How to do life with a family but without a fridge?
November 12, 2016 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Our refrigerator just shit the bed in a big way, and because it's under warranty I've got to jump through all the hoops, use the approved vendor, etc. so it'll be days, minimum, until it's working. I already trashed most of our food but I have a couple of questions re: some food that might not have to be trashed. And, more importantly, how am I going to function and feed my family without this.

Food questions, after throwing away almost everything, because when we woke up this morning the fridge and freezer were at 50 degrees:
-- pickles and sauerkraut safe?
-- fresh fruits and veggies -- I'm assuming it's okay to keep them in the (coolish) fridge until they wilt or otherwise appear bad?
-- sriracha and other hot sauces?
-- peanut butter? I keep mine in the fridge but I know there are weirdos who don't.
-- regular butter? I know some people keep theirs on the counter.
-- eggs? I've got a new dozen organic store-bought eggs. Are they trash?

How to feed my family?
-- I'm a total "big batches mean dinner + leftovers" type of cook, so I guess I'll have to stop that. But I feel like I can't even imagine how to go to cook now. Tips? Tricks?
-- What goes in my kid's lunchbox? He does not eat peanut butter and jelly. Of course I can give him chips and crackers and a piece of fruit, but what's the main content of his lunch if I have no way of refrigerating? He does not like PowerBar type of things.


(Also seriously what a goddamn week this has been.)
posted by BlahLaLa to Food & Drink (31 answers total)
Hardboil the eggs and they'll keep a few days even at room temperature. But if you're in a country where unboiled eggs normally are sold in a chiller cabinet that's where they should be.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2016

Pickles and sauerkraut were a way to preserve vegetables. They should be safe unless the label specifically cautions against it only because its a manufactured pickle type food rather than actual pickle.

Sriracha and other hot sauces will keep fine.

I have lived without a fridge for weeks at a time. I will come back with some suggestions to your main question.

I'm sorry you were caught out by this.

ps. It would be helpful if you can share your current climate/weather? For instance, where I'm at its below freezing in the balcony :) and colder than the fridge
posted by infini at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you go get or borrow a cooler in the meantime? That's what we used when our fridge was out. Depending on where you are if you keep it outside right now you may not have to worry too much about frequent ice refills.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

eggs you can always check by seeing if they float in water (they float to the surface if bad).
posted by andrewcooke at 11:28 AM on November 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the answers so far. We are in a warm, dry climate.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:32 AM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

$100 mini-fridge?
posted by bz at 11:44 AM on November 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

The same thing happened to me this year and I don't know how my two person household would have coped without the minifridge we went out and bought the day after, because replacing the fridge took two weeks.
posted by foxfirefey at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Can you rent a refrigerator?
posted by Bruce H. at 11:54 AM on November 12, 2016

Peanut butter is fine--it doesn't have to be refrigerated.

Buy a mini-fridge, or if you're as cheap as I am, buy a used mini-fridge on Craigslist, use it for a week or two, then resell it for the same price.
posted by Slinga at 11:57 AM on November 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

If you can buy a nice cooler and put some ice in it, you can keep plenty of food cool.

Pickles and kraut are fine for a while at 50 deg or even room temperature. Eat them over the next few days. Hot sauces are fine (most are fine at room temperature for a long time). Peanut butter and butter are fine on the counter. Your eggs are fine, but better in a cooler in the long term. Fruit is fine on the counter for a long time and veggies are fine until they are obviously bad.
posted by ssg at 11:57 AM on November 12, 2016

Okay, I'm hearing you about the minifridge. Off to buy one at Target. Will happily take other advice so keep it coming.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2016

Hardboiled egg sandwiches

Mash 2 hardboiled eggs with some ketchup, butter (if you have), salt and pepper. Ketchup doesn't need refrigeration for at least 3 weeks that I know of, and in tropical climes

Leftover meat sandwiches

Finely mince leftover meat together with half an onion, any of your hot sauces, and instant pate

You can get creative with pasta and rice. Rice will keep for 24 hours easily and after that check to see if there's a smell - this is possible in 70-80 degree weather. ditto spaghetti cooked, and macaroni but nothing stuffed

Stews can be kept 24 hours for leftover meal, and if you heat it all the way up again to boiling, for another 12 or so after taht - just ensure it doesn't have tomatoes. Anything with coconut milk in it is suspect overnight.

If you need to keep milk cooler than the room, you can put it in a bucket of cold water. Alternately, if it feels too warm in the house, boil the milk all the way through once - it'll hold overnight

Beans and lentils will keep like stew.

Potatoes and onions will keep for 2 or 3 weeks, ditto garlic pods unpeeled.

Hot weather/No fridge cuisine tends to be spicier too.
posted by infini at 12:14 PM on November 12, 2016

Some of this will depend on where you live vs. groceries.

For lunches, wow butter (palm oil and sugar, but) or sunflower butter might help. There are those mini tins of tuna - ocean spray makes a kind packed with crackers that has a Frozen theme which on one car trip got my kids over the new thing hurdle. Tuna in general might make sandwiches if you're ok without mayo.

If your child eats chickpeas with his her fingers that's something too.

Otherwise you might want to just prep lunch and hit the deli counter en route to school.

Milk does come in tetra packs, get the small ones. Oatmeal is something we eat without or with coconut milk.

For meals there's all the packet Indian stuff with rice, pasta with jarred sauce and veg and olives, all that stuff. Honestly I'd probably shop each day though and take it as a fast-fry adventure.

You can do this!
posted by warriorqueen at 12:16 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Probably too late, but my family still calls the fridge "the icebox", so you could just buy bagged ice and keep some in the fridge portion until its replaced. Your stuff won't last quite as long and I wouldn't put too much mass in at one time (a whole pot of soup), but it'll keep your supplies just fine.
posted by flimflam at 12:24 PM on November 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Another thing to consider (especially if it's something you'd want anyway) is buying a chest freezer on craigslist and living with that and a cooler for as long as it takes to get the main fridge fixed, then just keep using it for expanded cold storage. We have one in our basement and it's an excellent way to expand your big batch cooking and bulk buying options; things seem to stay colder and in better condition than if they're stored in the small freezer built into the fridge, and it uses very little power compared to a whole fridge with a door on the front. I think we bought ours for $75 used.
posted by contraption at 12:33 PM on November 12, 2016

If your finances will allow it, eating mostly takeout for a few days isn't the end of the world, especially if that's easier or more practical than grocery shopping and cooking every day. Caring for your emotional health is more important than a week or two of less-than-ideal nutrition. Does your child's school have a cafeteria? It's not going to be as healthy as what you'd send him with, but it might be a good compromise for now.

If you do want to keep cooking, try searching for "storecupboard recipes" or "pantry recipes" that are designed to be cooked with things already in your cupboards. You might also find some useful things by looking for recipes from food banks, as they are used to constructing meals around non-perishables.

If you have more jars and bottles than will fit in the mini-fridge, could you ask a friend or neighbor to hold onto them for a couple of weeks? I'd happily do this for someone if they asked.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you haven't purchased a mini-fridge already, try putting out a call on Facebook. My sister and I both have mini-fridges stashed in my parents basement, I'm sure they're not the only ones with dorm room leftovers gathering dust somewhere.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Er, not actual leftovers, I'm pretty sure we took those out before hauling them home after graduation...
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:59 PM on November 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I haven't done this myself, but in the last round of hurricane prep advice I read it suggested putting ice in your washing machine and using it as a cooler.
posted by instamatic at 1:05 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Knock on your neighbors doors and ask them to store your frozen stuff. Doesn't really matter if you know them or not. Relatively new neighbors we had never spoken with did that to us a couple of months ago and it wasn't weird at all. We put their stuff in our freezer, and a few days later they came over at took it back when their fridge was fixed.
posted by COD at 1:14 PM on November 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Cooler and dry ice

Daily shopping for days needs instead of weekly shipping for week's needs.

Trader Joe's dinner in a bag boilable meals, dry pasta, and other shelf-stable foods as entrees.
posted by zippy at 2:56 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Coolers are really useful, I have several, and I use them often for holidays, if there are many guests I'll store beers and sodas in them, rather than in the already stuffed fridge. So buy a cooler, preferably a soft one that is easy to store away when not in use.
Maybe you could go vegan for this relatively short time. Vegetables and fruit can be stored on the counter or in a cooler, and if they wilt a bit, you can refresh them by putting them in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Prepared vegetables, like hummus or grilled squash or anything can be stored on the counter if completely covered in oil and in an airtight container.
I'm mentioning grilled squash because my daughter likes a sandwich with grilled squash and tomato for lunch. I'm sure it would work with many different vegs. She also likes a pasta salad, with butterfly pasta, raw or grilled vegs, olive oil, balsamico and lemon juice. Or a salad with soba noodles, cucumber, soy sauce, a bit of sesame oil and lemon or lime juice.
Look at traditional cuisines from all over the world - most are based on not having a refrigerator even today. So in warmer climates you won't have a lot of recipes depending on butter, or raw meat. Or all the meat will be used in one meal - 100 years ago people didn't have hamburgers or meatballs all the time because it wouldn't keep. That meat went to the sausages which were cured and smoked.
Wok food is the best thing for busy families with no storage. Rice and curry is a simple meal that is really quick to make. If it's vegan, you can have everything bought ahead, otherwise buy some chicken breasts or shrimp and diced pork on the way home. I often leave remaining rice on the counter overnight and use them for fried rice the next day and I've never had any problems, but this can be iffy. And of course there are hundreds of stir-fry recipes that are really easy.
Spaghetti alio & olio is nice and simple in your situation, as is every other pasta with no meat or diary and there are many recipes.
To this day, Greek food is very much not dependent on refrigerators, as is Indian food.
A rotisserie chicken with a nice salad and good sourdough bread is a great meal always. I would not keep leftovers on the counter, but I would keep them in a cooler with ice. Get the ice from the store where you buy the chicken and put it in the cooler right when you get home.
There are things that are better in tins! In Spain there is this whole culture of enjoying tinned food. Things like sardines, tuna, tomatoes, cod liver, cod roe, bottarga, legumes, vegetables - I like bell-peppers better from a jar than fresh. It's worth thinking about how these can become meals along with dry goods like rice and pasta, and vegetables you can store on the counter.
Finally - I don't do this often, but when I do it, I'm always surprised at how easy it is: make flatbread or tortillas on a skillet or a griddle and plan a meal around that. Avocados should be kept on the counter,and they are filling and delicious.
posted by mumimor at 3:42 PM on November 12, 2016

When the real fridge works again, you can sell the mini fridge on Craigslist, or maybe even return it if you save the packaging, keep it very clean, and don't remove the cling wrap.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rent a fridge.
posted by Oyéah at 5:01 PM on November 12, 2016

Ok so it sounds like a mini fridge is in the cards. Great. Now just shift your perspective to a little carb heavier and shelf stable than usual, and you'll be fine.

Quesadillas- tortillas, a small bag of shredded cheese will fit in the fridge, jar of canned salsa.

Pasta tomato sauce garlic bread.

Sandwich meats will fit in the mini fridge. Apples will keep on the counter. Bag of chips or crackers = a kids lunch.

Is there a grocery store on the way home? Just stop in on the way home and get enough food for one simple meal a day. A rotisserie chicken and a bag of salad. A small piece of pork roast you can roast right away with some rice.

Citrus like oranges should be on the counter not in the fridge. It is clementine/tangerine season. Throw one of those in the lunch bag. Apples keep a few weeks on the counter.

Baked potato bar: one pack of bacon will keep in the mini fridge and some sour cream and whatever other toppings. Potatoes are shelf stable and cheap.

Order in a pizza one night. Chinese another. Chinese can be done more healthily, especially if you order steamed veggies and sauce on the side.

Those baby bell cheeses in the red wax keep on hiking trips for the day for me.

Don't hesitate to lower your standards here! Your dinner table does not need to look like you spent all day being June Cleaver. Regular actual sit down protein starch and veg on a plate does not need to happen. Pizza in front of the TV on the couch is a really lovely thing sometimes.
posted by slateyness at 5:24 PM on November 12, 2016

None of that food will be dangerous, even the eggs in the shell.

$20 piece of dry ice in the main compartment and drop your frozen stuff with a friend.

We had an OUTRAGEOUS ant invasion last year, and we just ate out for a week, ordered pizza. Protein bars. Dolmas from a can. Lentils and rice. Keep it easy.

If you have pancake mix, man, we used to love pancakes for dinner as a kid!! Keep it easy. You can do this for a few days.
posted by jbenben at 5:39 PM on November 12, 2016

I went through something a bit like this earlier this year. Massive roommate conflict which escalated into the other person moving out ASAP. They owned the fridge and hated us so much they wouldn't even let us buy it off them. We ended up getting a new fridge within a day or two, but man that day or two sucked. Fridges might be THE 20th century modern convenience that defines exactly how OK your life is.

Here's what we did:

- Tossed everything we didn't strictly need. Mystery leftovers, yogurt container with two spoons of yogurt left, ancient condiments, the tupperware of scraps for stock that I keep in the freezer, etc.

- The mandatory fridge stuff got put into an ice chest for something approaching 48 hours. This was absolutely fine for everything, including milk. I'm sure it wasn't restaurant level food safety, but nothing went noticeably bad and we didn't get sick.

- I think we pretty much sacrificed anything in the freezer that we couldn't quickly use up before it went bad. Womp womp

- No purchase of any perishable foods or keeping of leftovers until the new fridge was open for business. I feel like we ate a lot of takeout for those 2 days. This is a great excuse for "pizza is a sometimes food." Is it great to send your kid to school with junky packaged snacks? No. Are they going to become obese in a few days? No.

I also recall leaving peanut butter, bread, ketchup, butter, hot sauce, and eggs out on the counter and it was fine and again nobody died. Some people don't even keep these things in the fridge in the first place.
posted by Sara C. at 6:22 PM on November 12, 2016

+1 bagged ice. You can buy it -- here, at least, which is rural and near cabins and rustic cottages and boats and so on with actual iceboxes -- in large blocks which are made for the purpose of keeping built-in insulated boxes filled with food functioning as fridges. I've managed to keep everything in extended power outages, have spent extended time on boats where that was what constituted the fridge. It really makes you long for an iceman delivering it, but it works very well.

(And, how cold is it where you are? Can stuff live on the outside of a windowsill?)
posted by kmennie at 6:25 PM on November 12, 2016

Canned soup
Salad of fresh spinach, fresh bell peppers, canned chickpeas, canned beets, canned fish (tuna or salmon) salt, pepper, oil & vinegar.
Toasted peanut butter and brown sugar sandwiches
Roasted acorn squash with pasta, pine nuts, sage and olive oil
Jerky as a protein-rich snack
Low-sugar nut bars
Carrot sticks, apples, raisins, pears, mangoes, avocados, bananas, oranges
Homemade pumpkin pie
Black eyed peas and cornbread

Enjoy local bakeries, delis, and family restaurants - best of all, no dishes!
posted by Pearl928 at 9:36 PM on November 12, 2016

Nutella is shelf stable, and often enjoyed by people like me, who think peanut butter is some sort of punishment.

The biggest problem I had without a fridge was meat, milk and what to do with leftovers. If you can do without milk and meat, life will be easier. Plan to go to the shops everyday or second day before dinner to buy what you need and cook it immediately.
posted by kjs4 at 6:38 PM on November 13, 2016

Check your warranty and credit card insurance to see if your fridge covers food loss. Then you could just buy small amounts of food at a time while you are waiting and seem claim for the food you lost. I think mine is only $200, but it was something.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:16 PM on November 13, 2016

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