two children making a mess in the kitchen with flour

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Tips for keeping your kitchen clean(ish) - even with kids!

Back to school often means back to routine after a long summer of “letting things be what they will be.” That laissez-faire attitude is a wonderful thing until the reality of making lunches, prepping dinner after a busy day and getting everyone out the door in one piece sets in again. Before the dishes pile up and you’re faced with kitchen chaos, we have a few tips to help keep you and your family sane as you transition from bare feet to winter boots.

Start by getting organized

mother and daughter putting sugar in a jar on the counter

Even though school starts at the same time every year, it somehow sneaks up fast and furiously those last two weeks of summer. Let’s be honest, most of us don’t get ourselves organized for the first day back until 8pm the night before. And that can mean disorderly mornings with a dash of frantic – and a kitchen that bears the brunt. Let’s start by figuring out how you can get your kitchen school-ready and then tackle how to keep it that way.

The folks at Good Housekeeping have some fantastic tips that we’ve added to help make your mornings better:

Start a snack station – They suggest clearing a low pantry shelf and stocking it with nut-free granola bars, dried fruit and other healthy snacks for kids to grab and stash in their lunches.

Stock up on staples – Try to grocery shop on the weekends and stock up on family favourites so you’re ready to whip up a quick meal during the week.

Keep all of your lunch packaging in one place – With zero waste and boomerang lunches more important than ever, you’ll need a place to stash your mason jars, reusable bags and bento boxes. Dedicate one drawer or cabinet for all of these essentials so you don’t waste time searching for them. We like these LunchBots (and this adorable Bento lunchbox for kids) but you can find environmentally-friendly containers just about anywhere.

Make lunch foods easy to access – Clear out a low fridge shelf and have cut veggies, washed fruit, cooked and sliced chicken, boiled eggs, yogurt, cheese sticks, bread and other family favourites ready to go. This takes a bit of weekend prep, but it goes a long way in keeping your kitchen clean, organized and chaos-free. Plus, it teaches your kids a bit of independence as they pack their own lunches filled with what they like best (and likely eat what they pack). Win, win!

Get clever with storage – Need a little extra space? Hook an under-shelf storage basket onto a shelf or counter and fill with things that need a place.

Write out a menu – Spend a few minutes on Sunday brainstorming with the kids about what lunches and dinners you’ll make that week and write out a menu on a chalkboard. This is not only fun, it gives your little ones a say in what they’ll eat (and again, may actually get them to eat it!)

Designate a lunchbox zone – Rule #1 when the kids get home from school? Take your lunch box out of your backpack and put it in a designated spot. Not in the closet. Not under the stool. But in one spot – and preferably emptied of its leftovers in the green bin.

Sunshine Momma also suggests keeping the counter free of clutter, covering food with a napkin before microwaving and washing dishes right after a meal. Though not always possible, even one of these small things will make a big difference.

We think you’ll also enjoy our post about kitchen organization that makes sense. Super helpful to keep everything in its place – and your wits about you.

Next up, a challenge

girl standing at sink with yellow rubber gloves rinsing a cleaning sponge

It’s one thing to keep your kitchen organized, and quite another to keep it clean. There’s nothing wrong with a little messiness – it happens to the best of us – but over time it can become unruly and definitely a little stressful. So, here’s a challenge to help you keep your kitchen clean – even with kids. Follow Sunshine Momma’s advice here, too and take on the two day Clean My Kitchen Challenge (we added a third day) to tackle it bit by bit. We’ll break it down for you here:

Day 1: Appliances

Refrigerator

1. Empty out EVERYTHING. Remove all food from the fridge so you can clean the inside. Go shelf by shelf and clean as you go to make things easier.  

2. Throw away any old or expired food. So long brie from your May dinner party!

3. Take out the shelving and clean the inside of the refrigerator and the shelves as well.

4. Repeat with the freezer.

5. Wipe down the outside of the fridge. 

Oven and stove

1. For the oven, use 1/2 cup of water and 1/4 cup of baking soda to make a paste.

2. Use a sponge to scrub the oven with the paste.

3. Rinse the paste with a clean rag or sponge and water.

4. If you have a gas stove, remove the grates and soak them in soapy water. Scrub them if the residue doesn’t come off with just soaking.

5. For a flat top stove, you can usually scrape food off with a butter knife and then wipe it down with a rag and cleaner.

Microwave

1. Combine 1/2 cup of vinegar and 1/2 cup of water and microwave it for about 2-3 minutes.

2. Immediately after the timer goes off, use a rag to wipe out the inside of the microwave and everything should come right off. Follow these step-by-step directions.

Dishwasher

1. Splash vinegar in the bottom of your dishwasher and run a light rinse or light wash cycle to disinfect.

Check out our Ditch and Switch: Tips for a toxin-free home post for other green cleaning ideas. 

Day 2: Surfaces

You made it through Day 1 no sweat, right? Now onto Day 2 and all the surfaces in your kitchen – you know, the places germs and bacteria like to hang out? Let’s get going!

With a few good eco-friendly all-purpose cleaners and some baking soda and water:

1. Clean and wipe down all of the canisters and knickknacks in the kitchen.

2. Wipe down the outsides of the cabinets where food might have splattered.

3. Wash out and scrub the sink until it shines. If you spread baking soda and water paste over the sink it will make it easier to get clean.

4. Dust the light in the kitchen and if there's a fan, clean that too.

5. Wash the windows and window sills in the kitchen.

6. Wipe down all small appliances like the toaster or coffee maker.

7. Lastly, clean the countertops. Do this at the end of the day after all the dust from the other areas you’ve cleaned has settled!

Day 3: Inside the cabinets and drawers

This one can be a bit more of a project and you might want to split this into cabinets one day, drawers the next. 

1. Pull all cans and dry goods out of the pantry and toss expired or stale cookies, crackers, chips etc. Planning to eat healthier this fall? Ditch the tempting treats, too.

2. Remove all plates and glasses from cabinets and place them on the counter while you clean.

3. Wipe shelves with an all-purpose cleaner. 

4. Wipe/wash inside and outside of cabinets doors. 

5. Line cabinets with drawer lining paper. You can go clear with this one from IKEA or find fun prints at places like Homesense. This is an especially good idea under condiments that drip or are sticky, like olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

6. Pull frying pans, pots, small appliances and cookie sheets out of drawers and get out the vacuum. If you have a handheld vacuum like a Dyson, this is a good time to use it. 

7. Line these drawers with drawer lining paper as well to avoid scuffs and rings and to keep things from sliding around when you open and close the drawers.

Now that everything is purged, clean and tidy, the trick is to try to stay on top of it so the next time around it’s easier to manage.

We love the tips shared in this video by Do It On A Dime on how to get the kids involved. After all, your home is a shared space and everyone should learn the importance of keeping it clean and tidy – no matter how young (or old) they are. And good habits, when they’re taught early, can last a lifetime.