Monday, December 14, 2009

3 Steps to Making the After-Dinner Clean-Up Quick and Easy

Making family dinner hour possible doesn't just involve quick and easy ways to get it ON the table, it also involves quick and easy ways to get it OFF the table (getting the table and kitchen cleaned up so you can carry on with the rest of your evening). Most likely, the family dinner isn't the last activity of the night--with laundry, homework, bath-time, story-time, etc. etc. begging for your attention (not to mention the need for a little time to yourself), it's a smart idea to have some habits in place that will make the post-dinner operation smooth sailing too.

Here are 3 things to do to make your after-dinner clean-up quick and easy:

1) During meal prep, clean as you cook. Keep the sink full of hot soapy water and wash the "big stuff" along the way. Then after dinner, there's less to fiddle with and your dishwasher will be easier for the kids to load. Remember, kids are good helpers if we make it easy for them to help.

2) Have some criteria for how the table is cleared: do you want everyone to clear their own places? (Even toddlers can carry their plates to the kitchen, if someone is by the counter for them to hand off to.) If you do want everyone to clear their own places, what then? Should they rinse and stack their plates, or rinse and put them in the dishwasher? There are a lot of ways to handle the table-clearing--thinking it through is the point.

3) Have some criteria for how the kitchen is cleaned. There are a lot of ways to handle the kitchen clean-up--again, thinking it through and making assignments is the point. You might divide the work this way:

  • Diners clearing their own settings
  • Rinsing and stacking
  • Loading the dishwasher
  • Taking care of leftovers
  • Putting placemats, etc. away; wiping the table
  • Wiping the stove top, counter tops
  • Sweeping the floor
You may have other things to add to the list, or you might combine some of these. The idea is to decide what needs doing and assign helpers to the various chores. Some moms use a dinner-time chore chart to keep everyone organized and on task. 

To make it fun, we had an under-cupboard radio/cassette player in the kitchen that we listened to while cleaning up. There's was a lot of "kitchen dancing" goin' on! Now I'm not saying there wasn't some moaning and groaning that went on ("How come I always have to rinse and stack?" etc. etc.), but by and large, we got the kitchen cleaned up in short order and generally speaking everyone came away from the experience fairly unscathed, and truly better for it. 

So, however you approach it, put an after-dinner routine in place--the clean-up will be a breeze and you can easily get on with the rest of your evening. Many hands really do make light work, and you'll not only be doing yourself a big favor, but your kids as well, if you let the hands in your family help you get dinner ON and Off. It's been said that home is the laboratory where children should learn and practice life skills. The more we have them do at home, the more confident and capable they'll be when it's time for them to leave the nest, so to speak.

In closing, what did you do, or what are you doing now to get your kitchen cleaned up after a meal? Please share--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible and the clean-up quick and easy!


  1. Thank you for posting this! I hear so much about getting dinner on the table but very little about how to deal with the chaos that is left after the meal while still dealing with little one's who need my attention and need to begin bedtime preparations. You gave me some great ideas. I am inspired to make a plan and enlist help for a new after-meal routine.

  2. Deedodawn, this comment made my month! I apologize for not seeing it sooner. And we agree with you--there's more to making dinner happen (in the real world) than just the cooking and eating. This blog is dedicated in part to sharing ideas and tips on how to make not just routines workable, but the kitchen more user-friendly so the entire family can help make dinner happen. We hope you're still reading and will continue to comment. Thanks so much!