What to Cook and Eat during a Kitchen Renovation (Complete meal plan ideas)

Temporary Kitchen Setup during Kitchen Renovation

A few weeks ago, a coworker was saying that she and her husband wanted to renovate their kitchen, but she was completely stressing out about how she would cook and feed her family during the six week renovation.

I had this exact fear when we renovated our kitchen a little more than two years ago now! I gain weight just by THINKING about dining out excessively (I kid, but only a little). So there was no way I wanted to eat takeout every meal for our scheduled six week renovation.

 

Meal Plan Ideas during a Kitchen Renovation (What to eat during a kitchen renovation)

 

But, with a little bit of planning, we only had to dine out a few times! Is eating during a kitchen renovation going to be the healthiest or cheapest food of your life?  Nope. Is it going to be the most environmentally-friendly time of your life considering all the paper plates and utensils you’ll be using? Nope. (Unless of course you want to wash dishes in your bathroom sink). But should it keep you from getting that awesome kitchen you want?  No way!

Here are some tips and tricks that helped us!

 

Helpful Kitchen Tools During a Kitchen Renovation

  1. Countertop Oven. When I got my first full time job and moved into an apartment, I realized that my oven sucked. The temperature was never calibrated properly, and it always burnt my food. So, I bought a little countertop oven. It was great! I used it my entire 2.5+ years in that apartment (and my subsequent apartment) to cook anything that required baking. It won’t fit a 9×13 dish, but since I was living alone, a standard 8×8 dish was always just fine. When we moved into this house in 2009, I just stored it in the attic, and when the kitchen renovation rolled around, we pulled it out of storage!  Mine is old, so I can’t find the exact model, but it was certainly not fancy or expensive, and it still worked great! But there are plenty of more expensive models.
  2. Microwave. Mmm. Microwaved meals. Everybody’s favorite, right? Well, it’s only for a finite amount of time, so a few microwaved meals here and there won’t kill anybody. Especially the ones I think are higher quality like frozen burritos from Trader Joe’s, or Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato Gnocci with Butter and Sage. Even some spaghetti-o’s with Texas Toast (heated in your countertop oven!) is a perfectly acceptable choice! So, make sure you don’t put your microwave in storage during your renovation or throw it away too quickly if you’re getting all new appliances!
  3. Electric panini maker. This was great for making grilled cheese and other warm sandwiches!
  4. Crockpot. Oh, how the crockpot was so fantastic during our kitchen renovation. We bought lots of crockpot liners to simplify cleanup as well.
  5. Outdoor Grill. We also used our charcoal grill for lots of food that we typically would’ve cooked inside, as well as for our normal grilling foods like steaks! (We have a Weber 22.5 inch Kettle Grill, but any outdoor grill would do!). To simplify grilling, we pre-marinated and then froze lots of meats! If you happen to have an indoor electric grill, that would also work great!  (We didn’t, and we were just fine)
  6. Hot plate. Although we went our entire kitchen renovation without a hot plate, I was tempted to buy one a few times. We already owned all the previously mentioned tools, and I was hesitant to spend money on something new, like a hot plate. But I could definitely have seen it be useful for things like boiling water for Macaroni and Cheese or other pastas during a renovation.
  7. Lots of disposable kitchen stuff such as plates, utensils, and bowls.
  8. Bonus item: Although we didn’t have one at the time, I have grown to love the pressure cooker I bought about six months ago. There is some light cleanup involved (but usually just the single pressure cooker “pot”), but it is great because you can even brown meat or sear steaks in it!

 

What to Eat during your Kitchen Renovation

 First and foremost, have a meal plan (more on that below).  That will help you pare down the equipment you would need during your renovation.

  1. Freezer Meals. Any glance on Pinterest these days, and you’re likely to find tons of pins for Freezer Meal ideas. I’ve been meaning to try it in earnest myself. So, experienced freezer meal cooks would probably have no problem lasting their entire renovation with a freezer full of homemade meals. Unfortunately, that seemed kind of overwhelming to me at the time.  But, in the weeks leading up to the renovation, I did make double batches of a few meals that I thought would freeze well, like manicotti italian casserole (one of our favorites), salisbury steaks, and chicken enchiladas (links to recipes are below!). I think I ended up with six frozen meals total. To cook them or heat them, we used the Countertop Oven!
  2. Pre “anything” from the supermarket. Pre-cooked chicken packages? Sounds great! Pre-made salads and wraps from the deli aisle? Perfect. Rotisserie chicken from Costco? Yum! Pre-made things are obviously more expensive, but I think it’s well worth it during a renovation! I don’t want to be chopping up individual ingredients for a salad on a folding table. Save yourself the frustration and buy it premade!
  3. You know all those “processed foods” that everyone hates on these days? I’m not a fan of processed foods either, but mostly because of taste. Start stocking up! Again, this isn’t forever. So loading up on things like hot dogs, frozen fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and spaghetti-o’s will help you have some options on those nights that you’re desperate for a meal idea! There are some healthier ideas too like packages of fully cooked chicken sausage.

Keep in mind that a kitchen renovation might be a perfect time to do a quick weekend getaway too! Yes, that would be three days of dining out, but it’s away from home, so that makes it totally different and okay, right?  Right?

 

Meal Plan for a Kitchen Renovation

I planned out 20 days of meals (with the intention to just repeat the 20 meals as long as the renovation continued), including a few days of healthy takeout like Subway and Sushi. Did we follow the meal plan precisely? No, of course not. For instance, one day we might have had a really heavy lunch and we weren’t hungry for dinner. And we were invited to a family party one evening and didn’t eat our normally-planned meal. But you get the idea. It was fantastic to have that framework there to avoid being overwhelmed at the idea of “What’s for dinner!”

  1. Sour Cream Enchiladas (Made ahead and frozen)
  2. Manicotti Italian Casserole (Made ahead and frozen)
  3. Turkey Avocado Panini
  4. Go out to eat
  5. Steaks on the outdoor grill. Pre-marinated ahead of time using this recipe (our all time favorite). Then we just wrapped them in plastic wrap, put them in a plastic bag, and froze them.
  6. Slow Cooker Pulled Pork BBQ (eliminated the last step of putting in oven to avoid dirtying a dish and just added BBQ sauce to the crockpot)
  7. Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Thousand Island Dressing (cooked using panini maker)
  8. Frozen fish sticks and frozen french fries (cooked in countertop oven)
  9. Rotisserie Chicken (store bought)
  10. Salisbury Steak (Made ahead and frozen. I didn’t make the mashed potato portion of this recipe)
  11. Frozen pizza (we like Freschetta. Cooked in countertop oven)
  12. Burgers and frozen french fries (pre-formed the patties and froze them. Cooked burgers on the grill!)
  13. Go out to eat
  14. Sourdough Chicken Panini (using pre-cooked chicken from Trader Joe’s)
  15. Garlic chicken cheese rollups (Made ahead and frozen)
  16. Trader Joe’s Frozen Taquitos (Cooked in microwave or oven!)
  17. Meatball subs (Just cover frozen meatballs with jarred sauce and put in the oven! Use a disposable foil tin pan for easy cleanup. Put meatballs on store-bought sub rolls. You can even add some Mozzarella cheese to the top and throw it back in the countertop oven for 10 minutes).
  18. Frozen chicken nuggets and french fries
  19. Frozen Bertoli “Complete” meal
  20. Hot Dogs and chips (can cook hot dogs in microwave).

REPEAT AS NEEDED.

If the food we put in the oven required a baking sheet, we covered it with nonstick foil to make cleanup easy.

 

Temporary Kitchen Setup

We setup a “temporary kitchen” in our basement.  It just consisted of two folding tables (one six foot and one square table)

 

Temporary Kitchen Setup during Kitchen Renovation

 

We had the microwave, crockpot, toaster, and panini maker very handy. We also had bins beneath the table containing things like ziplock bags and other cleaning supplies. We kept out our stainless steel utensil holder (pictured on the black table next to the dish pan). Serving and cooking utensils were probably the most frequently used non-disposable things we had to use. We also kept a dishpan handy, as well as canned and other packaged foods.  Also, things like cereals, breads, chips were kept handy on the tables.  Really, it wasn’t bad at all! Keeping it neat (er, well, as neat as possible), really helped maintain our sanity!

That’s it! See, it’s not as bad as you think, right?  What did you eat during your kitchen renovation?

Cooking for a Crowd – BBQ Themed Menu and Timeline

One of my favorite things to do these days is to cook for a crowd!  Ken’s family lives just a little more than an hour away, so we seem to get together with his family pretty often for holidays and birthdays.  There are usually 10 people when we’re all together, and I love cooking something different almost every time they come over.

Some friends and relatives ask where I get the ideas for what to make.  Usually it’s one of two places for inspiration:

1) Start with a request.  For instance, I asked my father-in-law what he wanted to eat when we were going to be hosting Father’s Day dinner this year.  He said BBQ ribs!  So that was a great starting off point!

2) I’ll try to think of some other common theme type meals, like a steakhouse meal, Mexican, or anything else (like the BBQ restaurant-inspired meal I ended up cooking for Father’s day).  Then, I’ll look online for the menus for those types of restaurants (like Outback for steaks, Famous Dave’s for BBQ, etc.) and get some recipe inspiration for things like appetizers, main dishes, and desserts!

Now, I’ve never come up with an original recipe on my own before in my life, so I always stick to recipes that I have found online or in magazines.

Here is an idea for cooking BBQ for a crowd!

 

The Menu

Timeline for Preparation

The day before

  • Make the coleslaw and both BBQ sauces.
  • Make the cake!
  • Before going to bed, mix the ingredients for the BBQ rub, and massage it into the ribs.  Refrigerate everything overnight.

 

The day of the party or get-together

  • Ribs take a long time to cook, so make sure you put them in the smoker about six hours before you plan to serve the meal!
  • Put the pork in the slow cooker!
  • About an hour before your guests are scheduled to arrive, start boiling some potatoes for the mashed potatoes.  (Note, if you have an extra slow cooker, you can also make mashed potatoes in the slow cooker for even less active preparation!)  After the potatoes have boiled, follow the rest of the mashed potato recipe, and put it in the oven.  When the cooking time is done, switch the oven to “keep warm” and leave the entire dish in there until it’s time to eat.
  • While the potatoes are boiling, shuck your corn so that it’s ready to cook!  (Of course, if you’re cooking it using an alternative method like on a smoker, you might want to keep some of the husks on for cooking).

That’s it!  Once your guests have arrived and settled, the food just has to get put on the table!

What are your favorite menus when cooking for a crowd?

How I Find and Organize Recipes

A few months ago, I talked about how we plan meals in our house.  But, where do I find the recipes that I make?  I’m definitely not a cook that can just make something on the fly.  I need a recipe.  Directions to follow.    

Well, lots of places, but here are a few of my favorites

Organizing Recipes

I find that organizing my recipes is just as important as searching for new ones!  If my recipes are all over the place and saved in multiple formats (bookmarks, Pinterest boards, cookbooks, magazines, etc.), I have zero motivation dig through that mess to make one of the new recipes I found!

I use a recipe manager called Paprika. I download the “Save Recipe” bookmarklet, and every time I find a recipe online that I like, I click “Save Recipe” and it automatically imports it into my desktop and iPhone versions of Paprika!  I’ve been using Paprika for about 18 months now.  Prior to that, I used a program called YummySoup, but I eventually ditched it because they never developed an iPhone or iPad version.  

Organizing recipes from magazines

  • When I find a recipe that I like in a magazine, I bookmark it by folding down the corner of the page in the magazine. The magazine then goes into my “Reading Complete” pile. Every few months, when I have a spare 15–20 minutes, I open up the completed magazines again. I go to the bookmarked pages, and search for the recipe online. This is usually very easy to do simply by Googling the name of the magazine together with the recipe name. The recipe will usually appear in the first or second search results. Once I’m on the webpage containing the recipe, I click the “Save Recipe” bookmarklet for Paprika.
  • If I think I’ll make the recipe some time soon (like within the next month), I will rip out the page of the magazine and put it in my recipe binder (discussed later). After I reviewed all the bookmarked magazine pages, imported the recipes into Paprika, and ripped out any pages I want, I throw away the entire magazine.

Organizing Recipes Found Online

For recipes that I find online, as long as I used the “Save Recipe” bookmarklet, I don’t have to do any importing or Googling. It automatically ends up in Paprika.  I’ve also been trying to get into the habit of Pinning recipes that I find as well, you know, to share the love with everybody else on the recipes I’ve found!

Organizing Recipes Found in Cookbooks or Other Hard Copy Media

For recipes that I find in cookbooks or, for instance, the recipes that my mom had collected from newspapers, I just have to enter those manually into Paprika.

Prepping to Cook Using a New Recipe!

I usually try to make a few new recipes every month, although more recently I’ve been trying to increase that to at least one or two new recipes a week.

So, when I plan out my meals for the month, I will print out the new recipes I will be trying (if I didn’t rip out the page from the magazine).  The recipe then gets slipped into a page protector and placed in a recipe binder that I keep in my kitchen.  I have tried to become more environmentally friendly and just referring to the recipe in Paprika on my iPad, but I am just too paranoid about spilling something on it!

My recipe binder doesn’t have much organization to it, although I will probably need to work on that soon. But in general I keep dessert recipes toward the back and main meal recipes in the front.

When it’s time to make the meal, I just take the recipe out of the binder (leaving it in the page protector, which is key for protecting it from spills, that way I don’t have to re-print it every time I make the recipe), and use it! There are several recipes that I’ve been making for years and don’t need the printed recipe for anymore, but I still like to keep it in the binder.

If we make the recipe and don’t like it, I usually just take the recipe out of the page protector and through it in the trash. I’ll usually keep the recipe in Paprika, but that’s more out of laziness than anything else!

How do you find and organize your recipes?

Thanksgiving Week Action Plan

thanksgiving-week-planning-tips

Thanksgiving is just a little over a week away!  Since this will be my first year hosting Thanksgiving, I want to make sure things go as smoothly as they can.  So I am doing what I have done for other major events like this in my life … creating an Action Plan!

thanksgiving-week-planning-tips

One week before Thanksgiving: Finalize grocery shopping list for Thanksgiving Day meals, and schedule the order with the local grocery delivery service called Peapod. I try to avoid the supermarket during crazy times of the year (like Thanksgiving or Christmas weeks!). I’ll probably just have to make one trip to Trader Joe’s that week, since they have much more reasonable prices on things like cheeses. I’ll schedule the order to be delivered on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Sunday before Thanksgiving: Clean out fridge.  Monday is the last “garbage man day” beforeThanksgiving, so I want to make sure that we purge any old food items from the fridge to make sure we have enough space!

Monday:

  • Peapod grocery order that I placed the previous Thursday will be delivered.
  • Ensure that all recipes are printed, put into protective sleeves, and readily accessible for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday prep.
  • Prepare french baguette dough and biscuit doughs. Refrigerate dough.

Tuesday:

  • Pick up “Thanksgiving Survival Kit” from local produce store. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from our nearby produce store called Nall’s, that they are offering a “Thanksgiving Survival Kit,” which includes items like rolls, celery, carrots, cranberries, fresh herbs, and all sorts of other yummy things for $40 per kit. I jumped right on that offer!
  • Bake one serving of baguette dough prepared the day before, and and bake some cornbread. Allow to air dry for the next few days for stuffing. Will use the remaining baguette dough on Thanksgiving
  • Create prepared “recipe bags.” I’m still debating whether this one will be worth the time, but I’m considering creating pre-packaged “bags” of ingredients for each meal I will make on Thanksgiving Day. For instance, pre-chop the celery, onions, and herbs, and grab a stick of butter, etc., them put them into individual plastic baggies. Then I would place each individual plastic baggie into one larger baggie, and label it as “stuffing.” That way, when it’s time to make the stuffing, I can just grab the bag and toss. While the amount of time will probably be equal, it might make Thanksgiving Day prep and cleanup go a lot faster
  • Set up folding tables and chairs, set tables to the extent possible (tablecloths, vases for centerpieces, charger plates, etc.)

Wednesday:

  • Pick up turkey order from butcher.  We ordered our turkeys fresh from an amazing local butcher that we use all the time.
  • Purchase flowers from local produce store for simple centerpieces.  Similarly, if Trader Joe’s doesn’t look too ridiculously crowded, I may buy the flowers there, since they are located right by the butcher where I’ll be picking up the turkeys.
  • Begin turkey brining process.  Let turkeys sit in brine until Thanksgiving Day.
  • Commence Baking? Depending on how I’m feeling about food preparation progress, I may bake a few goodies, like some banana bread, chocolate cake, or and/or cookies. We’re ordering pies from a local pie shop, so we’re all set on dessert, but I’d like to add a few homemade goodies to the dessert table if possible. However, if things are feeling rushed or overwhelming on Wednesday, I’m going to skip the baking.  I’ve done these marathon baking sessions before around Christmas time, and they really only take about 2 hours, including cleanup.
  • Finish setting table
  • Set up “beverage area” to the extent possible, putting out glassware, beverage tub, etc.
  • Do a quick cleanup of house

Thursday (AKA Turkey Day!):

  • Put Turkey #1 in oven for roasting
  • Put apple cider in our coffee urn (which we purchased to have warm beverages at our wedding) for slow warmup. Make sure to add some cinnamon sticks in the urn, and place coffee mugs nearby.
  • Make stuffing, set aside (do not bake yet)
  • Make cranberry sauce, set aside
  • Ensure ingredients are set aside to make gravy when turkey eventually comes out of the oven
  • Ken departs home to pick up pies from local pie shop and buy a bag of ice from 7-11.
  • When guests give notification that they are on their way (approximately 1 hour drive):
    • Put baguette dough in oven to bake
    • Make mashed potatoes, put in oven to stay warm
    • Set out other appetizers (veggie tray, shrimp ring, cubed cheeses, crackers, baguette slices when ready)
    • Put soda two liter bottles, bottles of beer, and white wine in beverage tub filled with ice. (Ken’s family doesn’t really drink, so let’s be honest here, the beer and white wine will be for me)
  • At some point after guests arrive, begin deep frying Turkey #2 in electric turkey deep fryer.  Deep fried turkeys cook much faster, and since the cooking method seems to be quite the novelty, I’m assuming folks may want to watch the turkey as it begins to fry.
  • Put stuffing in oven as turkey begins to fry

 

So, there you have it!  As with every plan, I’m sure there will be some tweaking as things progress, but I think this covers pretty much everything!  I actually feel a lot better having this all down in writing.  Although that’s a lot of bullet points, many of them won’t even take more than a few minutes, so I think it’s definitely doable.

Creating a Meal Plan and Grocery Shopping Plan

Many of my friends and family always struggle with the age-old question:

“What should I cook for dinner tonight?”

This seems to be a never ending struggle in their lives.  I feel a little guilty to admit this, but, here goes …

It’s not a struggle for me.

I’m not sure why meal planning comes naturally to me. Perhaps it’s my need to compulsively plan things?

It’s not like I grew up in a meal-planning-disciplined family.  Quite the contrary.  It was certainly a struggle we had in my parents house when I was growing up.

Mom: What do you want for dinner tonight

Me (or dad): I don’t know, what do we have available to make?

Mom: Not much.

Mom goes to the grocery store the next day, yet we still never could figure out what to make for dinner in the subsequent days.  And most of the time, we’d end up going out or ordering out.

monthly-meal-planning-guide-supernovawife

Ever since I have been living on my own after college, and even now that I’m married, I have always planned out my meals, went shopping at the grocery store to buy the ingredients I needed for the meals, and ate my meals I planned out.  Sure, there are occasional disruptions, like going out with friends for dinner one night instead of making my meal.  Or perhaps I was at a work conference that offered a huge lunch and I was only hungry for a smaller, lighter dinner.

So to be honest, I really don’t understand why more people don’t do this.  I don’t understand how people eat or grocery shop without a meal plan.  But, since it seems to be a struggle for most folks I know, I thought I would offer up my tips.

 

 My Meal Planning Routine

My meal planning routine has evolved over the past eight years from my life as a single professional living on my own and surviving on an entry level salary in a very expensive area, to the current stage of my life as a married, full-time professional woman.  So I’ll offer my current meal planning workflow, and then in future posts, discuss some of my previous workflows, since they might still be valuable to other folks.

1.  On the first Friday of every month, I open up my “Monthly Meal Planning” spreadsheet in Google Docs.

2. I enter dinner recipes for each day through the first Friday of the next month (so basically four or five weeks worth of meals).  I exclude days that I know we won’t eat dinner at home, like if we have a family party to attend, or if we’ll be out of town.

I usually pull recipes from Paprika, the recipe manager program that I use to save all the recipes I find online or in magazines.  For the monthly meal plan, I try to mix in some of our favorites, along with at least one or two new recipes to try that month.  I’ll talk more about how I find and manage recipes in a future post.

Here’s a partial entry for October to give you an idea of what the spreadsheet looks like:

monthly-meal-plan-organization-supernovawife

 

3.  I review the recipes that I entered for the month to check for various things.  For instance, did I add Mexican food recipes two days in a row?  Or, since I have two recipes that call for a half of a container of Ricotta Cheese, maybe I should make those recipes one week apart instead of three weeks apart, that way I can use the same Ricotta cheese container.

4. After the meal plan looks pretty good, I review the ingredients required for each of those recipes for the first week (I only shop for groceries one week at a time).  It does not matter if I have made that recipe 50 times before, I always check the ingredients!  If I need to buy the ingredients from the supermarket, I add it to the grocery shopping app that I use, called Grocery IQ.  If I’m not sure if I need to buy the ingredient, I check out our pantry or fridge to see if we have it.  I repeat this ingredient review step each subsequent week that I go grocery shopping.

5. Armed with my shopping list, I check my coupon organizer to see what coupons, if any, I have for items on my shopping list.

6. I go to the grocery store on Wednesdays to shop for our weekly groceries!  In addition to what is on my shopping list, I also have a pre-populated list of food staples that we buy every week, or just about every week, like milk, bananas, lunch meat, etc.

7. I get home, Ken helps me unload and put away the groceries, and we’re all stocked to cook our meals for the next seven days!

Is this the system I’ve always used?  Nope, but it’s mostly been close variations of this.  (For instance, when I was single, I used to make fewer meals each week and then just eat leftovers for several days).  Is it perfect?  Nope.

 

Some Room for Improvement

I would like to get better at stockpiling items we like when they are on sale.  For instance, I only buy the cereals we like when we’re running low.  Same thing for things like butter and salad dressings and soda.  Because of this, I’m not always getting the best price. Believe me, when we’re down to two cans of soda and I have to pay $5.29 for a single twelve pack during my weekly grocery shopping trip, it pains me.  But at the same time, while it may cost us more money, this system saves me a lot of time because I don’t have to stalk the weekly ads.  I would like to get in the habit of doing that though in order to cut back on our grocery bill.

I would like to get better adding some light lunches and special weekend breakfasts to my monthly meal plan.  I feel like we struggle a lot with what to eat for weekend lunches, and since I work from home two days a week nowadays, I really need to work on planning my lunches better.

With regards to other lunches at work, many times I bring leftovers from the night before, especially if it’s a pasta or beef-based meal.  If it’s chicken, I don’t bother.  I hate microwaved chicken leftovers.  Other than that, I’ll usually buy lunch.  I’ve given up on feeling guilty about this.  A lot of times it’s just easier.

Most mornings I just eat cereal or get an egg sandwich made at the grill at my company’s cafeteria.

In general, I really like to cook.  But there are some occasional days when, despite having the ingredients on hand and knowing what meal to make, I just don’t feel like cooking.  If I got home late from work, or had some unexpected evening errands to run, I might not feel like cooking when I get home.  So, we usually try to have some basic frozen items on hand, like frozen pizzas, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, etc.  To avoid eating these more processed foods, I would like to experiment with some freezer cooking recipes, that way we can eat a home cooked meal that’s already been prepared.  But one issue with most freezer meals I’ve found is that they have to be left in the refrigerator overnight to thaw before they’re ready to be cooked.  Since the nights I don’t feel like cooking are generally last minute and unexpected, I don’t know if freezer meals would work for that purpose.

So, there you have it.  Seems simple enough, right?