To obtain the kitchen of her dreams, Paula Mackie went through a home cook's nightmare.
The Brampton, Ont., resident began renovating her kitchen last November, with the idea of having a more spacious, luxurious, modern cooking area in time to host Christmas dinner. That didn't happen. Because of construction delays, Ms. Mackie found herself without a functional kitchen for close to five months and, nearly a year later, the final external work on the addition is still incomplete.
Her family's normally well-balanced diet was thrown out the window, along with the contents of her old kitchen, as she struggled to put meals together without a stove or oven.
Their meals consisted largely of food that could be reheated in the microwave and toaster oven they set up in their living room. Or as Ms. Mackie put it: "A lot of convenience foods, a lot of ordering in, picking up takeout, and relying on the charity of friends and family to invite us over for dinner."
Meanwhile, any dishes they dirtied had to be washed in the ensuite Jacuzzi tub.
"It was stressful, it was difficult and, definitely, we weren't eating the way we normally do," Ms. Mackie says. "If I never see Chinese food for a year, I'll be happy."
Anyone who has ever survived a kitchen renovation can probably relate. Beyond the inconvenience of dust, noise and commotion, it can wreak havoc on one's diet. Eating TV dinners and restaurant meals quickly gets tedious, not to mention expensive. And barbecuing outdoors isn't nearly as pleasant once the weather cools.
Ms. Mackie says she and her husband and son each gained a few pounds while their kitchen was in shambles. They hadn't counted on how long the remodelling work would take, nor how much all the dining out would cost. "The expense of eating out or takeout, that was a very, very large cost," she says. "We factored for a number of contingencies, but this certainly wasn't one of them."
Although not easy, it is possible to survive a renovation without resorting to high-sodium fast food and greasy take-away.
In anticipation of the start of her kitchen renovation last week, Lindsay Harris of Toronto stocked up on frozen meals and easy-to-prepare foods such as cereals, bagels and fresh, packaged salads and baby carrots for herself, her husband and their two children, 2 and 4.
Even though she aims to adhere to a relatively nutritious diet plan, assembling meals has been tricky despite her best efforts to stay organized. "Everything is out of place. Our green bin is not in the same place. Our cutlery is in the living room now, it's all over the place," she says.
So far, Ms. Harris says, her family has eaten at restaurants only a few times, although certainly more than usual. She anticipates that they will spend roughly $250 extra per week on food costs during the renovations, which she hopes will be completed within another week.
"It's not cheap," she says, but it's necessary. "I can't eat the same thing every day."
Subsisting on pizzas and sandwiches was tolerable for the first few days, but two weeks into his kitchen renovation a few years ago, Richmond Hill, Ont., resident Vinay Nagpal reached his limit. "It's just so unhealthy. You feel really off-kilter because you're just not used to ingesting that kind of thing on a daily basis," he says.
Yet Mr. Nagpal's renovation had only just begun. The construction work dragged on for more than four months. He and his mother and sister had to get creative. The three set up a makeshift cooking area in their living room that consisted of a hot plate, with two burners, and an electric kettle. With just these two appliances, they initially made simple dishes such as spaghetti with tomato sauce, and eventually expanded their repertoire to include complete dinners, such as lamb curry and vegetables. The family even invited guests over for dinner parties, which also helped them in the long term, as guests reciprocated the gesture.
Cooking with portable heating elements was a slow process, however. A meal that would normally take an hour and a half to prepare in their kitchen took nearly three times as long.
Even so, Mr. Nagpal says, "it's well worth the effort, just because you're having home-cooked meals."
He believes the challenge even made them better cooks. "It's amazing how efficient you become and how well-planned you become when you're pushed into a corner."
Lois Rooney-Giurin also discovered that necessity encourages culinary innovation. While remodelling her kitchen over the past month, the Chatham, Ont., resident has learned a trick to cook pasta in her microwave without having to drain it. She puts two boxes of fibre-enriched pasta in a pot, with a jar of spaghetti sauce and two jars of water, and microwaves it for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The result, she says, is "okay," but she will be able to make a much better dish when her kitchen is fully restored.
Vancouver registered dietitian Gloria Tsang emphasizes that the key to surviving a kitchen renovation is to make a meal plan. She advises preparing a large batch of homemade frozen meals, such as lasagna or casseroles, which is generally cheaper and healthier than the store-bought stuff, and portioning them before freezing to allow for easy reheating. She also suggests dusting off all the kitchen appliances you may have tucked away and forgotten about. Camping stoves, for example, can be put to use for cooking small items, such as eggs or noodles. And crock pots can be used to cook easy one-pot meals with frozen vegetables.
Getting to know the staff at your neighbourhood mom-and-pop restaurant is also a good idea, Ms. Tsang says. While renovating her own kitchen several years ago, she and her family often dined at their corner restaurant, where they were able to order customized, no-frills meals and even bring their own fresh seafood and ingredients for the restaurant to prepare.
Back in Brampton, Ont., the months of struggling have paid off for Ms. Mackie. She says she's "ecstatic" with her newly remodelled kitchen. As soon as she was able to use it, she cooked a rack of lamb for her family in their new oven to celebrate.
"We built our dream kitchen," she says, noting that she now just hopes that the final touches will be completed before the end of this year. "That's the goal – this year, we want to have our Christmas dinner."