Can you imagine how cookbooks would change if recipes had to include clean-up and dish-washing time in their estimates of cooking time? Even quick recipes still leave a pile of dishes and a messy counter – and that work rarely gets acknowledged by the people who breezily write books full of 30-minute meals assuring you that it’s faster than takeout and anyone can do it. If those 30-minute meals included all the extra labor necessary to actually put a home-cooked meal on the table, they’d probably be 1-hour meals at least.
Cooking at home is worth that effort. But it’s important to acknowledge the reality that the burden of cooking isn’t just the cooking, and all that extra work is unpleasant and time-consuming.
Unfortunately, the clean-up work is also important. A clean kitchen isn’t just a hygiene issue; it can also nudge you to make healthier choices. This study found that spending time in a chaotic and cluttered kitchen prompted subjects to eat more cookies, while subjects who got to spend time in a clean and quiet kitchen ate fewer cookies.
So in the spirit of having more pleasant places to cook and eat, here are 5 tips for Paleo cooks who want to stay tidy without spending all day on it.
1. Organizing and Decluttering, in 200 Words.
Kitchen clutter makes everything harder to clean up because you have to clean around it every time you’re in the room. There are plenty of books that spend 300 pages on decluttering, but here’s a basic method:
- Pick one drawer and take everything out of it. Put all the things in a box on the countertop.
- For the next week (or two), take things out of the box as you need them. Once something is out of the box, put it back in the drawer where it originally was.
- At the end of the week, donate anything left in the box to the thrift store.
Repeat for the rest of your drawers and cabinets.
For the things you do need…
- Invest in the right organizers. Spices are easier to find in a spice rack. Pot lids are easier to find in one of those racks made specifically for them.
- Replace any semi-broken things or things you bought but hate using. Only useful things belong in your kitchen.
Don’t buy organizers to organize stuff you don’t need. Only buy organizers after you’ve decluttered and gotten rid of stuff you don’t need.
2. Master Cleanup-light Paleo Cooking
Once the organization/decluttering step is done, it’s time to work on cleanup-light cooking techniques. One-pan meals save cleaning time because they cut down on the amount of bulky, grimy pots and pans you have to deal with.
The grill is another great choice for cooking without a bunch of stuff to wash afterwards.
Some Paleo suggestions:
- Spicy Indian Chicken Stir-Fry
- Chicken with Balsamic Pears
- Sausage with Grilled Vegetables
- Fried eggs with any other stir-fried vegetables in the same pan
3. Make Breakfast as Easy as Cereal
One of the reasons why Paleo kitchen clean-up feels so daunting is that you have to do it for breakfast, too. No more just grabbing a bowl of cereal. Now you have to haul out the pans and utensils and dish soap and…
…wait, no. You don’t. Paleo breakfasts can be as light on dishes as a bowl of cereal.
- Cook breakfast in bulk ahead of time (here’s a big list of recipes to make ahead for breakfast on the go)
- Make more food than you need at dinner, and save the leftovers for breakfast.
- Find a low-labor breakfast you like, e.g. a can of fish with some homemade mayo. If it comes to that, splurge on pre-hard-boiled eggs from the store: you’ll still be getting more value for money than you would from a box of cereal.
PS. You can also use bulk cooking for other meals, not just breakfast!
4. Make a Schedule
If you’re looking at a cluttered and filthy kitchen, it can seem totally overwhelming. So make a cleaning schedule to spread out bigger tasks (maybe 1 per week) so you never have to spend a whole afternoon in the kitchen at a time.
Make a schedule of tasks you need to do weekly or monthly and stick it on the fridge (a whiteboard is good because you can just tick things off and then erase them the next week/month and start again). This is also a great way to organize what kids will help out with. If they’re old enough to use a knife at the table, they’re old enough to give you a hand with the cleaning, even if it’s just wiping the table.
5. Set a Time Limit
All the way back in 1963, Betty Friedan could see that housework had a way of expanding to fill a homemaker’s available time. Even inventing more and more supposedly labor-saving devices didn’t actually help save anyone’s time – either new “needs” showed up to fill the gap (suddenly people started “needing” to vacuum their floors every day) or the old chores started taking longer and longer.
Cut that off in its tracks by setting a time limit to your kitchen chores. Try…
- Giving yourself 20 minutes to clean up and wash the dishes after dinner.
- Setting a time when everything has to be done (e.g. all housework is done by 8pm sharp).
- Making a playlist and cleaning only until the playlist is done (or listening to a podcast, or watching 1 episode of a TV show, or whatever).
Using a time limit forces you to be more efficient, so the chores don’t take over your whole life just because the time is there.