Clean as you go: managing the meal-prep mess
Day One of cooking school introduced me to “clean as you go“: the practice of combining cooking and cleaning to help free up valuable work space, eliminate visual mess, and make for manageable post-cooking clean-up.
Since then, I have rigorously embraced the clean as you go motto for all cooking and baking, ensuring that I clean up after every task, no matter how minuscule, before moving on — thus eliminating the bomb-struck kitchen after dinner. This was a valuable lesson to learn, and one every home manager should embrace.
Although the extra effort of cleaning as you go may first seem like a drag, over time it becomes habit. And isn’t any habit that creates a more peaceful and tidy environment a good one?
My husband and I are in the process of selling our home, which means the place needs to be spic and span at all times. Apparently, 7 p.m. is prime time for scoping out real estate, and the heart of my home needs to sparkle. You can imagine the challenge this presents, as I have two little boys who need dinner regardless of visitors’ schedules; however by cleaning as I go, I can keep the kitchen in check and make sure everyone gets fed.
The motto is somewhat self-explanatory, but here are tips you to immerse yourself in the exercise of clean as you go while you prepare family meals.
Start With a Clean Kitchen
It’s hard to be motivated to cook when the work place is already chaotic; you will always feel like you are playing catch up. Whether you need to empty the dishwasher, sweep the floor, or put away the groceries, take the time to tidy your kitchen before you begin cooking.
Photo by scalespeeder
Be Ready for Waste
A place for everything, and everything in its place: yes, this even applies to kitchen trash. Do loose papers and fliers tend to build up at the end of the counter? Are there cans and bottles under the sink?
By allotting a proper space for various kitchen waste categories—compost, recycling, and garbage—you facilitate a quick and easy clean-up. If your kitchen set-up allows, keep these bins close to your main work area to encourage immediate sorting and disposal..
Set up your Workspace for C.A.Y.G.
• Place a “garbage bowl” or container for food scraps and peelings on your main workspace.
• If you have a double sink, run one side half full of hot soapy water for hand washing and dish rinsing, leaving the other free for washing vegetables or draining pastas.
• Keep a broom and dustpan handy for flour or sugar spills on the floor.
• Have a few clean dry towels on hand for countertop spills and drying dishes.
Restaurant tip: Place a jar of warm water on the counter and stash several soup spoons inside. Use them for sampling sauce sand various foods during the cooking time. This eliminates sticky spots on the counter where a spoon has been set down and also cuts back on dirty dishes created as spoons can be reused.
• Wash your workspace. Frequently wipe counters during food preparation and tackle spills, leaks, and other messy issues as soon as they occur.
• Eliminate waste. Work on a tray when peeling or preparing vegetables and fruit. This keeps counters clean and makes for quick disposal into the compost or garbage. Don’t peel directly into the garbage, as you’re liable to drop the fruit in and waste valuable time searching for it. Rinse cans and jars after emptying, and place in the assigned recycling bin right away.
• Attack the dishes. Once you’ve finished with a dish, rinse it and place it in the dishwasher. Hand-wash bulky items that are to large for the dishwasher and place them back in their allotted spots. If you really don’t have time for hand washing, at least soak food-caked items in warm, soapy water.
• Keep order. Close packaging and return ingredients immediately to their storage space as soon as you’ve finished them. I keep my baking ingredients directly above my Kitchen-Aid and main workspace. This way, no time is wasted crossing the kitchen to retrieve or replace items, and items don’t linger long on the counter. Retire appliances back to their hideaways directly after using them — and don’t forget to give them a wipe-down first.
Remember, leave the kitchen the way you would like to find it, and you’ll always know it’s ready when you are.
I often hear people say “I love to cook, but I hate the clean-up,” and I understand completely. A huge drawback to cooking is the mess created during the process. Remember, the holidays are coming up. It is important to use C.A.Y.G. for those family holiday dinners, as the kitchen mess can quickly become overwhelming during an an elaborate menu’s execution.
Use these tips to keep cooking a relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Would you cook more often or more elaborately if clean-up wasn’t an issue? What are your quick tips for taking the fallout from “kitchen bombs”?
Get our weekly email called
5 Quick Things,
where we share new stuff from the blog and podcast—that way you’ll never miss a thing. Tsh also shares other goodness from around the web... It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.
(You’ll also get her quick list of her 10 favorite essays and podcast episodes from around here, helping you wade through a decade of content.)