Real Food on a Budget: Cooking the Whole Chicken

“I can’t afford to buy food at the farmer’s market. I’m on a budget. I have to shop to Wal-Mart.”

This is one lie we tell ourselves (there are many) when we think about starting to shop local and eat real food. Today’s blog post will hopefully help you see how it’s actually pretty comparable (and way more delicious).

The other lie is about time. I often get poked fun at by my friends for the amount of time it takes to make real food. This is mildly true. It does take time to make real food. It only takes 30 minutes to make mozzarellla cheese. How long would it take you to drive to Wal-Mart and pick up cheese and stand in line and come back home? Probably more than 30 minutes. 🙂

The real question here is: how are you will to spend your time and money?

If you are tired of eating out, getting fast food, feeling like crap from all the junk you’re eating (been there, done that), and you’re ready to consider some changes, keep reading. If you’re not, keep reading anyway…in case you change your mind. 😉

All right, yesterday I went to the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market and purchased a lovely 5-lb pastured-raised chicken for around $19. I had my hubby cut it up (he has a gift!), and he separated out the rib cage, neck, and other non-edible bits (for the soup), the legs, thighs, wings, and breast with bone (the biryani), and the fillets and boneless parts of the chicken breasts (chicken flautas). This took him about five minutes, which included sharpening the knife (which he always does…it’s kinda cute).

Example #1:


Chicken Soup (serves 10, but you can reuse the bones and cook again once or twice)


Chicken bones


Sea salt

Ground pepper

Vegetables of your choosing (save the scraps)



Herbs of your choosing (save the scraps)

1. Simmer for several hours on a low heat. Enjoy!

TIP: You can save the bones a couple times to reuse for chicken broth later. Just freeze them after they’ve cooled. Freeze the vegetable scraps as well. Toss together with water into crock pot and leave on all day. Strain out broth. Cover again with water, repeat.

I used onions, herbs, and carrots from my garden, so I only had to buy salt and pepper (which I’m not even going to count because you should have this already), about $1 of potatoes and $2 of mushrooms. So this cost me about $3 for veggies and if we split the chicken into thirds, about $6. That’s $9 for a stock-pot full of chicken soup and about a half a gallon of chicken broth.

For the quantity of homestyle chicken soup, I think it would be at least five large cans of soup, which cost maybe $2 each. So, that’s already more expensive. If you buy the cheap soup (without the veggies), it’s maybe $1 for two small cans. So, that’s still $5, but then you don’t have veggies. If you buy veggies at Wal-Mart, it might cost $2 for mushrooms, $2 for carrots, $5 for potatoes, and probably $10 for herbs. This is mostly because you have to buy in bulk. So, even if you skip the herbs, you still are paying about $9 for veggies, which if you add $5 for soup, is $14. And that doesn’t even include the chicken broth. There’s a few more dollars. Real food is cheaper.

If you went to Panera Bread and had a cup of soup, it would cost about $3.50. Not bad, except when you think I made 10 cups of soup for $9. If you and nine friends went, that’d be around $35. Way more expensive!

Example #2:


Biryani (serves 8-12)

One jar of Biryani spices (okay, so I kinda cheated on this one!)

Chicken wings, legs, and thighs from one chicken

Two onions, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

4 tomatoes, chopped

2 cups rice, rinsed and drained

1/2-1 cup lentils

Olive oil

1. Heat olive oil and sauté the onions and carrots. Add the chicken and the jar of biryani spices. Cook until browned.

2. Add 4 tomatoes, chopped, 2 cups of rice, and lentils along with 3 cups of water. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Enjoy with a spring of cilantro!

Okay, now for this I used $7 worth of chicken, the jar of biryani ($4, I think), and I already had the rice and lentils but I would assume I maybe used $1 worth. The tomatoes, onions, and carrots were from my garden. So, that’s $12.

This would be a hard thing to purchase in the grocery store, so let’s say you buy a package of chicken legs and thighs for about $5 and a frozen mix that already has the rice and spices included, which usually cost about $10, but only serves about 4 people. Well, that’s $25-35 right there.

If you went to a restaurant, the cheapest you might pay would probably be $7/plate. That’s $56-94. Much more expensive!

Example #3:

flautas1 flautas2

Chicken Flautas with Guacamole

Chicken breasts, boiled and shredded

6-8 tomatillos

2 cloves of garlic

1 chunk of onion

1 bunch of cilantro

3 cups of Maseca

1-2 cups olive oil


1. Boil chicken breasts in water with garlic and onion and salt. Take chicken out of broth and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, boil tomatillos in the broth.

2. Pour broth with tomatillos in a blender with some cilantro. Blend. Pour 1/3 of it into a skillet with a little bit of olive oil and the shredded chicken. Cook until liquid is absorbed.

3. Mix 3 cups Maseca with the rest of blended broth until it makes a Play-Doh like texture. Form into 2-inch balls and press in a tortilla press (cut out two circles of Wal-Mart bags for top and bottom of the press). Pick up the raw tortilla into your hand, put in a few pieces of shredded chicken, and roll up, pressing the loose top end together. Fry in olive oil until golden brown. Repeat.

4. Enjoy with guacamole or the sauce of your choosing! 🙂

Okay, the chicken was $6, tomatillos were $2, cilantro was $1, Maseca was $1, and olive oil was most expensive at $8. So, that’s $18. Also, I had homemade guacamole (secret recipe), which included $3 of avocado, $1 of peppers. All together, $22.

In the store, you can buy frozen taquitos for about $5 per box. I estimate I made about 3 boxes worth of taquitos. That’s $15 (a bit cheaper). If you buy guacamole at the store it’s about $4, which is the same as mine, except that my recipe made about 2-3x that much, which evens things out a bit. So, it’s about $26.

If you bought this in a restaurant, it’d probably cost $7/plate ($70), plus $5 for guacamole. $75. Real food is cheaper.

Finally to tackle the time question…I made all this food together around the same time, so it took about 3-4 hours all together and made enough food for 28-32 servings! Also, the way I spent my time was fairly enjoyable. I went to the farmer’s market and chatted with some of my farmer friends. I picked tomatoes, carrots, and herbs from my garden. I chopped up some veggies, stirred some stuff, and pressed some tortillas. If you go to Wal-Mart or another grocery store, you have to drive there, find parking, weave your way through the long aisles, wait in a long line, remember where you parked, drive home, and then heat up the food. It actually takes longer and is a little more expensive. If you go out to eat, you have to drive there, wait in line, and wait for the food. Less time but between 3-9 times more expensive.

Real food is cheaper, takes almost the same amount of time to prepare, and is way healthier for you!

I have a handy-dandy chart below with the comparisons. Enjoy!!!

Real Food w/local ingredients Pre-Packaged Restaurant
Chicken soup with vegetables and herbs $9 (about 10 servings plus ½ gallon of chicken broth)

Time: 3-4 hrs

15 min travel time, 15 min shopping, 30 min gathering and prep, 2-3 hours cooking (or use crock pot)


Time: 1.5 hrs

30 min travel time, 30 min shopping, 15 min waiting, 15 min cooking


Time: 1 hr

30 min travel time, 30 min serving time

Biriyani chicken with rice and lentils $12 (about 8-12 servings)

Time: 1 hr

15 min travel time, 15 min shopping, 15 min prep, 15 min cooking


Time: 1.75 hrs

30 min travel time, 30 min shopping, 15 min waiting, 30 min cooking


Time: 1 hr

30 min travel time, 30 min serving time

Chicken flautas with guacamole $22 (about 10 servings)

Time: 1.5 hrs

15 min travel time, 15 min shopping, 30 min prep and cooking, 30 min frying


Time: 1.75 hrs

30 min travel time, 30 min shopping, 15 min waiting, 30 min cooking


Time: 1 hr

30 min travel time, 30 min serving time


4 thoughts on “Real Food on a Budget: Cooking the Whole Chicken

  1. Wonderful post!! Love that we both have similar philosophies on using *all* the food on a bird (etc) —- seems disrespectful to kill an animal and waste parts of its nutrition.

  2. Great post, I agree 100%. I try to do a lot of freezer cooking because most nights after work the last thing I want to do is cook. I cook all day 2 times a month with music and movies in the kitchen and cook 5-6 different meals and divide them up.

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