There are a lot of ways to get a family dinner on the table each night, homemade lunches into lunchboxes each day, and keep everyone basically well-fed and reasonably happy – even if you’re working full-time outside the home, or you have a skillion little ones to care for, or you’re trying to go back to school or make some money with a side business, or whatever it is that clutters up your schedule and makes the whole task seem daunting.  Some people cook once or twice a month and chuck it all in the freezer (HOW that works out has always mystified me); some people cook once a week and refrigerate, freeze, reheat, etc. (better, but still not my style); and some people, like me, figure out a game plan and generally do a little bit of cooking each day to satisfy all the needs.

This is not to say, however, that I don’t try to employ some strategy in how I plan and cook for the family.  One of the best pieces of advice I think I can give to people who are trying to start on the path to making family dinners more possible is: Cook once, eat often.  That doesn’t mean the same old boring leftovers; what it does mean is making your time in the kitchen as effective as possible, so that you’ll have quantities of certain foods to work with and reinvent later.

Tonight I thought I’d provide a little road map to show how a plain old Sunday Roast Chicken Dinner accomplishes the cook once, eat often rule.  I’ve mentioned many times that I never, ever roast just ONE chicken.  If I roast ONE chicken, we’ll have enough for dinner and a modest amount of leftovers that maybe could be repurposed for lunch the next day.  Why bother with all the roasting and carving nonsense if that’s the only payoff?  I’d rather roast TWO chickens – which takes not much longer, and only nominally more effort – and have lots of already cooked chicken available to me throughout the week.  That way I can get a good FOUR meals, possibly even more, for my time.

Meal One: Sunday Roast Chicken dinner
I carve one chicken for dinner, and immediately place the carcass in a slow cooker so I’m ready to make stock with it later in the evening.  The other chicken gets carved after dinner is over (so I don’t make the hungry family cranky with all the waiting), and its carcass goes into the freezer for another time.

The Sunday Roast Chicken, in all its glory

Meal Two: Lunchtime —  Chicken and cashew spring rolls
Obviously, you can omit the cashews as needed, but I love the flavor and crunch they provide; plus, the extra protein and healthy fats in the cashews mean that I can use less of my precious chicken for this one recipe.

Meal Three: Chicken and rice enchiladas
Using brown rice (you could also use quinoa, bulgur, or beans) helps to bulk up the enchiladas without a huge helping of chicken.  You can make the enchiladas ahead of time and just cover them with the sauce and cheese before baking.  I like to serve them with homemade guacamole and a side of corn sauteed with garlic and bell pepper for an easy weeknight dinner.

Sauce in a jar, enchiladas rolled and ready for the refrigerator

Meal Four: Lunchtime — Thermos “pizza chicken”
This embarrassingly simple way to use up odds and ends of leftover meat, marinara sauce, and bits of cheese is a lunchbox staple in our house.  It’s warm, filling, kid-friendly, and helps use up every last scrap of chicken.

Pizza Chicken

The Finale: Slow-Cooker Chicken Stock


What About the Wings?
 If you have a kid who LOVES gnawing on bones, like our L., the four wings you cut from the chickens on Sunday make a great little lunch with lots of healthy sides.  If not, you can do one of two things: Freeze the cooked wings, adding to the bag each time you roast a chicken, until you’ve got enough for lunch/snacks/a quick dinner (you’ll reheat and add sauces or seasonings as you prefer); or throw the wings into the stockpot with the carcasses so they don’t go entirely to waste.

With all that chicken on hand from a good roast supper, you can get a perfect jump start on a week’s worth of healthy meals; better yet, because two good-sized chickens are a pretty economical protein source, using them in several different ways to create lunches and dinners for the family will likely save you quite a bit of money on your grocery bill for the week.  And the very best part is that by mixing it all up with Asian flavors here, Mexican-inspired flavors there, and a little pizza inspiration for good measure, it won’t seem like the same old chicken done a hundred ways.  It’ll just seem GOOD.