One reason people don’t like to cook dinner is they dread the after dinner cleanup. Here are some easy tips to clean up the kitchen along with ideas to prevent much of the mess in the first place!
This is part three in the article, “How To Cook Dinner Fast – Quick Dinners In 30 Minutes.” If you missed them, you can read part one here or part two here.
Make After Dinner Cleanup Faster
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.
Someone might ask, “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 also nice if you can find them. Anything that absorbs well will work.
Make sure everyone clears the table. 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 child’s 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 How To Organize And Clean Your Home e-books.
Using a table cloth with individual place mats are great.
you can keep them on the table all the time and that saves the clutter that usually ends up covering the table. Shake each out after a meal and replace them.
Each person is responsible for clearing off their place mat.
for serving use bread baskets instead of plates. put a napkin in it and shake them out when the meal is done. One less dish to wash.
serve plates from the stove. That way you control portions and preferences and you have no serving bowls to wash.
Grizzly Bear Mom
In the U.S.A.F. they taught us that one person scrapes all the leave behinds on a plate, stacks the others underneath, (depostis left overs in the dog dish/compost bin) and takes them to the washing place. Saves steps and traffic in the kitchen. My mom had four dishwashers-susan, dottie, ruth and carol. One washed dishes each night. Back then we didn’t realize that air drying was better so another sister dried/provided company/fought with us. (Unfortunatley my big sister(s) would hide the dirty pots in the oven and leave them for us to wash the next night!) Grr!
Because I “buy for life” I purchased stainless steel pots & pans and can serve from them or put them in the fridge if there are leftover.
Love your ideas.
the best way to clean up faster after dinner is to make less dishes before dinner. Here are a few trick I learned over the years.
casseroles or one dish meals. These can be made ahead of time and frozen. just pull one out in the morning and sit it in the oven to thaw. Turn on the oven and dinner is ready in about 1/2 an hour. Have a shower or relax while getting a salad and buns on the table.
packet meals. a sheet of tinfoil, a piece of meat or fish, a serving of vegetables spices. seal the foil and pop in the oven 1/2 an hour tops for cooking. If you use rice you can add it to the meal but a pot of potatoes or noodles take just a bit of time.
when you get groceries chop lettuce all sorts and put it into a bread bag in the fridge. chop the extra vegetables like green onions peppers and cucumbers put them into another container.
supper time take the lettuce and vegetables and put them into salad bowl add some dressing. no knives, cutting boards or mess to clean up.
for vegetables use your microwave. serve individual vegetables to each person no pots and extra serving bowls. to heat an individual amount it takes about 2 min. a serving.
Instead of pan frying fish all the time which is messy. Try poaching it in white wine with Italian spices added. Or chicken stock or even water with salt pepper and dill weed. easier clean up healthier and even a fried fish lover like me enjoys it. Put rice on to boil. when the water boils turn it off and 3/4 hour later it is done and ready to go with the fish. Peas add colour to the plate and toasted buns are great to get all the juices off the plates.
I used to line baking dishes with aluminium foil for easy clean up, but now I use parchment paper. Great for everything – even when I bake bacon in the oven, the pan is easy peasy to clean!
I also make plates at the stove to save dirty serving dishes, plus extra easy to make lunches and put food away after dinner. Like you said – it is a lot about saving steps.
I was so proud last Thanksgiving – a huge dinner for family, and not a dirty dish when we sat down to eat. Of course, no one wants to talk about after dinner….but at least all the prep dishes and pots and pans were clean and put away!
A good idea is to fill your sink with just hot soapy water before your meal, that way any prep dishes can be washed, dried and put away while your meal is cooking, then when your meal is over, table cleared and dishes scraped, the water is there ready to use.
Yes Judy good idea. I always keep hot soapy water while I am cooking. For those of you who don’t have a double sink what I do is keep a small tub (the size they give you when you go to the hospital about 12 in. x 8 in) in the sink with soapy water. This way I can use my disposal and rinse things if I need too.
It has always amazed me that people will tell me it takes them at least an hour to cook an evening meal. For a short while after I got married, I really thought I was doing something wrong. It rarely ever took me more than 30 minutes to get a meal on the table. So I went and talked to my Grandma who informed me that I was doing just right. She laughed and would say man their meat they’re cooking must have still been alive when they started supper. Now that didn’t go for roasts and that type of thing, but you get the gist. When I was growing up, my mother worked outside the home and I stayed with my Grandma during the summer, school holidays and even before I went to school. She was a farm wife and always had fabulous meals on the table…nothing fancy, but good solid meals. I remember helping her cut up vegetables while she watched the evening news to have for the next couple of days or put a cake or dessert in the oven to bake while she ran out to do her chores at the barn. She always set the timer on the fence post by the barn gate to help keep her on track. Regardless, she was efficient. I picked up a lot of her cooking skills and mind set of not fancy but a good solid meal that rarely took 30 minutes to cook.
You and your grandma are right on target. That is the way it should be and always use to be. Like so many other things (cleaning, laundry etc) we have made it way more complicated than it needs to be. But we went through a time where everyone was trying to be a Julia Childs or Martha Stewart and it could not be done so they gave up and decided they couldn’t make meals easy, cheap and under an hour forgetting how simple, cheap and little time it took our grandmothers. I have been watching these gals clean up after dinner and they are pulling out 2-3 different cleaners and using a roll of paper towels.
I think – what happened to when you just squeezed out your dish rags, quickly wiped down the counter and dry it with the dish towel. No extra expensive and very little time?