This is part three in the article "Quick And Easy Ways to Cook and Clean Up"
You can read Part One- Quick And Easy Ways to Cook and Clean Up – Before You Begin To Cook here.
- Use a tablecloth that doesn’t require ironing. Tablecloths may seem like extra work at first but I have found them so much easier and time saving. If there is a spill, it doesn’t go all over and you don’t have to jump up from the table in a panic to get a rag.
If the tablecloth is pretty clean when dinner is over, you can just shake it out, fold it and use again. If it is dirty, toss it in the laundry. Even when my children were young, I could often use the same tablecloth 2-3 times.
"Isn’t a tablecloth more work?" It was much easier for me to wash a couple of tablecloths than to wipe the table again and again each night trying to get it clean. Then if it didn’t get wiped well enough and something was stuck, it was even worse.
Terrycloth makes the best tablecloths but terrycloth tablecloths are hard to find. You can easily get terrycloth fabric and make your own. Old vintage and feed sack tablecloths are nice too if you can find them. Anything that absorbs well will work.
- Everyone clears. The secret to fast clean up is to have everyone pitch in and help. My philosophy is, "If you eat, you help clean up". I don’t care how big of a hurry someone is in to leave the table to do something or be somewhere. It takes 30 seconds or less (I have timed it) to pick up your own place setting and take it to the sink and 15 more seconds to rinse it. Dads, this includes you too. Then, everyone can come back to the table and pick up three or four more things. (This can usually be done in one trip, taking only 45 seconds.) Once everyone has done this, the rest of the table should be cleared.
Note from Tawra: After dinner each night I quickly count how many items are left on the table after they clear their own dishes. Then I divide the remaining items by how many kids were at the table. They always ask, "How many things mom?" I tell them how many items each person must clear and in two minutes or less, everything is put away. They must put everything they clear where it belongs- ketchup goes in the fridge, crackers in the pantry, etc.
This means the table can be cleared in one and a half minutes where it would take mom five times as long or longer on her own. Even three year olds can help. Use plastic dishes for them and they can take the mustard or ketchup bottle or some other easy item.
- Use a tray. If you do have to clear the table alone or if your dining table is in another room far away from your kitchen, you might consider using a tray.
- When washing the dishes, once again, everyone should help. This can be one of the best times, visiting with and talking to your kids or spouse. There is just something about working together that causes most people to visit and talk. No matter what job it is, it makes the job easier and makes it go more quickly.
- Let everyone do something. Have one person wipe the counter, one rinse the dishes, one load the dishwasher or wash the dishes and one put things away. While the kids worked on the dishes, I would always do one little job each evening like wipe down the appliances, clean a shelf or two in the fridge, pack lunches, sweep the floor or clean a cabinet shelf. All those yucky jobs I didn’t like doing weren’t nearly as bad when I was talking and joking with my kids.
The kids didn’t mind doing their "chores" as much if I was there working with them. Very rarely did we spend more than 15-20 minutes cleaning the kitchen but we sure got a lot of talking done.
- Air dry dishes. Drying dishes with a towel can add an extra 10-15 minutes of cleaning when it doesn’t need to be done. Let the hand washed dishes air dry and put them away later.
- Use less. One thing that helps make kitchen clean up easy is to be careful how many pans, utensils and bowls you use. For example, if a salad uses a special dressing, don’t mix it in a separate bowl. Mix it in the bottom of the serving bowl and toss the rest of the ingredients in on top. Cook something like green beans in the microwave in its serving dish and not in a sauce pan. When I make potato salad, I hard boil the eggs and use the same pan to cook the potatoes. When I make creamed potatoes, I boil the potatoes in a pan, drain them and make the cream sauce right in the pan with the potatoes.
- When setting the table, use only the utensils and items you need. If you aren’t serving anything that requires a spoon that evening, don’t put spoons at each place setting.
- Beware of assuming a certain way is faster. Carefully read a recipe and try to find the fastest and easiest way to make it.
I love crockpot cooking for quick and easy meals and so do a lot of you. I read a recipe last night for beef stroganoff which was supposed to be easier and save time by using a crockpot. It said to saute the onions, meat and other ingredients in a large frying pan, transfer it all to a crockpot and let it cook for six hours. After that, the instructions said to boil noodles in another pan to serve with it. Not only do you have to take the time to transfer things from one pan to the next, creating additional mess, but you also end up with two large pans and a crock pot to clean up.
When I make my stroganoff, I put the water for the noodles on to boil while I fry my meat and spices. Then I put the noodles in to cook and let my meat sauce simmer while the noodles cook. It takes less than 15 minutes for me to do all of this and I save time because I don’t have to drag out a crockpot and then wash it. I only have two pans to wash.
- Make clean up easier by using paper plates, lining your pans with foil or lining your crockpot with a liner. Yes, these things do cost a little more but, if you are going out to eat or ordering pizza all the time because you are tired and hate cleaning up, it is cheaper to use these things once in a while.
Also save on clean up by doing things like placing your kids sandwich or fruit on a napkin instead of dirtying a plate at lunch time.
Most of my more involved meals take me about 30 minutes with 15-20 minutes clean up. My quick and easy meals take about 15 minutes with 10-15 minutes clean up. Now you see why I couldn’t believe the 2 hour meal prep and clean up. There is a way to do it differently.
For more easy cleaning tips to make your life easier, check out our Keepin’ It Clean e-books.