Making Holiday Dinner Cleanup A Breeze

The holiday season is known for being a festive time. There are cocktail parties, fun gatherings and, of course, holiday meals with friends and family. For the most part, these events are sources of joy. However, if you’re the one hosting a holiday meal or get-together, the cleanup associated with parties and dinners can cause quite the headache.

You’ve cooked up a storm, and your kitchen aftermath is proof with dishes piled and garbage overflowing. Instead of playing games or getting cozy on the couch to watch a holiday movie, you get to clean up after cooking. What you need is a recipe for a clean, functional holiday kitchen that works with you, not against you.

Using the following tips will help you clean quickly and painlessly after holiday meals.

Clean as you go.

Tidying up after a holiday meal should actually start while you’re still cooking. When dinner is over and you’re trying to determine how to wash dishes fast, you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to clean pots or pans you’ve finished with while rolls and sauces are baking or simmering. Other ways to get ahead of the housekeeping game include:

  1. Wiping up spills and prep surfaces immediately
  2. Lining baking trays with foil or parchment paper so they don’t require as much effort to wash
  3. Preparing breads, casseroles and pies in dishes that come with lids so that you can cover them up rather than transferring them to a new container

Plan the menu with cleanup in mind.

When planning your holiday menu, think twice about elaborate recipes that require a laundry list of ingredients and numerous types of cookware. To cut down on cleanup from the start, opt for simple fare that you can throw together on a single sheet pan or in one pot. Or consider asking guests to bring a side dish or dessert. You’ll streamline food preparations as well as dish duty.

Prep smart.

Making a plan for holiday meal cleanup can be a lifesaver when you’re trying to quickly take care of housekeeping chores so you can spend more quality time with friends and relatives. Here are some ideas to help make tidying up more efficient:

  1. Put a wicker basket for used table linens or placemats near the dining room table
  2. Have plenty of clean plasticware (with matching lids) set out and ready to go
  3. Make sure your fridge and freezer are cleared out for leftover storage
  4. Set out extra waste baskets and recycle bins so guests have plenty of options and don’t leave cans or wadded up paper towels lying about
  5. Have a surplus of disinfecting wipes and surface cleaners handy for wiping spills and washing countertops.

Use disposable dishes and utensils.

Trade fancy china and hand-wash-only pans for disposable versions you can toss when you’re done. This makes cleaning up a breeze and no worries about broken china or drying dishes for days. For an eco-friendlier alternative, look for plastic-free options made from biodegradable or compostable materials such as this plant-based dinnerware set made from fallen palm leaves.

Use a tablecloth.

To really make the cleanup of crumbs and spills a breeze, use a tablecloth. Not only will it make your table look a little more formal for the holiday, but it allows you to fold up the mess then immediately throw it in the washer. For extra-crumby messes, simply shake out in the yard before washing.

Clear the table like restaurant servers do.

Take a cue from restaurants for a more efficient way to clear the table. Purchase a bus tub ($17, Amazon) or use a large, sturdy tray with tall sides to safely gather stacks of plates, utensils, and other tableware in one go. This trick saves trips back and forth from the table to the kitchen and keeps your sink clear until you’re ready to start washing up.

Dealing with dishes.

If you don’t go the disposable dishes route, you need to start washing your dishes. If you have a dishwasher, fill it up as much as possible and then wait to run the load until you finish handwashing the rest.

When it comes to using your dishwasher vs. hand washing the dishes from your holiday meal, there are some factors you want to consider:

  1. Some nicer and more decorative plates should be washed by hand as they could get chipped if they’re knocked around in the dishwasher. The same goes for cleaning wine glasses, crystal stemware and your fancy cocktail tumblers.
  2. Larger casserole dishes and roasting pans could probably do with a good soaking before they’re loaded into the dishwasher.
  3. Rinse all dishes and stack them neatly in the sink while they’re waiting on their turn in the dishwasher. This will save you time later as you won’t have to scrape off hardened bits of turkey or pecan pie.
  4. Reduce the time spent cleaning up by washing some dishes by hand while the dishwasher runs its cycle.
  5. Ask a relative to help out by hand drying the dishes and putting them away while you wash, so you don’t have to put the chore off due to a full dish-drying rack.

Enlist help.

Holiday hosting (and cleanup) doesn’t have to be a one-person show. Enlist guests or family members to help with tasks leading up to and during the event. For example, assign a helper or two to start washing dishes while you cook. Delegate tasks ahead of time so everyone knows what they’re responsible for when the festivities begin.

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