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‘Clean as You Go’ Can Making Cooking a Breeze

Teaching your child to keep things neat as they cook is a powerful lesson.

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Dirty bowls, grease spatters, sticky utensils—behind every delicious meal, there’s always a mess. When you’re making food from scratch, it comes with the territory. But there’s no fun in facing a sink piled sky-high with dirty dishes after a great meal, which is why it’s smart to learn to clean as you go. All cooking schools teach this to students, and it’s not just because of the after-dinner cleanup dread—keeping surfaces clean also means a more hygienic cooking experience. It’s the kind of thing that becomes second nature once you adopt it, so it’s a valuable skill to pass on to your child.

Have a counter rag at the ready. “Always wipe as you go—including the cutting board, counter, and knives,” shares Britt Galloway of Portland’s vegetarian cafés Harlow and Prasad. “Use hot water-soaked rags, which cut through everything!” Challenge kids to wipe up spills as soon as they happen to make it a habit.

Don’t let food dry on bowls, pots, and pans. Rinse those dishes as soon as you’re done with them! You don’t need to fully wash them while you cook, but keeping any stuck-on food from hardening will make the final cleanup a breeze. Fill your sink with warm, soapy water and slip in pans as soon as you’re through with them.

Double up your cutting board. Place a flexible cutting board on top of your regular cutting board to help make transferring food to pots and mixing bowls easier—and prevent too much of it from landing on the floor.

Use downtime to get ahead on the cleanup. Look at your recipes for moments of inactive time, set a timer so you don’t have to watch the clock, and use that time to do a quick tidy up of the mess you’ve made so far.

Embrace the mess, but don’t spread it. Getting all necessary ingredients and tools out of drawers, cabinets, and pantries before you begin means you’ll be less likely to get handles and shelves dirty.

Use trash bowls. “I always have a bowl near my cutting board for all of my food scraps,” offers Sarah Curtis-Fawley of Portland’s Pacific Pie Co. We like to make the most of our trimmings by using a freezer-size storage bag to capture any veggie scraps that would make good vegetable stock. Keep the collection in the freezer until the bag fills up, then simmer the scraps in water to make a tasty soup starter.

Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!