I found this great post about how to make the most of chicken for a meal--a whole chicken. I've never bought a whole chicken before, but I was inspired by this article to try.
I'm won. I can make a lot of meals out of just one chicken by using the whole chicken and it's parts. IT's smart because I can do it by scratch if I have to, it could be frugal if I buy on sale, and it's more healthy to cook it slowly from scratch this way and to have nourishing bone broth that gets a full range of nutrients (from the bones and the giblets), including vitamin D which you can only otherwise get from the sun.
Here's my process of crockpot cooking a whole chicken, with tips and some meal ideas.
Slowcook the Whole Chicken
Place the whole chicken in the crockpot, breast side up. Keep giblets inside cavity if desired, but make sure all packing is removed (I prefer to only use giblets if they are organic, so free from pesticides and other toxic things). Season the chicken (I sprinkle salt and parsley on top...a general flavoring so it can be used in multiple meals) and place other things in if desired (onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, etc.). Cook high for 1-2 hours, then low for 5-8. Then pick off the chicken once cooked.
MEAL 1: Chicken with potatoes and gravy and green beans
Strain the Juices -- keep Gelatin/Chicken Fat
After the chicken is cooked you can strain the juices from the bottom of the pot and pour into a dish. Place in fridge and let it set. Once set there will be two distinct layers. You can scoop off the top layer--chicken fat (which is great for sauteing)--and then use the remaining gelatin as concentrated broth. It should last a few weeks. I generally use the remaining gelatin for 1-2 soups (one half for each weekly soup). Or you can give the gelatin to your baby...it is probably the best, most nutrient-dense fat for baby!
Leftover Chicken Meat
I do a quick pulling off of remaining meat I see and put that in a container in the fridge--lasts at least a full week (or freeze for a few months). If I know I want shredded chicken for a later meal I will just shred it then. And don't stress about getting all the meat, because you have another chance to find more later after the next step, which will be the next day.
MEAL 2: Leftover Chicken Meat
One Pot Wonder (various types of spaghetti and such)
Slowcook the Bones (and giblets, optional)
Once the chicken is picked out, leave the giblets and bones in the crockpot and cover with water. Cook all day in the crockpot. (The author mentions to put a splash of vinegar in the pot so it can help withdraw more nutrients from the bones into the broth! Cool tip.) Discard bones when done and either make a soup with the broth, put in the fridge to let it get gelatinous (the post says you can use that for healthy fat baby food) to use for later, or freeze for even later.
MEAL 3: Chicken Broth Type Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup (just add onions, carrots, chicken, noodles and salt and pepper)
white chicken chili
MEAL 4: Chili
Cut up the giblets and disguise them in a hamburger type chili. Giblets are a nutritional powerhouse!
If you don't want to do the crockpot, here is the alternative Oven Method:
Place into the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 450 degrees to seal in the juices, then reduce heat to 325 degrees F and cook for approximately 1 1/2 more hours. You can check for doneness by pulling away the thigh, if the juices run clear the chicken is done. Some people also like to use a meat thermometer. I never do, but if so, you will want it to read 180 degrees in the thickest part of the breast or thigh.