How to Clean Up and Organize Your Act in the Kitchen

Whether you’re cooking for one or a whole group, the key to a simple, quick, and successful kitchen experience is to keep organized. Find out how with our 7 useful cooking tips below.

  • By Jess Dang
  • July 24, 2017

Do you find yourself constantly running to the fridge or pantry for ingredients while making a meal? Does your kitchen look like it was hit by a natural disaster after each meal?

Well, I’m gonna share a few tips to help you clean up your act in the kitchen so that you can get dinner on the table a bit faster every night.

1. Run Your Home Kitchen Like a Restaurant Kitchen

Restaurants pump out hundreds of meals a night in kitchens that are barely bigger than yours. How do they do this? They set up functional work stations, and you can borrow the same assembly line approach.

Clear out any dirty dishes in your sink, so you have a washing station. Next to the washing station, have your prep station where all the chopping gets done. Your stovetop and oven clearly are your “make” stations where all the food gets made / cooked. If this happens to be near your prep station, then great. If that set-up doesn’t work, that’s where the next tip comes in.

2. Use Prep Bowls

When I used to go to my clients’ homes to teach them how to cook, I noticed that a lot of them didn’t have prep bowls, which is why I always traveled with mine when I go visit them. At home I have my Pyrex bowls, but those would have been pretty heavy to lug around, so I purchased two sets of these collapsible prep bowls from Amazon. They are awesome. Collapse them for storage or dishwashing and they almost disappear. Pop them open for usage (and slap the lid on if you’re prepping well before a meal and need to refrigerate ingredients).

Everything from your prep station should go into prep bowls, so that everything is in its place (the chef term is “mise en place”) and easily moved to your make station(s). That way even if your prep and make stations aren’t near one another, you have an organized way of getting all your ingredients over there.

3. Gather Everything You Need Before You Start

Rather than running back and forth, “shop” your freezer, fridge, and pantry for everything you need before you start meal making. Also pull out all the tools (e.g., cutting board, knives, pots, pans) you’ll need or at least make sure they are within arms reach of where they’ll be needed, which brings me to tip #4.

4. Re-Organize Your Kitchen to Optimize Your Stations

Business people love to stick the word “optimize” in anything they’re saying, so forgive me. In the context of kitchen organization, all it means is to make sure everything you’ll need for that particular station is within arms reach.

At my prep station, I have a drawer of prep bowls right at my feet, so I can easily get to one if I didn’t set out enough. At my make station, I have a drawer of all the tools I need (e.g., tongs, spatulas, wooden spoons) to the right of my range. I also have all my main seasonings sitting either on the range or in the closest cupboard, so I can easily grab what I need to make sure that dish tastes just right.

5. Find Ways to Use Fewer Dishes

There are some people that love doing dishes. I’m not one of them. I also hate seeing a packed dish rack. As a result, I am always looking for ways to minimize on dishes.

For instance, if you’re just roasting vegetables, transfer them right from your cutting board to a parchment paper / foil lined baking sheet (and according to tip #4 – optimizing your stations – you’d have that baking sheet right next to you so you can easily move ingredients from cutting board right to the baking sheet). Season them right on the baking sheet and save yourself a few additional prep bowls to wash (and if you’re careful, the parchment paper / foil will keep the baking sheet clean as well).

Before you grab another bowl, pot, or spoon, ask yourself, “Can I reuse something that is already out (maybe with a quick rinse) or repurpose one of the bags / boxes that my groceries came in for this?”

6. Have a Trash Bowl / Bag at Your Prep Station

Place a large prep bowl, a paper bag, a plastic grocery bag, or your compost container at your prep station. All food trash can go right into it so you’re not running back and forth between your trash can and your prep station. You will be shocked how much time this saves.

7. Clean Up as You Go

There are always a few minutes here and there during the cooking process when you’re waiting for the pot to heat up or the onions to soften. Use these spare minutes to make your kitchen sane again. Return what you can to their homes, deposit dishes or utensils in the sink or dishwasher. I guarantee your clean-up will go a lot faster.

See the Tips in Action!

In the video below I put a lot of the above tips in action while I’m improv-ing a pasta dish made with fresh pasta, asparagus, and summer squash. Enjoy!


Kitchen Improv: Fresh Pasta with Asparagus & Summer Squash

Learn how to improvise a quick and easy dinner with fresh ingredients in a kitchen organized for efficient cooking.

For more ways to prep efficiently, you can check out our library of veggie prep videos, so you can learn how to prep each veggie (or fruit) for a smooth-sailing kitchen experience. Watch the videos in the Produce Prep Guide here.

I started Cook Smarts so I can help you cook smarter and simpler in the kitchen, so if there are any cooking challenges you face, let me know in the comments. I will show you how to tackle them, so you can cook with confidence and ease!

Note: This blog post was originally published in April 2012 and has been updated with new and helpful resources.

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