How to clean up after Thanksgiving dinner
Washing dishes, the flip side of Thanksgiving cooking, can be just as satisfying as preparing the feast. There is certainty of the outcome, the calm that comes with cleanliness and a final end to all holiday chores.
To make it less stressful, it’s important to first realize that stubborn grease stains aren’t the only difficult part of the cleaning process. Navigating housekeeping standards, feelings of exhaustion, and guests wanting to help — or not — can also be difficult.
KC Davis, a licensed therapist in Houston and author of How to Maintain a House When You’re Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing, prioritizes managing expectations and communication at Thanksgiving. Following practical kitchen tips and tricks will make cleaning up—before, during, and after a meal—easy to do and emotional.
Examine and set expectations for yourself
There’s a lot of pot scrubbing that comes with making dozens of dishes from scratch. If you love to cook, by all means, make whatever you want, knowing that the more you prepare, the more you have to wash.
But if you’re throwing an elaborate feast just because you think it’s expected of you or “normal,” Ms. Davis encourages challenging that idea and seeing what range you can and want to handle. It’s okay to not clean at all. This applies to everyone, but especially to people with disabilities. Cleaning up shouldn’t come “at the expense of your body,” Ms. Davis said, and using paper plates, foil utensils and other disposable serving utensils and cookware can be an important tool for maintaining physical and mental health, even if it upends expectations.
Communicate early and often with guests
“We have to end the era of women cooking and cleaning while men watch football,” Ms Davis said. Anyone who can can should help unless you really want to do everything yourself. (In this case, you have no right to file a complaint about this.)
When sharing planning details such as arrival times with guests, let them know that everyone will help and ask them what they would like to do. “It is important to determine beforehand how everyone will participate,” Ms. Davis said. Once people arrive, give clear instructions on where and when you need them.
Clean early and often
For Ms. Davis, too much chaos takes over. “I’m freezing,” she said. “It’s easier for me to focus and figure things out if I clean as I go.” This applies to anyone cooking. An integral part of restaurant culinary training is teaching chefs to clean and wipe down their stations frequently. Not only is this clean, it also helps chefs focus and work faster and smarter.
This applies to Thanksgiving as well. Keeping up with washing dishes helps the cook stay clear-headed and efficient. In fact, it’s not faster to let everything accumulate in the sink. Every time the sink is about half full, clean it, then continue cooking. To keep your tables tidy, set up a trash receptacle next to a cutting board or a trash can right next to where you stand.
Preparing as much as possible ahead of time greatly reduces cleanup on holiday day. Store prepped ingredients in disposable paper or plastic containers and refrigerate prepared dishes such as cranberry sauce or casseroles in their serving utensils if possible.
Find a good, clean cooking rhythm
Stopping mid-chopping to scrub the blender can cause you to lose your place in the recipe, or worse, your happy cooking zone. Don’t try to multitask and quickly wash the colander between peeling potatoes. It’s easier to break it out to wash dishes at specific stopping points, like when a turkey goes in the oven or salad dressing goes into the fridge.
Spending time mindlessly washing those dishes also gives you a chance to take a deep breath and calmly think about what you should do next. By the time you dry your hands, you’ll feel refreshed for the next steps.
Reduce traffic in the kitchen
Remember those great helpers you hired to wash the dishes? You don’t want them all in the kitchen at the same time. You also don’t want one person rinsing salad greens while another person is washing raw turkey juice off their hands.
Tell your guests that you will let them know when they need to join the event. This will ensure that there are not too many cooks – or dishwashers – in the kitchen.
Maximize clearing before eating
Try to clean all cooking utensils and put them away before the meal. This may seem daunting, but it is possible with a team of assistants working in rotating shifts. Feel free to load the dishwasher and run it at this point – or any other.
Prepare cleaning systems after the holiday
Take a cue from caterers and private chefs who are replicating the efficiency of restaurant dishwashing in home kitchens by creating systems. Instead of randomly washing, drying or loading anything nearby, clean according to the type of dish in stages.
Start by placing the food scraps and scraping up all the scraps from the dishes. Fill an empty casserole dish or serving bowl with hot, soapy water and place all the utensils in there. Next, group or arrange dirty plates, bowls, and cups by type. If space is tight, bring items into the kitchen by category.
Load the dishwasher by dish type, then hand wash in groups as well. Set up an assembly line from soaping and scrubbing to rinsing and drying. Stack or align all dried, clean utensils on the counter if there is room. Finally, put everything aside and enjoy the satisfaction of getting it all done.