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Upcoming kitchen remodel: what to eat for 3 weeks?

At long last, demolition is scheduled to begin on November 30 - I can't even begin to describe how excited I am!!! For about 3 weeks, we will have access to our refrigerator, toaster oven, and microwave - no stove/range, of course, and only the tiny sink in the half-bathroom for cleaning up. I'm trying to plan for meals that are either:
(a) entirely made ahead, frozen in portions, and thawed: e.g., stews, hearty soups, chili
(b) assembled from already-ready ingredients: fajitas using cooked chicken strips and frozen peppers and onions, etc.

Any suggestions (especially from those of you who have gone through this!) are more than welcome. Of course we will have to eat out occasionally, but I'd like to minimize that as much as possible...

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Yep. Been there.

    Lived on eating out and microwave meals for nearly 3 weeks. No tips - its was horrible, but worth it in the end

    1. I am a kitchen designer, I have also gone through a major kitchen remodel. I purchased a hot plate and it was a life saver. Ask around, someone might have one. Just remember not to plug everything in at once. I did use paper plates and bowls during the remodel. It just made clean up so much easier. Trader Joe's was a life saver, they have some decent prepackaged meals, and thier fresh vegies can be nucked in the bags they come in. If you have a BBQ that is really helpful, that way you can have some easy clean up proteins and grilled vegies. As a sidenote: the dust is going to be a pain, pack everything you think will be in it's path and cover what can't be packed. It get's into everything, TRUST ME!

      3 Replies
      1. re: JEN10

        JEN10 - TJ's was a blessing. Lots of good advise here: Define a cooking "area". Mine was a small alcove near a hall bathroom. Used paper plates, cups, etc. Parked my microwave, coffee maker, toaster in that area .. . and eventually gave in to eating out. I had access to a frig. It was only one month but man, was I glad when that was done. You'll got back into your kitchen wanting to cook EVERYTHING in your new digs! Congrats to the OP!

        1. re: JEN10

          I also bought a two burner hot plate and have an outdoor grill so really I could cook almost anything that didn't have to go into a full sized oven. We were in the midst of a whole house remodel and addition so the only place to do dishes was in the bathtub for several weeks. I covered the dining table with thick towels, a rubber door mat and put the hot plate on that. The MW was on a large packing box. You get the picture. I honestly didn't think it was as bad as I thought it would be --- maybe I'm just from hardy peasant stock.

          BTW where did that three week figure come from? Is it actually ten days which you have reasonably doubled to three weeks. We have some acquaintances whose remodel probably took four times longer than the estimate. Once things got torn out, problems surfaced. I hope you're not planning Christmas dinner at YOUR house :)

          1. re: c oliver

            Thanks c oliver..... I was just about to say plan on at least 6 weeks.

        2. If you're a fan of main course salads, don't forget you can put together some pretty nice meals at your grocery store's salad bar. It's not the most cost effective way to make a salad but it saves a lot of chopping and clean up and something fresh can be a nice change from the chili/soup/stew routine.

          1. Been there, too. My advise? Plan on 4 weeks.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ncmike276

              I'd say plan on 6 weeks! If you're lucky.

              1. re: pikawicca

                yep I always say double it and add 2 weeks!

            2. Did mine earlier this year. Complete gut down to the studs. Lasagna, roast up a bunch of chickens, tinga, any bbq (pulled pork, brisket, ribs.)

              AND A CROCK POT!!!!!
              Set up a CLEARLY defined area for food prep somewhere. If you are in a metro area, check Restaurant.com. You will go into this with the best intentions of cooking as much as possible, but it will probably turn out to be a hassle. I WANTED to cook, I was going through withdrawals, but it was such a hassle. I probably still did cook much more than most, but it was a hassle. Cleanup is what gets you.

              Also, go get some cheap toss away plates, plasticware, cups etc. It really is the cleanup that got me.

              Check the places that offer take out in your area for their daily specials.

              The very first thing my contractor told me (and he is a very close friend) was that most ppl plan and plan on cooking as much as they can during, but that lasts only a few weeks, and then it just gets sporadic. He said you are GOING to gain weight, because you are GOING to be eating out a lot. HE probably wouldn't have said that to other clients, but, he was speaking from experience of remodeling countless other kitchens. Good Luck!

              P.S. it wasn't as bad as everyone said it was, but we had a baby the day after demo started, so we were kinda preoccupied for the 3 months it took.

              3 Replies
              1. re: gordeaux

                Here's what got us through ours:
                - mini fridge and microwave - must haves
                - local grocery store's deli section - we're lucky to have a very good one
                - pizza - delivered fresh and hot - plus they have salads
                - restaurants

                Dinner is always the obvious question, but think about breakfast too - you might need to put the coffee maker in the bathroom, where there's water!

                And if you're thinking of making a meal now and then - think too about clean-up. Not that easy without a kitchen sink!

                1. re: gordeaux

                  I'd also getting a hot plate. They're pretty cheap and nice to have if you want to fry up eggs or grill a sandwich or burrito.

                  1. re: gmm

                    Nonstick electric griddle is basically a large hotplate that has it's own cooking vessel. Nonstick to make cleanup MUCH easier. A non stck panini press with interchangeable face plates would be a great idea. You'll have to pay up a little more.

                2. Out!

                  Just kidding. Still in the middle of mine -- but because the rest of the first floor house is torn up as well, I don't have any option to eat in other than completely no-cook items such as cereal, yogurt and so on.

                  Good ideas below, and I'd also think about things that leave a bare minimum of waste behind. When the garbage disposer's not available, table scraps become a little bit of an issue. Mine's so torn up that even a paring knife to cut up a bell pepper on the quick is a problem.

                  The worst is about to end for me - hope yours goes swiftly. And as ncmike276 writes, plan on it taking longer than you think it will. I've never had a project finished early.

                  1. You must consider your dish washing options. If you only have a bathroom sink; don't bother with the crockpot or electric frying pan - too hard to clean in a small sink. Some of the frozen pastas (in the bag) are not bad. We tried to cook during our renos but like most, ended up eating out a lot. (Very depressing trying to cook in a bedroom or hallway!)

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: beggsy

                      There are crockpot liner bags now, much along the lines of oven bags. I've never used them, but imagine it would make cleanup significantly easier.

                      If you have a grill, it can be used like an oven. My grill is my oven for about 4-6 months out of the year as it is just too hot (and expensive) to turn on the electric oven in our already warm house when the outside temps are 100+. I also use a toaster oven for smaller endeavors. The lavosh bread at Trader Joe's (if you have one near you) makes excellent thin pizza crusts. I "bake" them using the Toast function on the toaster oven. My husband likes them less crispy, so he uses level 4. I like them very crispy so mine gets baked on Toast level 7 (the longest setting on my toaster oven). This is our go-to quick, don't-feel-like-cooking meal and we can put whatever toppings we want on our own individual pizza.

                      You can make stocks in the crockpot and all kinds of soups. You can apparently even bake bread (or cornbread - yum), although I have yet to try it!

                      1. re: Jen76

                        Crockpot liners??? Not something I would use on a regular basis, but if I was to renovate my kitchen again, they'd be at the top of my list.

                        1. re: Full tummy

                          Yup. Saw them at the grocery store. Couldn't imagine why I would ever use them, but now I have an idea! ;)

                          1. re: Jen76

                            Re: Crockpot liners
                            They are wonderful. I have an RV and use my crockpot all the time when camping. Simplifies clean-up, especially when making chili or hobo beans.

                    2. Oh no, this is bringing back bad memories of washing dishes in my tub!!! Well, in a smaller tub in the bigger tub, haha. Like you, aside from my tub, I had just the tiny sink in the bathroom. If your back can stand it, better to do it in the tub, unless you really want water and bits of food splashed everywhere. I tried to minimize the cooking by eating sandwiches, yummy ones. Grilled panini - do you have a panini press or electric grill pan? Rice cooker? Slow cooker?

                      So, salad and sandwich for dinner, ain't nothing wrong with that. Buy cold cuts, cheese, have cans of tuna, whatever, on hand, plus buns, bread, baguettes...

                      For make ahead, lasagna or other baked pasta, cabbage rolls, meatballs in tomato sauce (serve with rice if you have a rice cooker)

                      Because we were doing some of the work ourselves, I always had trail mix on hand, for between task snacking. Healthy and filling.

                      Let us know if you have any other small appliances, as they can make a big difference. And, put aside some money for a few meals out, or beg friends and family to have you over, not just for the food, but to get out of the mess!!!!

                      Edit: What about burritos? You could make them in the tortillas, then wrap them up individually and freeze. Then thaw and serve with a side of salsa. Also, rice freezes pretty well, so you could always make a nice batch of spicy tomato rice, plain rice, fried rice, etc., to serve with something else.

                      1. 3 weeks??? During our project, I was without a kitchen for 4 months!
                        We live in the boonies, where there is NO food delivery.
                        We had:
                        toaster oven
                        gas grill with side burner
                        full fridge
                        small bar sink

                        The gas grill/side burner saved us. We used it a lot! The grocery store deli and Chinese/Thai takeout place were also major players. We did lots of rotisserie chicken and salad, grilled protein-of-the-day with grilled veg, potatoes baked on the grill, etc., etc. We actually did very little in the microwave.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: onrushpam

                          Oh goodness, well I have a petite kitchen, and it was a disaster before we renovated (I think the original kitchen from when it was built 50 years ago with only 4' of counter space, of which almost half was taken up by the sink. So, everything had to go. But we were working on it part-time, doing all of it ourselves, and with some family help (including the plumbing and wiring), and it took about a month, with a few minor things left to do that kept dragging on and on and on. In fact, some of the automatic closers still have to go in, and the reno was two years ago now!!!

                          So, I am assuming your kitchen is MUCH larger than mine. 4 months is a long time; hope you enjoy your kitchen now!!!

                        2. Been there, did that, and got the t-shirt. Here is how you survive: set up a satellite kitchen somewhere else in the house (or in the garage if it's summer). You can manage very well with assorted small appliances (crock-pot, electric skillet, toaster, electric burner, panini press), a microwave, and a little college dorm-type refrigerator. Or have somebody move your old refrigator, the one you're replacing, into your satellite kitchen for the duration. If you have access to a freezer somewhere you're ahead of the game. Use paper plates and throw-away containers to avoid cleanup. That new rice that steams in its package in the microwave would be a godsend, and with an electric skillet you can do all kinds of one-pan meals (picadillo, stir-fry, fake Stroganoff etc). And don't forget eggs. Or a big chef salad. PS If you have any lead-time at all, estate sales and yard sales are rich in small appliances that you might not already have.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Querencia

                            Too many electrical appliances plugged in at once is an invitation to blown circuits. Buy one of those butane burners, where I live, available for $20 or less- plus the cost of the butane cannisters. It doesn't need to be placed near an electrical outlet. It's useful after the fact as well. I use it on the dining room table and outside as an adjunct to my bbq and my outdoor griil which has a large burner. It's useful and portable.

                          2. This brings back memories - of 51 years ago. I was in second grade when our kitchen was redone. We put the old fridge in the garage for essentials and had one glass for juice, one spoon and one cereal bowl for breakfast fare. I guess mom washed them in the upstairs bathroom. Lunch was at school but every night was dinner out at local eateries including the almost defunct (two remaining in the U.S.) Howard Johnson's. Maybe our work ethic has declined but I remember the whole project taking less than two weeks, including paint and wallpaper.

                            1. When I was doing our kitchen remodel I left an old base cabinet in the vicinity with a piece of plywood screwed to the top. I bought two hot plates and a decent (but cheap) countertop convection oven at Target. We already had an electric griddle and a crock pot. With that combination we were able to eat almost normally throughout the chaos. The convection oven turned out very good roasts and baked chickens, and although the hotplates were short on BTUs we made it through. My only caution would be to echo what others have said and cook with an eye toward cleanup. Cleaning up after the cooking is the worst part in that situation so just be aware of that before you set out to make something that's going to leave you with a real mess.

                              1. The items you want to make and freeze ahead i would put in those disposable aluminum pans. No mess to clean up, just toss. I know not good for the enviroment, but better to be sane, than going nuts trying to clean this stuff. I had a kitchen table setup in our little den area that I could close off from the rest of the mess and used the book shelves as my pantry. by the way everyone is right about the time frame, I always tell my clients to add 2 weeks to the deadline minimum.

                                1. If you know someone with a George Foreman, or want to buy one, you can definitely grill. Clean-up isn't too bad.

                                  The Microwave can do a lot... Omelettes in plastic bags (easy clean-up), rice, oatmeal, beans, poached chicken and fish, I made cinnamon bunuelos in the micro using tortillas...

                                  In the toaster, so many things to do... quesadillas, mini pizzas (use boboli or TJ's premade dough crust), S'mores ;), Open melt sandwiches or grilled cheese, burritos (put an open tortilla with beans and cheese inside the toaster- warm and melt, then apply toppings and roll up), bruschetta, roasted veggies, TJ's waffles/pancakes, etc. everything on a smaller scale...

                                  Good luck... our last one was... well, a disaster, but I'm sure yours will go much more smoothly... Our contractor messed up our cabinets, so we basically went through two remodels back to back when he did the same thing twice :)

                                  1. Agree with all responses that suggest counting on an extra 2 weeks from the stated time. Once the kitchen is installed you have seriously cleaning and organizing to do before you're ready to do serious cooking. I seriously just finished, like an hour ago painting my kitchen which was the final piece of our remodel. We mostly ate out, and grilled. Disposable plates and silverware were a lifesaver. Congratulations on the remodel- in the thick of it, it won't feel like it but it is toally worth it in the end!

                                    1. We remodeled the kitchen which spread to some other areas of the house and eventually consumed the floors on the entire first floor. We had problems with the new appliances so the kitchen was out of commission off and on for close to a year. We did eat out alot but tried to find bargains. One place you might try is the local hospital cafeteria. Don't laugh but some are very good. They vary WIDELY. They are often very reasonably priced and the quality can be excellent. The one we went to occasionally had fresh raspberries on the salad bar.
                                      You might get lucky and friends and family may invite you for a meal or send you some food that can be heated in the microwave. We have paid everybody back with meals in our new kitchen.
                                      Sometimes we would just have soup and sandwiches. We bought a griddler from cuisinart and used that too along with an electric frying pan.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: wekick

                                        That is tooo funny but have to sooo agree about hospitals. cheap and great!

                                      2. I bought a two-burner electric stovetop (cost about $75). It was well worth the price to be able to cook some burgers, fry some eggs, etc. I have lent it to numerous friends doing remodels.

                                        1. We too will be renovating 3 rooms (ktichen included) soon and I've already started to pack up 90%, it will be longer than 3 weeks since we are doing it ourselves so I'm slowly getting used to using a lot less - my big advice is "Wasa" meals. I'm having wonderful, fun, healthy meals on a wasa cracker!!! yesterday we did smoked salmon, red onion, cukes, cr cheese. We also did roasted eggplant on hummus. and also avacado on roasted red pepper spread. Check it out:

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: lexpatti

                                            Hahaha, oh no, that is reminding me of a trip i took with my dad when I was a child and, to reduce costs, we ate just those crackers with Velveeta and lots of Knorr soups. Believe it or not, they do become tired if you're eating too much of it too often, as with anything. But, they're healthy and filling, for sure.

                                          2. At first I thought that this was my post from two years ago until I read the part about it only being 3 weeks! It somehow doesn't seem possible. Anyway, one of the things that we really wound up doing was buying one of those propane gas burners like they make omelets in at hotel buffets. It was great for making the occasional scrambled or fried eggs. I think the important thing though is minimizing the clean up. We only had a small bathroom sink and it was a major pain to try to wash anything larger than a salad plate. Go to costco and get plenty of paper plates and cups.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: roxlet

                                              Your burner recommendation is right on the money, however, a minor point, they burn butane not propane.

                                            2. My 3 week remodel lasted 8 weeks, and I hear I was lucky. Just to reiterate what others have said.

                                              TJs is indispensable.

                                              We had a microwave, a grill, a toaster oven, and a bar sink (downstairs in the basement). We ate a lot of TJs microwavable stuff, and our toaster oven is one of those that fits a 12" frozen pizza. We were also lucky enough to do the remodel when it was warm enough to grill - we grilled almost everything. But we ended up eating out a lot.

                                              1. Only one other poster mentioned using a gas grill -- outdoors, even in winter -- to help with some of the cooking.

                                                I'm with the posters who vote for a small gas burner. Asian markets sell the burners on the cheap. Just handle cheap ones a bit gently and they'll not break down. No matter where you buy the burner, an Asian market's going to be the only sensible choice for the gas canisters the things run on. Conventional restaurant supply stores charge a fortune for the stuff.

                                                And the dust. Oh, my goodness. When I was younger I lived in some grand homes because of my affiliation with someone in the real estate business. It was great living in a model home for no rent -- I just had to keep the places clean. And with no rent, at one point I could afford help in the house to keep clean. Well, that leads to the dust. Fully three household staffers quit because of the constant remodeling of one of these model homes. The plaster dust was just unbearable. And this was back when black Corian was all the rage in the kitchen. Even an attempt to keep the house clean would result in a nervous breakdown or worse. All I can say is to use "dust curtains" made of plastic sheeting -- and install them correctly.

                                                One thing I've had for a long, long time is a good-quality table-top convection oven. Stuff takes far longer to cook than in the microwave, but everything browns!

                                                Otherwise, I've gotten really crafty with the microwave. I'll go to the market and buy a whole bunch of vegetables and make a vegetable "stew" using canned beef stock. I make a microwave "omelette" in a deep 2 1/2 quart soup bowl with six eggs, stir in a little left-over egg drop soup or chicken broth (about 1/4 cup), a Tbs. of olive oil, hot chili paste of your choice in your own preferred amount, and a mess of wild mushrooms, coarsely chopped. I'll chunk up a tomato or two and add it in. Cook it in the micro for 3-4 minutes at a time and stir in-between until it rises up into a cohesive "souffle" looking thing while it's cooking. I stir in some shredded asiago and serve with minced flat parsley for flavor and garnish.

                                                Good luck!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: shaogo

                                                  I'd like to reiterate, shaogo, that with a hot plate, you can cook eggs in the "old-fashioned" way. Real, live eggs over easy were a treat, for sure.

                                                2. Wow - thanks, everyone! Just to respond and answer a couple questions:

                                                  1. We do have a gas grill, but unfortunately we won't be able to get to it without going through the construction zone, and I think our neighbors would not be happy if we rolled it into the front yard!. We have a crock-pot and a George Forman grill (the kind with removable plates), but prepping food to cook with either is going to require a bigger sink and better prep area than the corner of our dining room. I'll definitely look into what we can buy ready to cook in the CP, and check out those disposable liners.

                                                  2. Costco, BJs, and Trader Joe's are all on the shopping list ... thank goodness we are within 15 minutes of all three. Some of our local grocery stores have a decent selection of prepared foods - that will definitely be an errand for my husband to run, as he is perfectly happy shopping every day (while it's my idea of torture!).

                                                  3. Yes, I know that 3 weeks is not 3 weeks - I already added padding. This is a moderate-sized remodel: removing everything and replacing with new, but not moving walls, re-routing plumbing, etc. The contractors have done a lot of work in our neighborhood and so they know pretty well what to expect from the builders' work 25 years ago. They also have employees who do all the work (including plumbing and electrical), no subcontractors involved. And in case it does take significantly longer, no, we are NOT hosting Christmas dinner - we do Thanksgiving, which is why they are starting right afterwards!

                                                  From what everyone has said, it seems like it's going to be as challenging as I think we expect. I hope that the crush of Thanksgiving cooking plus prep for no-kitchen time will thoroughly cure me of all cooking desires for December, so we can just defrost , reheat, and take-out (and eat out occasionally).

                                                  I'm working on a mantra to get through this: "no more poo brown cabinets, no more traffic jams, no more dead space..." :)

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: truman

                                                    oooh save tons of leftovers from Thanksgiving! :-) pre-portion leftover turkey in ziploc bags and then defrost the portions as you need them for salad, soup, quesadillas, sandwiches, etc...

                                                  2. Good Luck!!!!
                                                    Our 3 week remodel took 3 months.

                                                    1. On re-reading this thread, I remembered an incident four years ago. Chowhounds know that there are many people who don't like to cook but we forget how many people have no respect for food at all.

                                                      My husband and I spent an Easter weekend replacing our old electric range with a new dual fuel gas/electric range. On Sunday I wanted a quick dinner but something slightly nicer than fast food so I dropped into the Boston Market around the corner. The nicely dressed woman in front of me was quite upset that they were out of the complete ham dinner for 10 she was planning to serve in two hours. What a relief to her when she was informed that there was a ham dinner order that hadn't been picked up that morning that she could have!

                                                      So let's recap. She invited a large number of people to her home for a holiday dinner. She waited until noon to go foraging for food. She was planning to serve them mediocre take out food (ham is not exactly Boston Market's specialty) but was happy to serve them left-over mediocre take out food.

                                                      By the way, there's a Heavenly Ham store within walking distance of this Boston Market, but I guess that would have required too much work and advanced planning.

                                                      1. Hi, friends - thought I'd post the ending to the story... Today is exactly 3 weeks since we packed everything up, and the work is 99% done - the contractors are coming back tomorrow to touch up some paint and grout the backsplash. Everything else is done and working, and I made spaghetti for dinner last night. :)

                                                        What worked:
                                                        1. Freezing complete meals like soup, stews, lasagna - no thought required beyond thawing
                                                        2. Buying already-prepped ingredients: cooked chicken strips, heat-n-eat rice, etc.
                                                        3. Keeping the real silverware and a few real bowls out - it made all the paper/plastic slightly more tolerable
                                                        4. Throwing away (old) tupperware instead of washing it when we were done
                                                        5. Buying lunch at/near work, instead of BYO'ing as we usually do

                                                        What we didn't expect but didn't work:
                                                        1. Amazing gag reflexes induced by paper plates and plastic cups... it got really tiring after a while.
                                                        2. Total lack of desire to eat anything healthy - every bag of salad I bought ended up being purely decorative
                                                        3. Lack of variety in the cooked-and-frozen meals: how much soup can two people really eat??
                                                        4. "morning" sickness :) and some serious food aversions, including to some key spices in several of those aforementioned cooked-and-frozen meals (which I had cooked before the m/s set in)
                                                        5. Cold weather: eating a cold dinner like salad or sandwiches is pretty unappealing

                                                        So if we end up doing this again - in our next house!! - I would try to plan the work for warm weather months, so we have access to our grill and don't always have to/want to eat hot meals. The microwave and toaster oven were lifesavers. The George Foreman was a great idea, but we wouldn't have been able to wash the plates in our tiny bathroom sink. We ended up eating dinners at home for the first, oh, 8-9 days, then ate out for the rest... just like gordeaux said.

                                                        Thanks again, everyone.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: truman

                                                          thanks for the great update - enjoy your new kitchen! (and in time for the holidays, yayy)

                                                          1. re: truman

                                                            I've never understood what seems to be the prevailing sentiment here that one only uses the outdoor grill in warm weather months. We use our in blizzards and 100 degree heat. Always.

                                                            I washed dishes in the tub.