Statistics tell us that Americans eat out for at least one daily meal an average of 5.9 times per week. While we know this has a lot to do with how busy our daily lives have become, with the majority of families having both parents working full-time jobs outside the home, there could be more to it than simply not having time for the actual cooking.
Americans tell us that not only do they not have time to cook weeknight dinners, but they also don’t have time and energy for the messy clean-up involved when the cooking and eating is done. Why spend time wiping up crumbs, spills, pots and pans, and greasy stoves, when you can eat out or pick up food that someone else has cooked?
Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work the way it does on the food channel when chefs have every ingredient they need pre-chopped, pre-measured, and waiting in decorative little bowls to be added to the pot. Inside our homes, the chopping, blending, measuring and pouring cause real-life messes that build up during a cooking session into an intimidating and exhausting pile which many busy Americans don’t have the time or energy to deal with.
So what are some ways to minimize the pile-up of kitchen mess while we cook? Is there anything that can make cleanup faster and easier?
The answer is an emphatic “yes.” Unlike Rachel Ray, we don’t have assistants scurrying around cleaning up after us while we strut our cooking prowess in front of a simmering pot, but there are some tips and tricks for a faster kitchen cleanup.
Be Smart Before You Start
While this may seem like a no-brainer, the truth is, many of us live such busy lives that even before we begin cooking, our kitchen may be cluttered and … well, somewhat less than perfectly clean. If you begin with a mess, the molehill will soon become a mountain. For instance, you can’t immediately place a dirty mixing bowl and spoon into the dishwasher, if it’s still filled with clean dishes from last night’s wash. So if you want to keep your cooking mess manageable while you work, it’s important—not to mention hygienic—to begin with a clean kitchen. A great dishwasher can be your best kitchen assistant if you have it unloaded and ready to be filled while you cook.
Use a Bowl to Collect Counter Clutter
It’s helpful to keep the first bowl, pan, or cutting board you’ve dirtied out on your countertop to collect clutter while you cook. This means anything that’s going to go into the trash, such as empty packages, wrappers, cans, and peels, can be thrown into the bowl, so when it’s time to begin cleanup, it can all be thrown away in one easy move. If you have recyclables, keep your bins handy in a corner of the kitchen while you work so you can easily toss things in.
It’s also a good idea to keep a bowl of warm, soapy water in your sink with a clean sponge or dishcloth inside so you can easily grab it to wipe up any liquid spills, or drifts of flour, sugar, salt, and spices that end up on your countertop.
Load as You Go
Probably the most important clean-while-you-cook tip is to have your dishwasher unloaded and open, so every dish and utensil you use can be placed directly inside when you are finished with it, rather than letting them pile up in the sink and become a big job you have to tackle when you’re through.
It’s also important to put away each package, container or canister as you go. Don’t leave them on the countertop to pile up into a mess to tackle afterward. Return each item to the cabinet, pantry, refrigerator, etc. while you work.
When measuring out ingredients with measuring cups and spoons, you can save countertop messes by measuring over the kitchen sink. Then, any spills can be quickly rinsed away.
Pay While You Saute
Another simple, but effective way to keep your kitchen clean while you cook, is to perform minor cleaning tasks between cooking steps. For example, if you have to wait for meat to brown in a pan before adding vegetables, it’s the perfect time to grab the sponge or dishcloth you have soaking in warm soapy water and wipe down the surfaces you’ve used. You can also scour any pans that need a scrub before placing them into the dishwasher.
In fact, if you are involved in a multi-step cooking project, it’s actually a great time to tackle other kitchen tasks you’ve been putting off. While it’s probably not the best time to mop the floor, it is a good time to do the small chores you’ve been putting off, like cleaning the microwave, scrubbing the sink, watering plants, or giving your kitchen window a quick clean with your window cleaner so you can enjoy a splatter-free view of your backyard.
It’s so much easier to tackle each small task as you go than to face a mountain of dirty dishes and countertops after you eat, as opposed to when you just want to rest and recuperate from all your hard work.
Increase Your Screen Time
If you haven’t discovered the blessing of a good splatter screen for cooking, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. A splatter screen is an inexpensive kitchen tool that is invaluable in limiting stovetop mess. Splatter screens come in the same standard size options of your frying pans and can be placed on top during cooking. The mesh screen allows your food to breathe, and steam to be released but catches splattering grease and food to keep it from landing on your stovetop and surrounding areas. Then it can simply be placed into the dishwasher along with your pots and pans.
Following these simple clean-as-you-go tips will make your entire meal-cooking project and cleanup a much more time-manageable and less intimidating chore.
And it’s so much easier to enjoy your home-cooked meal without a pile of dirty dishes and greasy stovetop waiting for you to finish!