Great Holiday Cooking and Entertaining Requires a Little Organization
Every year, as memories of Halloween fade away, families turn to new joys with the arrival of Thanksgiving and Christmas. While these holidays might look a little different for many this year, with fewer guests or Zoom call dinners, there are still steps that need to be taken to make sure that holiday dining is as stress-free as possible.
While the kitchen is definitely the heart of most any home, an organized kitchen is the first step to ensuring that stress levels stay low, counters remain clutter-free and the ‘chef’ can work their magic!
Ask any professional chef and they’ll tell you that a huge part of their success is by maintaining a clean, organized, and well-stocked kitchen.
START AS YOU MEAN TO FINISH
If you want a successful and well organized holiday season, start with the basics. That means cleaning your kitchen from top to bottom, inside and out.
- Start with cupboards and shelves. Pull out everything you have in them, clean the areas, and dispose of anything that is past its prime. That includes chipped plates and glassware, spices that are older than you are, and even cleaning supplies that aren’t useful anymore.
- This is also a good time to inventory what you’re going to need. From tablecloths to platters, ingredients to stemware, you want to make sure everything you will need is in good order and clean.
- Wipe down all appliances, shelves, counters, cupboards, and their doors. The heart of your house will need to pass inspection! Grime can build up, particularly in areas of the home that get a lot of steam like the kitchen, so make sure you give a top to bottom wipe down of every single surface. Don’t forget the big appliances and their shelves, like the fridge and stove.
- Put like with like to get some real method into the organizing. First off, decide what small appliances and other items can be put away for the season, freeing up much needed counter space.
- Before returning all the other items that you pulled out to clean back onto their shelves, take the time to reorganize and sort everything so that you can find them again, quickly and easily. For example, all your plastic food storage containers should be reorganized to go together. There’s nothing more frustrating than putting leftovers into a Tupperware and then you can’t locate a lid for it!
OVERHAULING YOUR REFRIGERATOR AND FREEZER SPACES
After you’ve cleaned your fridge and freezer, you need to make sure you only keep what’s actually good and find ways to make all of your stored items easy to find. Make sure you throw away anything that is past its due date, or is growing fuzz, and start with a clean slate.
- Plastic bins. Organizing items like sodas, yogurts, snacks, and condiments is simple: get some plastic bins from the dollar store and put like with like, in each one. This also allows you to stack items that aren’t used all the time so that they are organized but still easy to spot, freeing up space for other items.
- Even with clear bins, you need to use food labels. Labeling all of your storage containers makes it clear where to find everything from ‘kid snacks’ to ‘cheese and charcuterie. A really good option is chalkboard stickers: you can label and date your containers and if you change up what that particular bin is used for, just wipe and re-write!
FIX UP THE PANTRY
Whatever your pantry looks like, whether it is a walk-in or simply a large cabinet, your pantry is your essential storage space and holiday dinner starting point. A professional chef will also tell you that before you start cooking a recipe, you need to do a ‘mise en place’, where all your ingredients are set out in the correct proportions, ready for use. The same logic applies to your pantry. You don’t want to be digging through old jars and bags, looking for the one thing you need when you’re in the middle of a recipe. You can also prevent those last-minute runs to the store for something forgotten if you spend a little time reorganizing your pantry.
- Like your other shelves and cupboards, pull everything out, discard what is long past its due date or cannot be identified thanks to a lost label and go through your menu plan for the meals to ensure that you have absolutely everything you need ‘in stock.’ Now is also a good time to group items together that logically go together. Example? Flour, baking soda, baking powder, and yeast. If you use baskets or boxes to keep all of these ‘related’ ingredients together, you can just pull it out when you need them, in one easy movement.
- If you’ve got items that could get messy if tipped over, consider clear plastic storage bins. You can see what’s inside, but what’s inside also stays protected. Bags of flour, sugar, and so on, which tend to be bigger, can be placed in these and stored closer to the bottom of your pantry. That way if they do get knocked, they likely won’t spill everywhere. A proper bin with a lid will also help to minimize the risk of any bugs getting into your dry goods.
- Leverage the unused back of the door for smaller items. Shoe organizers are a great way to keep small items at hand and out of the way, at the same time. The little pockets are ideal for storing spices, flavorings, condiments, seasoning packets, and anything else that needs a small space. It’s an expensive solution to keep your vanilla extract safe and easy to reach!
CLEANING UP MATTERS TOO
With all the cooking and prepping comes dishes and cleaning. One way that you can speed up the process is by setting yourself up with a portable cleaning system that’s easy to retrieve from the pantry or cupboard, and has everything you’ll need in one place:
- Get a shower caddy, which is marketed often to people who have to share facilities. It’s a plastic container with different compartments and a handle. You can fill up each section with what you’ll need to clean up quickly and easily.
- Get all the products you will want to use. Like what? All-purpose kitchen cleaner, bleach, dish soap, pan degreaser, drain cleaner, and white vinegar and baking soda. You don’t have to fit them all in the caddy: just the ones you’ll use often. The rest should be stored out of reach of pets and kids. Child locks are essential, even if you don’t have kids, but your family does. The house can be chaotic when you have visitors and you don’t want a little one getting their hands on toxic cleaning solutions when no one is looking.
- In addition to products and solutions, you’ll need sponges, trash bags, Magic Erasers, and J-cloths. A mini dustpan and sweeper is a great addition, as are specialty products for your glass top stove or granite countertops.
PEOPLE HYGIENE MATTERS TOO
While you might be having fewer guests this year than in past holiday seasons, it’s still a good idea to be equipped so that people can wash their hands without wondering where to go.
- Use a tray to create a ‘hygiene station’ that can be placed within easy reach of the front door. Include sanitizer and tissues, as well as a waste receptacle.
- Create hygiene care packages. Thanks to the magic of package marketing, you can find small bottles of sanitizer, wipes, as well as tissues, all in festive-themed colors and motifs. Make little packages using a festive party favor bag, and invite each guest to take one.
- Invest in some glass markers. This isn’t a literal marker, but rather a way for guests to be able to identify their glass or stemware, should they happen to put it down momentarily. Lovely stickers, charms or even colored rubber bands can do the trick!
- Remember that not everyone can tolerate scent, so while a festive cranberry scented soap in the guest bathroom might be your favorite, having an unscented antibacterial soap out and available gives your guests some options.
Leave the holiday dinner stresses behind by being ready and organized, able to fly through your recipes, and still have time to sit and chat. A little organization can go a long way to help you to save time and money too, so what are you waiting for?
Marty Basher is an organization specialist with Modular Closets. Marty regularly contributes on topics of home design, organization, improvement, and more, helping homeowners get the most out of the spaces in their home. Modular Closets are high-quality and easy-to-design closet systems made in the USA you can order, assemble, and install yourself, in no time at all. Using closet modules (closet pieces you can mix & match to design your own modular closet), homeowners everywhere are empowered to achieve a true custom closet look- for nearly 40% less than standard custom closets.