dinner, two children of different ages and palates who don’t always agree, a demanding schedule, and chronic problems with budget and lingering leftovers that eventually go to waste.  As I answered her questions on the message board, I started thinking about how somebody like Blanca might be able to plan more, cook less, and waste less.  And how she might do it with minimal effort, because she’s not able to just sit around playing Betty Crocker all day.  (Who among us can?)  So for you, Blanca, here’s Part I of my answer: A sample week of cooking that stretches that Sunday Chicken to the nth degree and makes your life easier.

Caveat #1: I told Blanca on the message board that pleasing her husband’s picky palate should fall to the bottom of her list of priorities.  If he comes in every night and reaches for cereal and fruit, that’s his decision, and compromising what she wants for her children and herself isn’t going to change his habits.  (So there, picky husbands and partners of the world.  Nyah nyah, boo boo.)

Caveat #2: Blanca shared with me, in her comments, that she wastes a lot of food and feels as though she could easily go without cooking two days out of the week.  So I’m holding true to that comment, and giving two days off in this plan.

Sunday: Make two Sunday Roast Chickens, just as I do when this shows up in the rotation.  Serve one to the family; with four people, you’ll have a bit left from that first chicken, but not a huge amount.  Alongside the Sunday Roast Chicken, serve mashed sweet potatoes with cinnamon and roasted broccoli.  Make double the amount of sweet potatoes you think you need and enough broccoli to have about a cup or two leftover.  When dinner is over, save the leftover sweet potatoes and broccoli; wrap up the leftovers of the chicken you served; and take the meat off the bones of the second chicken, saving that in a separate container.  Save the chicken carcasses — put one in the freezer.

Overnight on Sunday: make Slow Cooker Chicken Stock with one of the carcasses.

Monday: Use six cups of the Slow Cooker Chicken Stock to make Butternut Squash and Pear Soup for dinner.  Use the leftovers of the first chicken and the broccoli to make Crispy Chicken and Broccoli Flatbread Pizzas for lunches.

Tuesday: Use the meat from the second chicken and the remaining 2 cups of chicken stock to make Chicken Pot Pie with Pumpkin Crust for dinner.  It makes 6-8 generous servings, so if you don’t want the leftovers, freeze half the filling and crust for another time.

Wednesday: Use the leftover mashed sweet potatoes to bake Sweet Potato-Banana muffins. Take a night off from cooking. You’ve probably got leftover soup hanging around, and you might even still have a little bit of chicken left that you can make into chicken salad sandwiches, wraps, or quesadillas.

Thursday: Make whole wheat spaghetti with quick marinara sauce and a green salad for dinner.  Keep leftover pasta and sauce separate.

Friday: Use the marinara sauce and the leftover tortillas and cheese from Monday’s lunch to make stuffed pizza quesadillas for lunch.  (And if you’ve still got marinara sauce left after that, toss it in the freezer!)  Use the leftover noodles to make a pasta frittata for dinner.  You’ve got greens in the house from Thursday night’s salad; make another salad, this time with some chopped apples or pears (leftover from making soup) and dried cranberries or raisins to make it a little different from the night before.

Saturday: Take a night off again.  You’ve earned it.  But if you find that you don’t have enough leftovers in the house after cooking this way, make it a sandwich night; tuna-artichoke panini with sweet potato fries and sliced fruit will be easy and won’t leave you with a bunch of extra food in the fridge.

I hope that’s helpful — not just for Blanca, but for others who might have been wondering about other ways to make meal planning, leftovers, budgeting, etc. fit into their lifestyle.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember, when you’re a geek like me, that not everyone thinks this way just automatically.  So keep the questions coming, and if this DID help, then tell me that, too.  We could do it again sometime.  It was fun.  Really.  Groan.  I’m such a kitchen nerd.