Anyone with a toddler will know that breaded chicken pretty much becomes a staple food in your house. Fingers. Nuggets. Burger Patties. They’re all good from the perspective of our two year old!
Based on what friends and family members who have kids older than mine have told me, I can reasonably expect this to be a delicacy of choice in our house for years to come.
One Sunday morning this summer, my son and I were doing our weekly grocery run and we came across what I consider to be a pretty sweet bargain. Our regular grocery store had the “name-brand” in chicken fingers, nuggets, and patties on sale for just $4.97 per box – a deep discount from the regular price of $10.99.
Knowing there was space available in the deep freezer at home, I scooped up a box of patties, a box of strips, and two boxes of nuggets.
What I didn’t realize when we were in the grocery store was that each box came with a coupon for $4 off the next box you bought! I kicked myself a bit for not buying just a single box and using the coupons to purchase the additional boxes over the days that followed. Instead of paying $19.88, I could have spent a meager $7.88 for those four boxes!
Frugal thinking and behaviour is a constant work in progress for us, so I took this as a(nother) lesson learned, cut out the coupons, and set them aside hoping another sale would occur before the coupons expired at the end of 2018.
Sure enough, the same product went on sale again about six weeks later at the same $4.97 price tag. For the next number of days I stopped in at the grocery store, used a coupon on another box, and deposited it into the deep freezer.
In the end I got eight boxes of breaded chicken in various forms for $23.76, or just $2.97 per box. While it’s not as little as I could have spent had I noticed the coupons at the time of that initial purchase, it’s still a far cry from the $87.92 those boxes could have cost me had I been purchasing them at regular price over time instead of stocking up.
While this was definitely a win on the grocery bill overall, unfortunately, it seems I overdid it in terms of stockpiling – our available freezer capacity was about 80% occupied by these boxes at the peak stockpile time! We’ve got it down quite a bit since then, but there was still an inordinate amount of space being taken up with boxes of breaded chicken.
So FM made a suggestion: find some creative ways to incorporate breaded chicken into one meal per day for a week straight so we could regain some freezer space and explore some options that went beyond the usual nuggets/strips dipped in plum sauce.
I love to cook, so last week I took on FM’s challenge.
First, I checked into some websites to find recipes, the best of which I found through posts on the websites kitchn and Delish. Then I cross-referenced some of the more appealing recipes with what we had kicking around in the fridge and in the pantry. From there, I developed a menu for a week that gave us some variety, used up ingredients that were already in the house, and ultimately cut down the grocery bill rather substantially that week since we had no meat on the list.
I’ll note that our son wasn’t a daily participant in this breaded chicken challenge. He typically only eats it in a meal once a week, so we were sure to stick to that routine. We may have wanted to use up some of our stockpile, but we’re not about to plow a 2-year old full of processed food every day of the week to help do so!
Here’s what the menu ended up looking like:
Day 1 – Homemade “McChicken” sandwiches with Tater Tots
Okay, it’s not exactly a creative use of a chicken patty. Perhaps it’s the most obvious use. But it brought me back to my university days when my roommates and I would eat McChickens by the case it seemed. Ah, nostalgia!
As a parent with two kids to wrangle, this was an ideal meal to prepare. There’s little to do once the patties and tots are in the oven, leaving us free to spend time with the kids while the cook timer on the over counted down to feeding time.
Day 2 – Honey Garlic Chicken Nugget Stir Fry
I’m a huge fan of Asian cooking, which has resulted in more than a few jars of various sauces taking up space in our fridge and pantry. This meal allowed me to use up some honey garlic sauce we had in the fridge and some chicken nuggets. I adapted the recipe from this one at Delish.
Stir-fries involve more preparation, so anytime I make one, I try to prep all of the vegetables the night before. For this one I used red bell pepper, green bell pepper, yellow onion, broccoli, and carrots. Then it was just a matter of baking the nuggets while the veggies fried, making some rice noodles, and mixing it all together when everything was finished cooking!
Day 3 – Orange Chicken Nugget Stir Fry
I followed the exact same process as the meal above (prepped the veggies at the same time for both meals), but substituted an Orange stir fry sauce for the honey garlic option used the night before. I got rid of another jar from the fridge in the process too! I love spicy dishes, so I threw some sriracha sauce on top of mine for some extra bite.
Day 4 – Buffalo Chicken Strip Wraps with Sweet Potato Fries
On the rare occasion that FM and I get out of the house for dinner, it’s usually to a more kid-friendly type of place, which typically means a fairly broad menu that includes some type of buffalo chicken sandwich or wrap. If there’s one on the menu, chances are that’s what I’m ordering.
For day 4, I decided to recreate one of my go-to restaurant meals at home and made some baked sweet potato fries to go with it! Another meal that requires a very limited amount of attention once it’s in the oven. All I had to do was dice up some lettuce and tomato while the chicken strips and sweet potato baked, toss the strips in buffalo sauce (FM had something milder), and dig in after making the wraps.
Day 5 – Chicken Nugget Mac and Cheese
This one was ultra simple. Just bake some nuggets while making up the mac and cheese, chop the nuggets into little pieces, and mix them into the finished cheesy noodles.
Day 6 – Chicken Nugget Parmesan
Another one that’s really straight forward (see recipe #1 on this list from kitchn). Cook the nuggets and pasta, warm up the sauce, add cheese on top of the nuggets and put them on top of the cooked pasta. Pour sauce over everything. Voila!
Day 7 – Loaded Tater Tots
The final dish of the week required more attention when cooking, largely because I forgot to prep in advance by cooking the bacon that goes on this one. I fried up the bacon while the tots and chicken strips cooked in the oven, then chopped it up into fine pieces. Once the tots were done, they went on the plates and were covered in cheese, bacon, diced green onion, and chopped pieces of the chicken strips. I then topped it off with a dollop of sour cream.
So there you have it, a sampling of a fairly frugal series of meals we worked our way through over the course of a week.
Going into this, I thought I might be completely fed up with breaded chicken by the end of it. Much to my surprise though, that wasn’t the case at all. The recipes I used provided a great variety of tastes and styles, making the breaded chicken simply a piece of the puzzle as opposed to the main feature.
We did manage to get through a decent amount of our remaining stockpile and got rid of some things from the fridge and pantry in the process, but there’s still plenty of chicken left. Thankfully, there were a lot of other recipes I was interested in trying out, so we’ll continue experimenting with dishes that tie-in breaded chicken over the next little while (keeping our grocery bill lower in the process), though it probably won’t be on a daily basis!
Do you have any tales of stockpiling gone awry? What about creative menu ideas for me to try out? Share your stories and ideas with me by leaving a comment, connecting on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for another Frugal Fathering article next Saturday!