10 Tips for Minimizing After-Meal Cleanup

I don't know about you, but I sure love interrupting a lively conversation with a stomach full of delicious food and half a glass of wine left so I can wash a bunch of dishes. But what's even more fun is leaving the dishes for later and stumbling across them in the morning before even having coffee!

Obviously, this is never a fun situation. In fact, the idea of doing dishes drives a lot of people away from cooking at home and towards ordering takeout. Maybe the best way to get through the after-dinner dish pile is to avoid it altogether! Tweet this Here are 10 tips to minimize dinner cleanup.

Start Fresh

Before you start cooking, clean any dirty dishes and put away the dried ones from the dish rack or dishwasher. This way, you'll have plenty of space to cook and to pile up new dishes as you go.

Set the Table

Do you use the same dishes for dinner every night? Set the table in advance to get dishes out of the way instead of putting them in the cabinet and then just taking them right back out.

Be Ready for Leftovers

Make sure any food storage containers you'll need are ready, whether it's for large quantities of food you've prepped ahead of time or smaller portions of dinner that you're packaging for lunches. Then, move leftovers into their appropriate containers right as cooking is finished. Pots and pans are a lot easier to clean when they are still warm, and with food already in storage, you'll be less likely to overeat.

Reuse When Possible

Use the same pot you boiled pasta in to heat sauce after you've drained the pasta. Use the same cutting board to slice bread, then chop veggies and then prep meat (but never the other way around!). Pour liquid ingredients into the same measuring cup (assuming they're all going in the same dish). Or, even better, estimate amounts when you can and eliminate extra measuring utensils altogether.

Weigh, Don't Measure

If you have a food scale, weighing ingredients is much easier than using measuring spoons and cups, since you can just "tare" a scale and add the next ingredient to the same bowl instead of dirtying a lot of measuring cups. It's also more accurate and kitchen scales are very inexpensive. If your recipe does not have weight equivalents, measure and weigh the first time you make the recipe and note the weight equivalents for the next time you make it.

Use Disposable When You Can

Line baking sheets with foil or parchment, grate cheese onto wax paper, marinate meat in plastic bags. Yes, it generates some waste, but it is way less than the trash generated by getting takeout.

Cook in Batches

There's no point in making the same food, cooked in the same dish, multiple times in a week if you can safely make it once and reheat it later.

Find a Helper

Having someone clean dishes while you are cooking can save a lot of time. Also, having everyone bring used dishes to the sink or dishwasher after dinner saves time — and you won't have to interrupt the conversation if you all go to the kitchen together.

Use Ergonomics

Get a trashcan near your prep area that is easy to access and open. Place a dish rack next to the sink. Find a detergent dispenser that doesn't require two hands to use.

Most Importantly: Clean as You Go

Don't leave all the dishes in an intimidating pile. As soon as a dish is used, put it near the sink (not in the sink, unless you have a double sink) and clean it (or have someone else clean it) as soon as there is time. Having the dishes in your way will encourage you to clean them sooner rather than later. Waiting for a sauce to reduce or pasta to cook? Don't just stand there, clean a dish! I even like to build in down time towards the end of cooking during which I can clean up. For example, while pizza or lasagna is baking, there's plenty of time to do every dish except for the one currently in the oven. Or, while cooked meat rests, I plate the sides and do dishes before slicing and serving.

Now, at the end of a meal, all you have to do is throw the utensils, plates and glasses in the dishwasher and enjoy a relaxing evening.

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Annette Jochum
Annette Jochum, MS, RD, LDN, is a Boston-based dietitian and self-taught culinary scientist. She just completed a masters in nutritional biochemistry and is looking forward to a career in nutrition research and counseling. Read her blog, Food Science Nerd, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.