I love to cook and bake, but I would love it more if someone cleaned my kitchen afterwards. I have a habit of leaving piles of dirty dishes in my sink for a few days, hoping leprechauns or a fairy godmother will whisk them away while I sleep. It hasn’t happened yet, but I still have my fingers crossed. In the meantime, I’m learning to use fewer dishes while instilling a system of emptying/filling the dishwasher more frequently. As an added incentive, did you know dirty dishes can cause debt?
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Rinse, Dry, and Put Away
Some dishes don’t need the whole treatment of soap and hot water. If you’ve used a measuring cup or spoon to scoop a dry or nonhazardous ingredient (like oats, spices, etc.), just rinse it off after using.
One Cup per Day
My husband used to go through 3 or 4 drinking glasses every day. Reduce the amount of cups you wash by having family members reuse their cups. To distinguish the cups, use a different type for each person or use these color-coded bands (or just use different colors of rubber bands).
Depending on the food, plates and bowls can be reused during the day, too. Have a designated spot for each person’s dish so they can grab it for breakfast and lunch (and maybe even dinner or dessert). If a designated spot doesn’t work, try using a different type of plate for each person or write their initials on the bottom with a Sharpie marker.
If your family takes nonperishable goods like crackers or granola on-the-go, reuse the container for a few days before washing. This can mean plastic or glass containers, plastic sandwich bags, or reusable cloth bags. Depending on the food (like sliced fruit or PB&J sandwiches), the container can also be rinsed with hot water and used the next day instead of being thoroughly washed.
Pack Leftovers with Care
When it’s time to put away leftovers, pack them in ready-to-use containers. Separate the food into individual portions and place in containers that can be stored, reheated, and eaten from. My favorites are glass Pyrex storage bowls. They can go straight from the freezer to the microwave at work for an easy lunch.
Plan for Multiple Uses at One Time
If you’re going to get out the food processor or other appliance to make a meal, look ahead to your meals for the next couple of days. Is there something else that can be prepped? Then you’ll only have to wash the appliance once for the week instead of two or more times.
If you scrape the sides well, many tools and appliances (blender, food processor, mixing bowls, etc.) don’t even have to be rinsed in between your multiple uses. A tiny bit won’t be enough to change the flavor of whatever you’re making next. The exceptions are strong flavors like cayenne or other spices. Also, be mindful of prepping foods after an appliance has held raw meat — do the meat last.
Look Out for One-Pot Meals
If your cookbook is full of recipes that require a dozen bowls and pots, it may be time to revamp your meals. One-pot recipes can be just as tasty without so much mess. Look for one-pan skillet meals, soups and stews, slow-cooker meals, and casseroles. I’m a big fan of this Southwestern Spaghetti Squash, though I often add leftover chicken. It uses a skillet, along with the empty squash shell.
Prep and Freeze Common Ingredients
Many recipes require a pan just to saute garlic and onions or to brown ground beef. Do large batches and freeze in meal-size portions. Ice cube trays are great for freezing small amounts of garlic and onions, and one cube is approximately 2 tablespoons. Just pop them into a bag or freezer-safe container once frozen.
Only Set Out Necessary Cutlery
This may seem like a “no, duh” tip, but I’ve been to plenty of dinners where everyone gets a fork, spoon, and knife whether they’re all needed or not. What tools are actually needed for the meal? Is there soup or something else for the spoon? If there aren’t large chunks of meat to cut, it’s okay to skip the knives or put only one or two in the middle of the table for whoever wants them. And you can put one knife with the butter (or other condiment) instead of giving everyone their own butter knife.
Share a Plate
If you and your spouse share well, you can use just one plate between you. It can make for a more intimate meal since you have to sit closer together. The smaller portions of snacks are also conducive to shared plates for the adults or kids, like the monkey platters of finger foods.
I’d rather say “protect the Earth!” than encourage disposables, but I can’t lie and say I never use them. Paper plates, plastic cutlery, foil-lined pans, and crock-pot liners can be sanity-savers when you feel there isn’t time to wash dishes. Paper or cloth napkins are also useful in place of plates for dry meals like sandwiches.
Own Fewer Dishes
I collect kitchen supplies so this one is hard for me, but it works. The more dishes and small appliances you own, the more you’ll use. The fewer you own, the more you’ll learn to reuse and make do with what you have. When you own just a few, they also can’t pile as high in the sink so it becomes less intimidating to wash them. And you’re forced to wash them because you run out of clean dishes faster.
Cook and Serve from the Same Pan
Unless you need to make it look super nice for a dinner party, you can serve food straight from the pan it was cooked in.
Reuse Your Tasting Spoon
When preparing a new meal, it’s common to taste-test throughout the cooking process. Instead of getting a clean spoon every time, refill your tasting spoon with the spoon you’ve been stirring the mixture with.
Buy Divided Plates for Picky Eaters
Some people need a plate for part of their meal, a bowl for the soupy stuff (think creamed corn), and a smaller bowl for sauces or gravies. Nothing can touch. Buy divided plates for these people, so you’ll only have one dish to wash. They come in plastic or porcelain.
Buy a Scale
Instead of dirtying multiple measuring cups, buy a food scale and weigh your ingredients. Need a cup of milk or other liquid? Weigh out 8 oz on your food scale. Keep a chart in the kitchen with common measurements and their weights.
What are your tricks for using fewer dishes when cooking? How else do you save time in the kitchen?