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I can’t stand a dirty kitchen. The crunch of tiny crumbs underneath my feet, dried cheese on the counter, and leftovers stuck in the dish drain. It’s enough to make me crazy, and I’d rather avoid the mess than tackle it before another meal is made, and another catastrophe created.
With 3 meals a day, plus snacks, keeping the “heart of the home” clean is certainly exhausting, if not almost impossible!
But with a little forethought, elbow grease, and discipline, we can turn the unavoidable into a welcome site, and an all-consuming mess into just another part of the daily routine.
Before you start
1. Begin with a clean slate.
First step, is to clear all the dishes out of the sink, wipe down the counters, put cereal boxes and other snacks away, etc before you even start to put any ingredients together for a meal.
I know I can’t so much as think when I’m surrounded by mess and clutter, so take a few moments to put the kitchen to rights and move forward. You’ll feel so much better!
2. Set kitchen limits and assign responsibilities.
From here on out, decide who is “allowed” to make meals and mess around in the kitchen. If you want to keep things the way you like it, you may have to consider instituting a “no-work-zone” for the husband, and kids who are old enough to start getting their own snacks.
This also means that you will be doing a lot more work, but the trade off may be worth it if you enjoy a clean kitchen!
If your husband does offer to do the dishes, or the kids are willing to make their own snacks, make sure they understand a few rules first.
- Is there a specific way you like the dishes washed and put away?
- Do you require all crumbs to wiped up on the counter before someone leaves with their snack?
- Should items be left in the sink, or placed in the dishwasher after meal time is over?
Set these expectations now, so the entire family knows what to expect.
During meal prep
3. Keep a garbage bowl handy.
You can go through quite a few dishes when making a meal, and instead of throwing everything into the sink, I like to keep a bowl right beside me to collect spatulas, measuring cups, and small bowls.
I might need to use a couple of those spatulas again, and if I throw them in the sink, they are immediately dirty in my book. But if they are resting in a bowl I had been using for the current meal, I’m more likely to grab it again and save myself some after-dinner dish duty.
There are some TV chefs who will throw everything in the bowl from egg shells to butter wrappers, but I prefer not to. The garbage is usually close by while I’m working, and I’d rather not dig out all the actual garbage later.
4. While dinner is cooking, start cleaning and putting items away.
If the meal doesn’t require a full set of eyes every minute, you can use this time to start putting your kitchen in order again.
Place ingredients back into the pantry, start loading the dishwasher, and even wash a few items to leave in the dish drainer while you eat. It’s definitely less overwhelming if you tackle this in bits and pieces, rather than saving everything until the meal is over.
After dinner rush hour
5. Define who does what.
Avoid the family’s mad dash away from the dinner table by setting those expectations we talked about in point #2. If you don’t mind cleaning up after everyone, that’s fine, but make sure everyone knows that.
If you prefer each family member take their dishes to the sink, rinse them off, and put them in the dishwasher, then let them know that too.
6. Decide what has to be done for the kitchen to be “acceptable”.
- Do all the dishes have to be washed and put away?
- The table and counters wiped down?
- A spotless stove?
- New dishcloths and towels put out?
Determine “good enough”, and then don’t fret about the rest. Mentally work your way through the after-dinner routine, and don’t be afraid to let a casserole dish soak in the sink until morning. The key is to not let it sit there until the smell becomes your unpleasant reminder.
Even if you’re not an avid foodie, and don’t particularly enjoy working in the kitchen, you can still set some sort of routine that works for you and your family.
Meal prep doesn’t have to be painful, and you might actually find yourself having fun without the worry of a disaster-zone kitchen!