Establishing a kitchen routine

We have a saying in our home: “A meal isn’t finished until the kitchen is clean.”

Since all three members of our family typically eat three meals a day at home, keeping the kitchen clean is especially important. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have dishes to use the next day or any counter space to prepare our food.

We haven’t always been great at keeping the kitchen clean after a meal. Our first couple years of marriage my husband and I were downright awful with the chore. We weren’t dirty (food made it back into the refrigerator and dishes were rinsed), but we weren’t tidy. As a result, we ate out at restaurants a great deal.

Once we trained ourselves to clean up immediately after a meal, we started eating at home more often, and mealtime stress was reduced.

Not every family has the same needs, but this is how our family handles kitchen chores:

Breakfast

  • First adult to kitchen puts tea kettle on stove top to boil and unloads clean dishes from dishwasher.
  • Second adult to kitchen gets son booster seated and bibbed, makes son’s breakfast, and makes adults’ coffee.
  • Both adults make and eat their breakfasts while son continues to eat breakfast (our little man is a slow eater).
  • One adult loads breakfast dishes into the dishwasher and wipes down counters.
  • Other adult cleans son, table, son’s bib, wipes down son’s booster seat, and sweeps floor.

Lunch

  • One adult makes lunch for family and puts preparation materials in dishwasher as finishes with them (pots, pans, etc.).
  • Other adult gets son in booster seat and bibbed. Sets table.
  • Everyone eats.
  • Adult who set the table loads lunch dishes into the dishwasher and wipes down counters.
  • Other adult cleans son, table, son’s bib, wipes down son’s booster seat, and sweeps floor.

Dinner

  • One adult makes dinner for family (typically the adult who didn’t make lunch) and puts preparation materials in dishwasher as finishes with them (pots, pans, etc.).
  • Other adult gets son in booster seat and bibbed. Sets table.
  • Everyone eats.
  • Adult who set the table loads dinner dishes into the dishwasher, wipes down counters, and runs the dishwasher.
  • Other adult cleans son, table, son’s bib, wipes down son’s booster seat, and sweeps floor.

Because there are three of us eating three meals a day at home, we have to run the dishwasher every night. If you eat one meal a day at home, you and/or your family might not have to run the dishwasher as often.

If one of us needed a packed lunch every day, the lunch would be made at the same time dinner was being made. This responsibility could either belong to the person making the meal or it could belong to the person setting the table. If you have teenage children, they could easily make lunch while parents make dinner.

The idea is to get into a routine where everyone is participating in meal preparation and cleanup, and at the end of the meal the kitchen is ready for the next time someone wishes to cook.

What is your/your family’s kitchen routine? Are your responsibilities clearly defined so the process is efficient and helpful? If you don’t have a mealtime routine, could you/your family benefit from having one? Share your experience in the comments.

6 comments posted

  1. Posted by the other Tammy - 04/06/2011

    Do you find it hard to get your son to sit in the booster without fussing? Does he have to sit there very long?

    My six month old usually hangs out in his bouncy chair while I make dinner, but he’s usually fussing to get out when I’m only halfway done…

    I totally agree with you on this subject, I refuse to cook in a messy kitchen. If you clean up as you go, it doesn’t take that long.

  2. Posted by Erin Doland - 04/06/2011

    @other Tammy — My son is the slowest eater I have ever encountered. He believes meals should be at least an hour. So, we give him an appetizer (a piece of fruit or some whole grain cereal or a serving of one of the meal’s side dishes, etc.) and he eats on that while we’re making the meal. Once part of the meal is done cooking, we’ll get him started on it. By the time my husband and I sit down to eat, he’s a little more than halfway through his meal. Still, he’s always the last to finish. We can usually get most of the cleanup done before he’s ready to be wiped down. He’s a very social kid, and mealtime is when he really enjoys hanging out with us and telling us everything that is on his mind (which, for a 21 month old, seems to involve a lot of fake sneezing and the ceiling fan and our cat and his cousin).

    When our son was six months, I’d put him on my back in an Ergo carrier and sing to him while I cooked.

  3. Posted by Suzeqew - 04/06/2011

    I have a teen daughter who sets the table each night. Hubby and I take turns cooking (he cooks on the BBQ & I prepare sides to go with the BBQ. All three of us clear the table and clean the kitchen. We all have set tasks and no-one leaves till it is done. My teen wipes the table & sorts out the dishwasher. She helps wipe the benches. Hubby helps with the dishwasher and wipes the hand washed dishes. He empties bins and fills the water cooler. It tends to be a time when we chat about things, laugh and joke.

    Hubby and I work from home and have our routines about cleaning the kitchen after breakfast and lunch too. He’ll put things away and I’ll wipe. He empties the dishwasher each morning through the week and my teen does it on weekends.

    In my house routine is king! My hubby goes overboard on it a bit. We have always taught my daughter the value of introducing little routines (like making the bed as soon as you get dressed) because they make life easier in the long run. Things are done before you can even think about them.

  4. Posted by Kai - 04/07/2011

    Ahhh, you put your pots in the dishwasher! That explains how you fill it daily!

  5. Posted by Erin Doland - 04/07/2011

    @Kai — Sort of … nine meals at home a day (3 people x 3 meals) creates a dishwasher full of dishes. We usually wash out pots/pans from breakfast by hand because we need them for lunch, and then lunch ones by hand because we’ll need them for dinner. It’s pretty much just the pots/pans from dinner that go in the dishwasher. And, by that point, they’ve been washed by hand already twice that day.

    I purposefully bought All-Clad Stainless Steel pots and pans and enamel coated cast iron because they are dishwasher safe, though. I had to do dishes as a kid (no dishwasher) and vowed to own a dishwasher as an adult :)

  6. Posted by bobbie-sue - 04/08/2011

    The point where we get stuck is the pots and pans. I’ve gotten better at taking out the gladware and boxing leftovers while we’re serving our supper, but the pots and pans are still hot when we’re done eating, and I don’t want to warp them by washing them while they’re hot. The dishwasher is not an option because it’s not big enough for pots, and our pans shouldn’t go in. We definitely need to fix our routine for after supper.

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