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Smart Chicken Shopping

Chicken is always a healthy buy—and with a little savvy, you can also make it an outstanding budget-friendly purchase.

Guest Author: Monda Rosenberg

We all know to check grocery chain sales on chicken. It’s not unusual, for example, to see whole chickens on sale at half-price. That’s a whopping savings that can easily mount up to $6 per bird. And no matter which cut you use the most—juicy thighs, plump breasts, etc.—you can always find them on sale at one supermarket or another. 

WEEKLY SPECIALS & COUPONS 

Most supermarket chains produce weekly flyers filled with “specials.” In an ideal world, one would sit down with all of them and circle the best prices for often-used items such as milk and chicken thighs. Sounds good—but many of us don’t have a bag of flyers dropped at our doorstep. So, if you have the time to go through this exercise online, several sites such as www.flyers-on-line.com/category/grocery-store give access to many supermarket flyers for the current week. Remember, these prices usually last from Friday to Thursday. And do keep in mind that if you have to drive 20 kilometres to get to a store, the savings on a bag of potatoes may be gobbled up in gas. If you don’t have the time or patience to do this beforehand, simply pick up a flyer as you walk into the supermarket, (they’re usually in a holder sitting at the door or at the customer service desk).

Yet another reason to become a flyer hound: Some stores do Ad Matches and will match the best-advertised prices at other chains within their area. Stores doing this advertise it on their flyer. Be sure to check all the details on the flyer (including their expiry date), and bring in the ads from the other store when you go shopping. Getting all your shopping done in one store with ad matching saves you from travelling all over town, buying all the sale items that you have identified from each retailer. 

Some flyers include coupons for the store and for specific items. Clip these out and tuck them into your purse. Savings can be substantial: One recent coupon gave $3 off for every $10 spent at the store. 

There are many coupon sites to investigate as well, including couponsforcanada.com. With all coupons, you need to check that they’re valid for Canada, their expiry date and which stores will redeem them. On one site, I recently printed out coupons for chicken coating, grated cheese and peanut butter for a total savings of $5. In addition, if you sign up with some sites, they’ll send you coupons daily. It’s also worthwhile visiting the websites of large food companies producing items you frequently buy. Their home page often has a menu running across the top to view coupons or to sign up for a rewards program.   

BEST POULTRY BUYS

Be realistic. If your family only eats white meat, a bargain on chicken legs isn’t for you, unless you know you can get away with using dark meat in soups, tacos and casseroles, etc. 

Whole Roasting Chickens 

When whole chickens are on sale, load up. Look for the birds with the plumpest legs—big thighs are a plus in the poultry world. Also, the larger the chicken, the higher the meat-to-bone ratio. 

I roast a whole chicken right away. Cut a second one into pieces to be used in recipes within 2 or 3 days and stash the remaining whole chickens into the freezer. If I have time, I remove the backbone and flatten these chickens before freezing so they will thaw faster and cook quicker. We dine well on the birds—a whole breast or leg with thigh attached per person—despite the fact that the nutritional side of my brain knows we need about half that much.

Be prepared to use every bit of chicken left on the carcass after your initial roast dinner. Never underestimate the nutritional value of leftover chicken heated in a tomato sauce and tossed with whole-wheat spaghetti. Generously grate on cheese and you have that magic mix for a nutritionally complete meal. Chicken in any form delivers high-quality protein, and dark meat is particularly high in B vitamins and zinc.

No matter what you pay for spaghetti sauce—look for it on sale at about $1 per can or $1.50 per jar—it’s always an antioxidant superstar. (Think tomatoes, peppers and olive oil.) This is also a reminder that something doesn’t have to be fresh to be a nutritional powerhouse. Stock up when the price is right, because pasta sauce will keep for years. 

And to season it up, you can save big by buying spices at bulk buy stores. I recently paid under $1 for the same amount of leaf oregano that was in a jar priced over $5 in my local supermarket. 

Value Packs and Family Packs  

Large packages that contain many pieces of chicken breasts, thighs or drumsticks usually spell savings—but count the number of pieces in the pack. One chain always has value packs of skinless, boneless chicken breasts at $9 or $10. The price is not determined by weight and they all contain 5 breasts. Do the math: That’s about $2 a breast. Usually, when more labour is spent preparing the chicken for packaging, the higher the price. But this isn’t always the case because I often see smaller packages of bone-in skin-on chicken breasts priced so that each breast costs about $2.50. So the value pack with the skin and bones already removed is an outstanding buy. 

The same chain frequently has value packs of thighs as well as drumsticks for $7. When it’s a set price like this, all packages contain the same number of pieces, so look for the ones with the biggest pieces. With thighs, when you are buying by weight, the super-thick skin can add tremendously to the weight and thus the cost. If you’re a crispy-skin lover, you may not mind paying for the fatty skin—but many people shun it. When you find thighs at about $1 each, whether skin-on and bone-in or skinless, boneless, you have a good buy. 

For a glimpse of why buying already skinned and boned thighs can be a smart choice, check out the kitchen research I did on the cost per ounce of thighs. Go to my blog THE JOY OF BIG THIGHS on chicken.ca. Keep in mind that dark meat comes with more nutrients and iron than white, and that iron deficiency is one of Canada’s largest nutritional deficiencies. For more detailed nutrient information, go to HEALTHY CHOICES—WHITE MEAT vs DARK MEAT.

March to the Beat of Drumsticks

While packages of chicken drumsticks often hold over a dozen pieces—much more than most of us would use for one meal—they’re frequently on sale. Take advantage of that! Simply freeze what you can’t use right away by spreading them out on a cookie sheet and popping in the freezer. When firm, tumble them into a freezer bag. This way they don’t stick together, and you can take out a few at a time whenever needed. 

Next time you have a hankering for wings, give your favourite wing sauce treatment to these drumsticks instead. Or buy a package of smaller drumettes and you’ve created a much healthier eat-in-hand option (less fat-laced skin and more meat). And if you consider the price per ounce of meat you get on chicken wings – they’re a costly buy. 

Leg & Thigh Combo

So what is your best poultry buy, if you don’t see anything on sale in the store? Those big bags of humongous legs with thighs attached should always be considered. Ounce for ounce, they’re consistently a smart bet. Just remember that they have a whack of skin and bone. I rely less on price per pound with these pieces, and more on the number in the bag and the size of the pieces. When I am figuring out how much I’ll need for dinner, my thoughts never go down the “6 ounces of chicken per person” route, but rather one per person plus one for lunches the next day. 

If, like most of us, you can’t use the whole bag at once, consider baking them all at once, as I often do. What we won’t eat that night goes into the fridge as soon as they come out of the oven. Then when I make a decision on what I won’t be using within a few days, they are stashed in the freezer. Check out our STORAGE AND THAWING GUIDE. A whole piece can be defrosted and heated in the microwave in 5 minutes or less. If I have time, I remove the skin and take out the bones from some of the pieces before freezing. Not only does this take less space, but it is ready to throw into whatever I am making—whether pasta sauces or soups, tacos or wraps. 

It’s also easy to cut these large leg and thigh portions in two and use them in separate recipes, with the thighs cooking faster than the legs. When entertaining, you can use them together in any of the tagine recipes on chicken.ca. A tagine is just a fragrantly seasoned and braised stew, but when I announce at a dinner party that there’s a tagine in the oven, the oohs and aahs always follow. Check out CHICKEN TAGINE WITH LEEKS & CARROTS.

Liver Bonus

If you’re a liver lover, you’re in luck. Incredible enough, you can find them for around $2.50 per pound. When is the last time you had luscious, rich-tasting protein at that price? 

We all know they’re good for us. To find out just how good, go to CHICKEN LIVERS? REALLY?

Because chicken livers are not on everyone’s fave list, chicken.ca has many incredibly delicious ideas for bringing them to the table, from a super-healthy 15-minute Asian dinner FIVE SPICE CHICKEN LIVERS WITH PEPPERS AND ONIONS, to CRISPY PEPPERY LIVERS with ONION DIP—most impressive for your holiday entertaining. You’ll like them for the budget savings—but love them for their soul-satisfying taste.

There are a lot more good ideas at chicken.ca to help you shop smart and save every penny you can. 

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