Living without a kitchen during a renovation project doesn’t condemn you to eating out every night. While it takes time and planning, it’s possible to cook at home most nights, especially if you recalibrate your expectations.
When we planned our kitchen remodel, we hoped to hire help for cabinet installation, drywall repair, and tiling the backsplash. Unfortunately, with the pandemic and the cost of hiring construction contractors,
we’re Alex is doing a lot of the work.
That means we’re exhausted at the end of every week after working full-time jobs and remodeling on nights and weekends.
You might think this intense schedule would encourage us to rely on restaurants, grocery stores, and fast food joints for ready-to-eat meals.
However, we’ve decided to make life easier by learning to cook in our makeshift kitchenette. In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned about cooking in a temporary kitchen without a stove, oven, or kitchen sink and how you can prepare yourself to do the same.
Why bother cooking during the renovation instead of ordering take out?
Eating out isn’t practical during the pandemic, and it’s time consuming to sit down at a restaurant for dinner every night.
Ordering take out is faster but it requires commuting to pick up the food.
Delivery solves this pick-up problem but it’s expensive. Plus, the food can be cold and unappetizing by the time it arrives.
I’m not saying restaurant options are always terrible. We order take out once a week during the kitchen remodel because a break from cooking on Friday or Saturday night is wonderful. Supporting local restaurants during the COVID-19 economic downturn is a plus.
But we still need a solution for the remaining 6 days of the week. And there are only so many frozen meals I can stomach.
So, how did we manage it?
How to prepare for a kitchen remodel
Looking back on it, we could have done much more preparation, including batch cooking and freezing meals as if we were expecting a baby or undergoing surgery.
Nonetheless, we did the following preparation, and it paid off.
- Prepared an empty space to serve as our new kitchenette
- Organized bookshelves to store plates, pots and pans, and ingredients
- Assembled cooking appliances to replace our stove (microwave, Instant Pot, kettle, portable hotpot stove, kettle)
- Bought frozen meals for nights of desperation
- Dusted off our old meal planning habit
- Arranged a drop cloth under the dining table
- Made room on our bathroom counter to use it as a temporary kitchen sink
- Found a way to keep our fridge and dishwasher plugged in
If your temporary kitchen and dining area has carpet underfoot, I highly recommend setting a drop cloth, tablecloth, moving blanket, or even cardboard or newspaper under the dining table and cooking area.
A lot of things fall or spill on the ground when you’re cooking and eating. Floor protection will save you time and hassle.
NOTE: I didn’t buy any cooking appliances for our temporary kitchenette. My microwave is a temporary $15 used model from Craigslist. We got our portable hotpot/camping stove more than 5 years ago on Amazon. If I didn’t have the Instant Pot, I might have considered getting a used toaster oven or slow cooker.
Checklist to prepare for kitchen remodel
- Do you have an empty space to use as a temporary kitchenette and dining room?
- Do you have cooking appliances? If not, can you buy them used or borrow them?
- Do you have access to a sink, be it bathroom sink, laundry sink, or temporary plastic wash tub you can use?
- Do you have empty bookshelves or tables to store tools and ingredients?
- Do you have frozen meals ready to reheat?
- Do you have some comedy videos queued up for when the sh*t hits the fan and you need to de-stress?
How to store kitchen stuff during a remodel
In the beginning, I was resistant to transforming an empty family room area into a kitchenette because I didn’t want our mess to spread. But Alex insisted, and I’m glad we did.
One thing that is easy to underestimate is how much time it takes to do basic tasks in the temporary kitchenette.
For example, washing and chopping vegetables takes 3 or 4 times longer because strainers, knives, and chopping boards have new homes. The fridge is farther away, and the bathroom sink is far smaller, which makes washing harder.
Having a dedicated space where I can store kitchen stuff makes it easier to find the next time I want it. Keeping things organized also saves times.
Here are the surfaces we used for storage:
- 2 empty bookshelves (1 is a free second-hand IKEA bookshelf, the other was a $75 second-hand bookshelf from a neighbor who posted an ad on Nextdoor)
- 1 kitchen base cabinet without a countertop
- 1 dining table
- 4 dining chairs
- 1 bedside table (free from Craigslist)
- 1 used IKEA Lack side table ($5 from Goodwill)
- Empty hardwood flooring cardboard boxes to protect the carpet when storing dirty dishes
- Fridge in the living room
- Chest freezer in the garage
- Basement shelves as the pantry for shelf-stable packaged food
Your set up will look different. But the takeaway is that having different areas to store food, utensils, cooking appliances, and dirty dishes will help you stay sane.
TIP: I had to store my kettle in a different room. Boiling water while the microwave ran or the Instant Pot was on “Saute” mode caused the circuit breaker switch to trip. Separating my appliances into 2 different rooms solved the problem.
How to cook during a kitchen remodel
The first week of living without a kitchen was brutal. I was cooking for 2-3 hours each night (see my comment above about how everything takes 3-4 times longer) and finally got dinner on the table past 9 or 10 p.m. every night.
Once I wised up to the problems in my workflow, things eased up. Here’s what I changed to make cooking easier:
- Write down a meal plan and shop accordingly
- Meal prep on the weekends
- Buy quick-cooking ingredients (I cooked a lot of ground meat and “fake” meat instead of a whole chicken)
- Pick easy meals that match the cooking appliances you have (e.g. I didn’t add meatloaf to my meal plan because I don’t have an oven or a toaster oven)
- Add no-cook meals to the meal plan (salads, dips)
- Have a lot of snacks on hand to avoid meltdowns when dinner is going to be very late (fresh fruit, nuts, and trail mix are healthy, no-cook snack options)
- Use a half-fresh, half-frozen approach for vegetables (or the veggies can be fresh and already chopped)
- Start earlier because the Instant Pot can take a long time to get to pressure if it’s full
- No-cook meals for breakfast and leftovers for lunch means only cooking once per day for dinner
- If possible, make leftovers so I can avoid cooking every day, but don’t do this if it’s an overwhelming struggle
Easy meals during kitchen renovation
Here’s an example of my meal plans.
Sunday – chicken wontons, pho noodles, zucchini
Monday – oatmeal, spring rolls with romaine + tofu + shrimp
Tuesday – oatmeal, ground meat + spaghetti sauce + zucchini noodles
Wednesday – sweet potato, chicken pot pie without puff pastry
Thursday – sweet potato, boiled frozen dumplings, boiled frozen vegetables
Friday – oatmeal, fish sticks, frozen palak paneer, frozen vegetables
Saturday – fried eggs, chorizo, cheese, leftover frozen pizza, restaurant take-out beef pho and egg rolls
Sunday – breakfast “burrito” with chorizo, tater tots, eggs, shredded cheese, salsa, leftover pho, ground meat + spaghetti sauce + zucchini noodles
Monday – Knorr dip, lentil soup
Tuesday – oatmeal, chicken + spinach + carrot + vermicelli noodles
Wednesday – sweet potatoes, chili + sour cream + green onions
Thursday – sweet potatoes, lentil soup leftovers
Friday – oatmeal/bran cereal, dumplings
Saturday – oatmeal, baguette sandwiches, split pea soup
How to wash dishes during a kitchen remodel
We are lucky that we could keep the dishwasher plumbed in. This allows us to rely on the dishwasher for most of the cleaning.
During the demo, it wasn’t safe to continually walk into the kitchen to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher because of the debris on the floor.
We set up cardboard on the floor in one of the empty bedrooms to set the dishwasher racks.
This allows us to fill the racks without worrying about spilling dirty food on the carpet. Once the racks were full, we put them back into the dishwasher to run a load.
NOTE: Because we removed the counter and cabinets that held the dishwasher in place, loading the dishwasher required 2 people. One person held down the dishwasher to make sure it didn’t fall on the person loading. Once we switched to setting the dishwasher racks on the floor, this situation became less precarious.
Despite having the dishwasher, there are large items and critical items like the Instant Pot inner pot that I need every night. These items require washing my hand in the bathroom sink.
With my dish detergent and wash cloth, it was a quick job to wash by hand. After wiping dry, I set it back into its temporary home.
TIP: Because of the small bathroom sink, water can easily splash onto the counter and drip on to the floor. Having plenty of rags around made the process less frustrating.
How to emotionally cope when the kitchen is being renovated
Living in the home during a kitchen renovation is not for everybody. It comes with dangers of living in a construction zone. I slipped on a piece of broken tile and sliced my ankle open when I fell. I was surprised that my shoe was full of blood half an hour later.
If you have kids, construction debris can pose a dangerous situation. My boss happens to be renovating his kitchen at the same time, and he plans on moving his family to his aunt’s house temporarily. This is smart if you have friends or family who will take you in.
If you insist on living through your kitchen renovation in spite of the upheaval, here are my thoughts on dealing with the additional stress:
- Everything takes longer: If you can factor in more time for every cooking task, you’ll be less frustrated. Planning ahead (meal plan!) and starting earlier avoids the dreaded problem of serving dinner at 10 p.m.
- Learn how to use your cooking appliances before you demolish your kitchen: I rarely used my Instant Pot before renovating the kitchen. When it became my primary cooking appliance, I ran into all kinds of problems with it. “no Pr” (no pressure) and burn errors, taking forever to pressurize, leaks because I overfilled the inner pot. If I had practiced using the Instant Pot a few times before, cooking would have been smoother.
- Divide tasks: The kitchenette doesn’t support more than 1 person cooking at a time. It’s easier on our relationship if one person is cooking and the other person is doing something else, out of the way (like working on construction).
- Download good music or podcasts: Having entertaining shows to listen to makes the misery easier to cope with, especially when the Instant Pot is overflowing.
- Clean as you go: With a smaller kitchenette and the danger of spilling things on the carpet, I found it easier to clean up frequently. When we don’t clean as we cook, there was no room to eat and a feeling of overwhelm quickly sweeps in.
- Expect things to go wrong: I wanted to use the grill as part of our cooking plan because grilling allows us to cook a lot of food in one go. Since it’s March, spring means warm enough for grilling, right? Here’s how the weather responded to my optimism.
- Plenty of hugs: So necessary. And remembering remodeling a kitchen is a “nice to have” and we chose to do this.