What will you eat when the cupboards are bare? Not just empty — gone — along with the walls, floor, light fixtures, running water, and appliances?
Remodeling a kitchen is nothing less than a savage interruption of your daily life — and it doesn’t stop anyone in your family from being hungry and asking for food.
But who eats at home when their kitchen is being remodeled?
You do — with some advance planning and cooking; you can eat almost every meal someplace in your house.
The first phase happens fast. One morning the kitchen is as it always was — then you come home a few hours later and it’s gone, nothing remains but a hollow shell of beams, creaky sub-floor, and a few surprises that no one anticipated: Dry rot, old plumbing, bad wires. These are problems you have to fix, and the cost can wipe out a large part of your remodeling budget, not just the money you may have set aside to eat at restaurants.
Even if you never break out the Pyrex, being prepared to cook at home is like buying insurance: You may never need it, but it’s good to have.
Before the Work Starts
First, designate a “spare” kitchen. Set up an eating area and a place to store a temporary stash of food, cooking utensils, and small appliances. If you choose the living room, shove the couches aside and put the dinette set in there. If you have a basement, go camping: Arrange folding or camp chairs around a card table, get some TV or lap trays, use a large ice chest as a coffee table and a place to store paper plates and eating utensils.
Now that you have a spare kitchen, organize it at the same time you get the main kitchen ready for teardown.
Microwave, toaster oven, electric hot pot, crock pot, hot plate (requires close supervision), Pyrex bowls and pans that fit in your microwave, colander, cellophane, aluminum foil, serving spoons, selection of knives (butcher, paring, butter), measuring cup and spoon set, coffee maker and filters and real coffee cups, manual can opener, gallon water jugs — convenient and hygienic, sugar and other favorite spices, pre-packaged snack foods like cookies, crackers, peanuts, raisins, and pudding cups. Other staples like bread, butter, and peanut butter, selection of canned goods, like vegetables, beans, and soup. Don’t forget your prescription medications, vitamins, and over-the-counter nostrums. Cleaning supplies like pre-moistened bleach sheets, disposable cloth towels, pot scrubbers, and sponges. Disposable items such as paper plates and bowls, plastic utensils, napkins.
While many households lose the use of their stove during the remodel, it is usually possible to relocate the refrigerator to another room and keep it running. If it’s not conveniently located to where you’ll be spending your time cooking and eating (and hiding from the dust and noise) consider buying a smaller “dorm-sized” version. These cost between $50 to $100.
Avoid Appliance Overload
Remember, anything you use you have to clean, and cleaning is not easy to do — bathroom sinks and bathtubs cannot handle food particles and your laundry sink might not be accessible. If you have to use your bathroom for cleanup, keep a bottle of drain cleaner handy. Place a clean hand towel on top of the toilet tank to hold newly cleaned utensils and small dishes.
A plastic washtub or laundry basket is an ideal way to shuttle dishes and cutlery between the bathroom and your “spare” kitchen.
You have a cutting board, but no flat surface? The top of your clothes washer might work. It’s easy-to-clean, has its own source of running water, and you can run a rinse cycle to clean out the drum if you make a small mess. First, clean the surface thoroughly with a bleach cloth, put down a sheet of plastic wrap (to catch drips), then the cutting board.
Wondering where to stack wet dishes? The top of the clothes dryer works great. First, empty out the lint trap (if it’s located on top), clean the surface thoroughly, and set down a thick towel. Running the dryer won’t help dry the dishes, and you’ll need to make sure nothing will fall off from the machine’s vibrations during its normal use.
Lose the Mop, Not the Dust Cloth
Remodeling is a filthy job. Keeping the house clean during this time is nearly impossible, but you can minimize cleanup if you do the following:
Roll up all the rugs in every room because grime travels. Cover carpeted, heavy traffic areas with heavy plastic or drop cloths. Protect floors. Ask your contractor to cover and tape heavy-duty construction paper to hardwood floors. Cover couches and chairs in plastic or drop cloths.Place old towels or drop cloths on coffee tables, sideboards, and hutches. Take down pictures — sometimes the vibration from demolition work shakes things right off the wall. Pack away breakables. Think of this step as kid-proofing your house. If a five-year-old can knock it over, so can a worker. While careful, work crews are carrying boxes of tile, sheets of plywood, slabs of granite, and other heavy bulky items that limit their line of sight.
Grilling Is an Option
It’s fast, easy, economical, and cleanup is a breeze. If you have a gas grill, you can use it like a stove: Boil water for spaghetti, heat large cans of soup, a grill will even toast a loaf of garlic bread (leave it wrapped in foil, turn often, watch it carefully)!
Look for family-sized frozen seasoned meat and vegetables packs. These can be prepared in the microwave. Use an over-sized glass bowl covered in plastic wrap. Top with Parmesan cheese for extra flavor.
Other Make-at-Home Meals to Try
Breakfast: Make it quick and clean
It’s important to eat breakfast, yet studies show most of us skip this meal more than any other. If sitting down to breakfast is already a challenge for you, eating this meal during your kitchen remodel is not likely to take place. Fortunately, the same foods you normally eat are just as easy to fix when you have no kitchen.
Oatmeal, cold cereal with milk, toast topped with peanut butter and jelly are classic favorites. For a flavor change, try pre-sliced cheese, or a soft cheese spread.
Waffles, or other frozen breakfast foods, plus breakfast bars paired with coffee or fruit juice, are another alternative.
If you want something more substantial, consider soft cooked eggs. You can cook eggs in an electric hot pot or in a saucepan on a hot plate. Serve with a side of toast and a piece of fruit and you have a breakfast that will satisfy until lunchtime. Scrambled eggs are also a possibility — whip eggs in a paper bowl with a dash of milk, a slice of cheese and seasonings. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on High for one minute, stir. Return to microwave until done.
Lunch: On the go or in the house
The goal here is to pick items that are pre-packaged, easily prepared, and if you are watching your weight, portion controlled.
Consider a selection of frozen entrees, dried fruit, trail mix, or fresh fruit that is easily rinsed and stored (apples, grapes, cherries), pre-packaged veggies like carrots and celery, pudding or Jell-O cups for dessert.
Of course, nothing takes the place of a sandwich — pita bread or tortilla wraps surrounding a selection of pre-packaged meats and cheeses. Add a side salad made from pre-bagged greens, a single-serving dressing packet, and lunch becomes a healthy and simple solution.
Other ideas include Star-Kist’s line of pre-drained fish packets — just peel open the package, season and eat. No mess, no lingering odor. Also, check out the extensive line of solo-sized soups, pasta, and chili. No leftovers to store, no dishes to wash.
Egg salad is also a quick and inexpensive option — boil eggs on a hot plate or in a hot pot for 10 minutes, drain. Let stand until cool enough to handle, then peel and dice with a dash of low-fat mayonnaise, plus chopped celery.
More Lunch or Dinner Recipes
Frozen vegetable burgers can be heated in the microwave or grilled. Serve on lightly toasted bun with condiments; or, for a tasty taco, chop and mix with black beans, salsa and guacamole and layer on a heated flour or corn tortilla.
Tortilla pizza is a kids’ dish, unless you like ketchup, too. Spread a thin layer of ketchup across a flour tortilla. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, top with pepperoni. Place in the toaster oven and heat until the shell is browned and the cheese bubbly. Tired of tortillas? Use English muffins or white bread. Grownups: Swap ketchup for bottled marinara sauce, top with fresh tomatoes and raw garlic, cut into triangles and serve with salad. Or, make a calzone — stuff pita bread with a blend of ricotta and cottage cheese. Toast, top with heated marinara sauce.
Now that you’re reasonably organized, it’s time to eat! With nothing more than a toaster oven, mini microwave oven, and a quart-sized hot pot, the following dinners will feed a family of four.
Italian Chicken and Red Potatoes
Four chicken breasts (about 2 lbs)
Four medium red potatoes, sliced thin
One bottle of your favorite Italian salad dressing (try Kraft’s Roasted Red Pepper
Italian with Parmesan)
Two cans of green beans, drained
In a large glass bowl that will fit inside your microwave, layer the potatoes on the bottom. Add a thin layer of salad dressing. Place the chicken breasts side by side, on top of the potatoes. Add enough salad dressing to thoroughly coat the chicken. Cover with the beans. Add more salad dressing until well covered, or the bottle is empty. Cover with lid or plastic wrap. Microwave on High 30 to 40 minutes until chicken is white and peels apart easily with a fork.
Four chicken breasts (about 2 lbs) whole or chopped into bite-sized chunks
Large jar of flavored tomato sauce (Prego’s or Paul Newman’s)
Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese
Three packages of Top Ramen noodles, sauce packet discarded
In a large glass bowl that will fit inside your microwave, place the chicken in the bowl, cover thickly with the sauce. Cover with mozzarella cheese. Microwave on High 30 to 40 minutes until chicken is done and peels apart easily with a fork.
While chicken is cooking, prepare the noodles in a hot pot according to package directions. Drain. Keep warm. When the chicken is done, remove it from the microwave and let it stand five minutes before serving. Heat remainder of the sauce in the microwave. Serve chicken, side of noodles and extra sauce, garnish with Parmesan cheese. Don’t forget the pre-made garlic bread — remove it from its foil wrapper and heat it in the toaster oven. You will have to cut the pieces to fit. Add canned or frozen vegetables, or a side salad made from pre-packaged greens.
Salsa Chicken Soft Tacos
Four chicken breasts (2 lbs)
Three cups Picante Salsa
Two avocados or one container of store-bought guacamole
In a large glass bowl, combine the salsa, oregano, lime, and mix well. Set aside. Chop the chicken into bite-sized chunks. If you did this in advance, good planning! If not, improvise a chopping area, but make sure you clean it thoroughly when you are done. Add the chicken to the salsa. Cover, microwave on High 30 minutes until chicken is done. While the chicken is cooking, mash the avocado into a bowl. Set aside. Put the cotija cheese in a plastic bag and crumble it into a powder with your hands. Set aside. When the chicken is done, heat the tortillas, if desired. Spoon chicken salsa bake onto tortilla shells, garnish with avocado and cheese.
Hot Chicken for Dinner,
Chicken Salad for Lunch
Chicken salad is a great way to stretch a food budget — buy one or two pre-roasted chickens at the supermarket and have that for dinner one night with a side of vegetables and salad. Shred the leftover meat, mix with low-fat mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and serve on rye toast for lunch or dinner the next day. For extra flavor, mix chopped tomatoes with avocado and use that as a bread spread.
More Easy Recipes
If you want to cook and freeze ground beef or chicken before the work begins, the following recipes are great time-savers. Cook ahead by browning the meat with a finely chopped medium onion and a heaped tablespoon of garlic. Drain well, store flat in zippered freezer bags.
Ground Beef Tacos*
One pound of cooked ground beef, thawed
Three cups Picante Salsa
Package of flour or corn tortillas
Four-cup package of shredded Mexican-style cheese
Two avocados or store-bought guacamole
Mix ground beef and salsa in large glass bowl. Cover, microwave until heated through. Heat refried beans in microwave.
Layer beans, beef, and cheese on tortillas
For tortilla pizza, toast until cheese melts
For soft taco, heat in microwave about one minute. Garnish with guacamole
*The same recipe works for pre-cooked, thawed chicken.