Organize Thanksgiving Dinner Clean-Up

Organize Thanksgiving Dinner Clean-Up – Putting out a big Thanksgiving spread creates something for which to be thankful.  It also creates a giant mess in the kitchen and a ton of dishes.  There are a few tricks for organizing a big meal that help with clean up time.  Some of them you do before the meal and some after – so don’t wait to devour this after the pie!


Plan for Leftovers:

You know you will have leftovers so plan on it before hand by thinking about what you want to do with them.  Add baggies, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and/or containers to your Thanksgiving shopping list.

Tidy up your fridge and freezer.  Where are you going to put things?  Take the time to use up other leftovers and clean out the fridge and freezer.

Sharing leftovers with guests?  If they brought a dish, give it a wash and use it to send home their leftovers.  Or, purchase some disposable type plastic tubs with lids from the grocery that you can send home leftovers in and then not ever worry about getting them back.

Keeping some leftovers?  If possible, save the original container.  For example, if you put out a serving bowl of spicy mustard or cranberry sauce, save the jar in the fridge.  Return the remaining contents to the original container.  For prepared dishes, decide if you can eat the amount of leftovers within the next three days.  If yes, then store in the fridge. If not, store in the freezer.


Plan for a Mess:

Prep those dishes.  That means spraying every cooking pot, pan and baking sheet with cooking spray no matter if you think it will stick or not.  It cannot hurt!  Make use of easy-release aluminum foil.  Place it in the bottom of baking dishes so items lift out easy and you do not have to soak the pan for hours.

Run and empty the dishwasher before guests arrive.  Wipe down counters so you start with the cleanest area possible.

Take out the trash and recyclables.  Bring in an extra trash can. You will probably need more than one.  Lining them with several trash bags is also a good idea.


Before Serving Dinner:

Organize for Thanksgiving Clean-upTake a deep breath and use less than 5 minutes of time before announcing dinner is ready.

Make the kitchen ready for the clean-up.  You can share these chores with anyone standing around asking “what can I do?”

Toss any trash or containers you won’t reuse into the garbage.

Make a sink of hot, soapy water.  Drop in mixing bowls, utensils and the like as you finish with them.  They will be ready to load in the dishwasher when you are ready to do it.

Put away any leftover dip or appetizers you had out for snacking.

Place appetizer plates and serving pieces, cooking utensils, dirty glasses, cutting boards, dishes and bowls you are done with into the dishwasher.  Turn it on so it can run while you feast and then be ready to be reloaded.

Wipe off counters so there are now places to work following the meal.


Following the Feast – Handle Food First:

What creates such a mess is everyone brings their own dishes into the kitchen but there is not room for all of that at one time along with the food.  Instead, when the meal is over, ask everyone to leave their dishes behind and carry in one food item to the kitchen.

Put away all of the food, packaging leftovers and storing them properly.  Scrape pots, pans and serving bowls into the disposal or trash can and set them aside.

Once the food is stored away, you have room to tackle the dishes.  Those can now be carried into the kitchen.


Next – Tackle Dishes:

If your silverware basket comes out of the dishwasher and can be set on the counter, do so.  Have the silverware dropped directly in it.  If not, place a bowl there for silverware.

Have glassware set in one spot.

Have plates handed to you or someone at the sink.  Scrape salad, dinner and dessert plates into the sink and load into the dishwasher immediately, rather than stacking them on each other which dirties both sides of the plate with food debris.

Place the silverware basket or silverware into the dishwasher.  Load the glasses in the top.

If the dishwasher has any space, add odds and ends to it.  Turn it on.

If you have a table pad protecting the wood, or you table is liquid proof, you lightly pre-treat stains on the tablecloth while you can see them.  Once treated, bundle it up with the napkins and take it to the laundry room.

For the remaining pots, pans and dishes: Either rinse and stack next to the sink for a second dishwasher load or prepare to hand wash.  Before starting to hand wash, clean counters again and pull out clean towels.

Wash dishes from the cleanest to the dirtiest.  If you begin with something greasy, such as the gravy boat and then move to your drinking glasses, grease will end up on the dishes.  So begin with your glasses and cleanest items and end with your greasiest dishes, such as the roasting pan.

Sweep the floor.  Unless you want bits of pie tracked around the house, it is worth taking a minute to do this task.

Take out the trash.

Even if you opted to stack dishes for a second load, your dining room should be empty, your trash out, your floor swept, and your counters clean. It will be easy to put away that second load.


Put your feet up and relax!



Additional holiday organizing articles:

Christmas kitchen secrets of the organized
Suggestions to help you make holiday entertaining look easy.

Mise en Place – Begin Cooking with Mise en Place
A cooking time saver – and stress reliever – by lining up your cooking.

Paper or plastic for holiday organization?
Holidays mean more recipes and groceries!  Turn the kitchen chaos into calm.

Quick! Make your kitchen welcoming
Kitchens are a company magnet.  Make yours welcoming with these steps.

Storing Table Linens
Don’t wait for company.  Get your table linens finally organized.

Thanksgiving Organizer
Minimize turkey day stress with this checklist.  How to pace out your food chores.



Lea SchneiderAuthor Lea Schneider, a columnist for What’s Cooking America, is a freelance writer and organizational expert whose organizing ideas have been published in many magazines including Woman’s Day, Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath Ideas, Family Circle, Parents Magazine, as well as numerous newspapers and websites.  She is a member of the Association of Food Journalists.

Getting organized is all about living simpler and making things easier.  The bonus is it often leads to saving money.  Lea Schneider’s kitchen organizing columns tell you how to organize the many things that relate to kitchens, menus, meals, and special food events.

Check out all of Lea Schneider’s helpful home and kitchen columns at Organizing Kitchens, Pantries, Menus and Meals.


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