Kitchen Contingencies: How to Prepare for the Unexpected

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How to prepare your kitchen for the unexpected, like burning dinner or getting sick.

Nothing Ever Goes Wrong

No really, nothing ever goes wrong in my kitchen, except, you know, on days ending in y.

Life happens and I’ve found it’s best to be prepared. Perhaps some of this sounds familiar to you? Your ingredients spontaneously grew mold in the fridge despite buying them yesterday. Your head is pounding so badly, you have equal chances of cutting your finger as a carrot. Your dinner burned.

You Get the Idea

It’s important to take the stress out of these events by controlling the chaos in your kitchen. Backups and redundancies can apply to your kitchen because eating is essential for you and your family. Hence why you are reading about advanced chaos management techniques for your kitchen.

If you are just getting started, check out my chaos management series starting with meal planning, and subscribe to my email list to get your chaos management worksheets.

Part of Your Meal is Ruined

My Most Common Reason

The number one reason I run into this problem is that food sometimes goes bad before its expiration date. Now I’m not going to claim that I have the best luck. But I don’t think food going bad before its time is that unusual.

I’ve precut potatoes and had them grow mold in my fridge in less than 24 hours. Then there are the bags of lettuce, where the leaves become slimy a week before the printed date. Or the “fresh” package of chicken that when you open it smells like a nightmare’s gym socks.

Vanilla Beans bound with twine

Need a Side

Sides can be fairly simple to replace if you keep your kitchen well stocked. The first place I always start is by looking at the produce I bought for snacking. I normally have a little more than I really need. A pile of baby carrots or sliced cucumber can be a healthy replacement any night of the week. Also, there’s no rule saying that the salmon you were going to serve with asparagus won’t go well with a sliced apple.

Then there are dry goods, which in my apartment tend to be starches. Pasta only takes 15 minutes after the water boils. If you have a bit of extra time, rice in the miraculous rice cooker goes with so many dishes. (I love things that cook perfectly without my assistance or supervision.)

You might want to store something yummy in the freezer. Everything from frozen green beans to dinner rolls could be strategically placed in there just waiting for when you need them.

There are also many prepackaged side dishes that have a long shelf life, like instant mashed potatoes. These don’t take up a ton of shelf space, which can be a necessity. However, I don’t buy these because of our food restrictions. But they could work very well for your family.

Hands with pink dish washing gloves, sponge, and a soap bottle

You Need to Replace the Main Dish

I love my freezer for these situations. There are so many wonderful foods you can stash away for a rainy day in here. I’m a big fan of frozen filets, like salmon or steak. My mom always has a package of hot dogs in hers for just in case.

Canned goods are an alternative, but I don’t like them as much. You can keep a can or two of anything from soup to chef Boyardee ravioli.

Then there is always boxed mac and cheese and instant ramen. Since I set these aside as an “in case of emergency food”, and not as part of my regular meal rotation, I’m not too concerned about how healthy they are. Just that there are no allergies. The nice thing about these foods is they can sit in the back of a cupboard for a long time. The bad thing is you can forget to check their expiration dates.

Your Entire Meal is Ruined

Dinner is Burned

Is your dinner more cinder than food? Take a deep breath, you’re going to be okay. After the smoke clears, literally, it’s okay to have a snack while you mentally regroup. Personally, I find that a snack is better than picking a fight or breaking out into tears.

Let’s say, theoretically, your dinner is now completely inedible. I’m sure you never burn food, but I will admit to it happening on occasion. Cooking can be a learning process for everyone. The first time my husband grilled skin-on chicken thighs, they literally caught on fire. I’ve burned everything from microwave popcorn to chicken breasts.

I’m not going to admit to eating my half-burned kitchen mishaps. This has not totally happened more than twice or anything already this year. But you can only do that if at least some of your meal is intact.

Entire Backup Meals

For breakfast, this can be as easy as deciding to have toast instead of eggs. Or keeping some oatmeal in the cupboard and microwaving it.

Lunch or dinner can be harder to replace. For my household of two humans, I like these meals to make enough for 2-4 servings and to have 2-3 of these backups on hand at any time. The larger meals are so I can still have my regularly scheduled leftover lunches if I need them during the week. Having more than one meal stored gives both the extra backup for a really terrible week and the ability to choose what you are in the mood for after dealing with smoke.

The Freezer is Your Friend

I’ll be honest, we like to always have a frozen pizza in our freezer just in case. For healthier weeknights, I love keeping a dump recipe or two in my freezer at any given time. When I make one for my scheduled meal plan, I’ll make an extra one just to keep in the freezer. I might plan to eat it in a few weeks, but I sleep easier knowing that it’s there just in case.

On Your Shelves

Boxes and cans can also be helpful. These tend to look like just combining the replacing a side and replacing your main dish sections above. Box mac and cheese with frozen green beans. Salmon filet on rice with an apple.

Sliced apple and rolling pin

You Can’t Cook

Perhaps, your head is pounding so badly, you have equal chances of cutting your fingers as a carrot. Or maybe your schedule is making crazy demands on your time.

Be it stress, illness, or even illness caused by stress sometimes your body demands that you take a day off. I try to listen to mine when it starts yelling like that. But as usual, I had to learn the hard way. I cut my fingertip off with a mandolin while having a migraine once. It’s not an experience I would recommend.

You Still Have Options

Premade and pre-prepped food can be great in this circumstance. Sometimes all I can do is preheat the oven and then go lay down. Then my husband will pop a frozen pizza in the fridge for us. Or he’ll just get takeout.

Worst case, you can order in. Delivery isn’t sin, but I still try to avoid it when I can. Just make sure you take care of yourself. You are important.


Life will keep throwing us curve balls and we can try to be ready for them. Even if you burn dinner, you can still make sure that there’s food on the table. Setting aside a little now can save you a frantic headache in the future. Your future self will thank you. I would love to know some of your unexpected food stories in the comments below.

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