Put Things Away as You Make a Meal

Put Things Away as You Make a Meal
Photo: elenaleonova, Getty Images

Cooking a meal for yourself or your family is often its own reward; there’s nothing better than putting all your skill, love and care into a dish that you then get to eat, and watch others enjoy. But there’s a dark side to meal prep: It invariably makes a huge mess. That’s why, if you don’t want to be left with the detritus of the food assembly process littering your counters as you eat, taunting you with the annoying task to come, you should do your best to clean up as you go.

We’ve recommended cleaning while you cook before, and Skillet Editor Claire Lower has made a pretty convincing case for why the person doing the cooking should also do the dishes, but my advice is a little different. Because in contrast to the artificially spotless kitchens of TV chefs making elaborate meals, I can’t even make a quick lunch without generating a huge mess.

I made simple sandwiches for lunch yesterday and managed to assemble more crap than easily fits on our counters (so I also used part of the stove): three condiment bottles, a bag of greens, jars of pickles and yellow peppers and their scattered lids, packages of cheese and veggie deli slices, a cutting board running over with tomato guts. Before I sat down to eat with the kids, I spent a few minutes putting everything away, and it occurred to me that it would’ve been a lot less hassle (and hastened my sandwich consumption) if I’d just put everything away as soon as I was done using it.

Spread the mayo and mustard, then pop both back into the fridge. Add the lettuce; back into the crisper it goes. Add the pickles and peppers, and put the lids back on before you lose them. Close the bread, rinse the cutting board, toss out the ends of the tomato. If you never make the mess, it feels a lot less like cleaning up a mess. Plus, then you can start right in on the dishes. Hooray.