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Feeding the Growing Family: Cleanup


If you’re anything like me, then you could happily cook all day long without complaint. Three meals a day? No problem! Homemade everything? Sure! Dishes? Hmmm…

I know there are some families in which the cook does not become the dishwasher, but when you have four small children I’m not really sure how one works that scenario. So, all of our dishes are done by hand nowadays and mostly by me.

That used to grate on me a bit, and some days when I’m very behind I still cringe when I look at the piling dirty dishes. But now I’ve figured out what works for us in this stage of life. It’s not always pretty, and the dishes aren’t always done, but it’s working. Which is enough for this stage in life.

Here’s how we do it.

Little Helpers

My boys are nearly 6 and 8. At this age our oldest son certainly does do a share of the dishes. When I had a newborn a few months ago, I had him on dish duty several times per day. He was able to get the plates, silverware, and cups done, even if it wasn’t in a timely fashion.

Our younger boy loves washing dishes. It’s fun for him, but he’s also too young to get them done quickly. So, I let him wash them when I know I’m not going to be getting to them myself anytime soon. And they both do a great job.

My only complaint is that it takes them quite a long time. So, when we’re down to the wire, I wash most of the dishes myself, while letting them take over other chores that they are efficient at. They clear and wipe the table after every meal, sweep the floors, and take food out to our chickens or compost. I try to get them to rinse dishes as well, knowing that I might not get to them right away.

Guerrilla Dish Warfare

There was a time when I stood at the kitchen sink and enjoyed the simplicity of hand-washing dishes and the intentionality of those moments. Those days will come again, I’m sure, but for now I’ve got to get those things done before the next meal and before the latest fight/ouchy/fussy baby needs intervention.

So I attack them with gusto. I usually have one to two big dish washing sessions per day and during that time water and soap bubbles and plates fly everywhere. That’s the only way I can get through them quickly. I usually overfill the dish drainer twice with abundant plates, silverware, pots, and pans.

And while this isn’t a serene self-contemplative time for me, it usually only takes me 45 minutes and I can then move on to more exciting things in the kitchen, like cooking!

Not Burning Out

Cleanup seems to be the one realm in the kitchen where I can easily burnout. If I’m going to leave something undone it’s those dishes or cleaning off that pesky counter. When I sense this is coming on, I make a few low-dish meals.

This is where cast-iron comes in. My griddle pan and 12″ skillet are easily wiped clean after frying eggs, tortilla chips, crunchy bean tacos, or pancakes. Then all that’s left are the plates and forks.

Finally, I am not above implementing dish-saving strategies like reusing a mixing bowl when I’m baking multiple items, emptying a baking dish and re-filling with batter, using parchment paper on my baking sheets when I’m recipe testing for a project, and using one bowl for the masa dough and then salsa for taco night.

Those are my cleanup strategies. What are yours?

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