If your kitchen’s immaculate and your house has never looked like Hurricane Wilma came through it, don’t read this. This post is not Martha Stewart approved, it won’t make the Fly Lady happy, and it’s not for the homemaker who keeps the floors so clean you can eat off them (though I like that homemaker and I want to be invited to her house for dinner. Tonight. Please.)
Here are nine ways to combat the dinner hour entropy that invades the kitchen. Some of this advice will make the more traditional housespouse (note the gender neutral neologism) cringe.
1. Don’t wash the pasta pot. Make whole grain pasta, stir it while your toddler bangs her sippy cup against your knees and cries “Uppie Mama!” so the noodles don’t get stuck on the bottom of the pan. Drain the pasta and turn the pan upside down to dry. Pretend it’s washed. Justify this with the thought that boiling water (a powerful disinfectant) has been in it.
2. Wash the other pots before you sit down to eat. Those pesky pots. It’s impossible to clean them AND get your kids to bed at a reasonable hour (if you do the dishes before the bedtime ritual). Clean only the pots that need cleaning (see #6) right after you use them.
3. Buy a hanging pot rack. Or make one out of wood and hooks. Then you never have to have pots crowding the drying rack, you just hang them (which means they’re out of the way) and let them drip dry.
4. Enlist your 4-year-old to clear and sponge the table. He will do this by using half a bottle of eco-spray (“Puttin’ out the fire, reerah, reerah, here comes the back-up trucks!”) and five dishtowels, which he will carefully lay across the table. He will also spray the chairs but forget to dry them, which will cause his sisters to be in fits about their wet tushies. No matter, the 4-year-old got the table clean (but do you put the dishtowels in the washing machine or hang them out to dry?) and you can sit down to eat sooner.
5. Give your kids a “stash” where they keep their favorite dishware. Then have them unload their dishes into their stash. If there are contested dishes in the house, this will make them that much more eager to comply, especially if their siblings aren’t home from school yet. They’ll also stash the tureen (good for maple syrup pouring), the egg slicer (“It’s my turn to bring it to school!”) and possibly the Vac-U-Vin.
6. Assemble the plates at the stove and then put them on the table instead of putting food into serving dishes. When dinner’s over and there’s still brown rice left, put the lid on the pot and stick it in the fridge.
7. Put a plate over the leftover salad in the bowl and stick the bowl in the fridge in the salad. You can eat salad for breakfast and clean the bowl in the morning after you’ve had coffee.
8. Train your children to clear their plates, preferably directly into the dishwasher (if you’ve managed to unload it).
9. Sponge the table. Use two hands and you can do this in less than seven seconds. Even if it means sponging the stuff on the table onto the floor (wear slippers in the house), a sponged table makes it feel like the kitchen’s clean.
My friend Michelle, who has three kids, has a really effective method to keep the kitchen clean—she rarely cooks or eats in it.
What are your tricks for keeping the kitchen clean?! Any advice for quick ways to tidy up the rest of the house?!