5 Tips For Easy Home Cleanup After Big Holiday Meals

The big holiday meal was everything you hoped it would be. The food was delicious and plentiful. Nothing burned. Everyone tried the new side dishes and loved them. Nothing was spilled on the new tablecloth. The kids didn't bicker, and the adults steered the conversation away from politics. It was pretty nearly perfect.

But now you have to clean it all up. The worst part of the holiday meal seems to be the time when stomachs are full and so is the kitchen sink (with dirty dishes), the stovetop (with pots and pans), and every countertop (with cutting boards and spoons and empty cans and paper towels). Every year you swear you're going to find an easier way to clean up after the big holiday meal.

Like your mother probably told you, Merry Maids says to clean as you go, and they are right, but there is so much more that can be done to make cleanup easier when the big holiday meal is done. In addition, Merry Maids adds other tips, from lining baking pans with parchment to making sure the refrigerator and freezer have plenty of space ahead of time for any prep storage and leftovers. Read on for more ways to glide through the holiday dinner cleanup this time.

1. Prepare things ahead of time

Set yourself up for a successful and easy post-holiday dinner cleanup by preparing some simple things ahead of time. Practically Perfect Meg recommends a few key steps to make sure that the cleaning process after big dinners is easy as pie. The author suggests ensuring taking advantage of crockpot liners and turkey bags but also recommends lining countertops with waxed paper, which eliminates some of the work. The inexpensive paper can be lifted up and tossed in the garbage.

She also advises that the garbage cans be placed in convenient spots near where you will be cooking and prepping. It's easier to follow mom's old adage of "clean as you go" when the garbage can is within arm's length. In addition, Practically Perfect Meg recommends having an empty dishwasher at the start of the day. Keeping the kitchen clean is easier when you know there is room in the dishwasher to toss pots and pans.

2. Foil again (and again and again)

Throwaway foil pans come in all sizes and many sport holiday designs for a festive touch. The big roasting pans easily hold a 20-pound turkey, a spiral-sliced ham, or grandma's famous double-dipped fried chicken. WtopNews talked to a burn surgeon, however, who recommended placing the foil pan inside a sturdy casserole to avoid any potential disaster that could lead to accidents, spills, and injuries. In addition, the outer pan will still stay clean, thus minimizing cleanup, while the foil pan can be thrown away, mess and all.

Aluminum foil helpers at half the size are ideal for side dishes. For example, you may have mashed 50 gazillion pounds of potatoes in your biggest pot on the stove, but all you need to do to keep those almost-not-lumpy mashed spuds hot throughout the meal is get a serving rack, spoon them into a foil pan, set it over another foil pan with a little water in it, and light up a can of Sterno gel fuel. The water in the foil pan below keeps everything evenly warm.

3. Let the guests take remaining goodies

It's a pretty sure bet that your sister Kathy's homemade apple cranberry pie will be nothing but crumbs after dinner, and Auntie Donna's incomparable chestnut stuffing will be all but gone. Still, nonetheless, you're bound to have a lot of leftovers with any big holiday meal. Deal with the excess food by thinking ahead and purchasing some inexpensive plastic containers, says Eat Well 101. They will be convenient for your guests, allowing you to send some of the remaining holiday goodies home with them.

Having guests spoon their favorites into a container they take with them is a bit of a sneaky way to have them help you clean up counters and tables brimming with leftover food. Still, if everyone is filling their containers with yams and green beans, it won't take long to put it all away. Look for rectangular holders with flat tops so that any food that remains with you stacks easily into your refrigerator or freezer.

4. Have a spray bottle with cleaning solution at hand

Wiping off the table, countertops, and even the sticky high chair (and every surface the toddler touched once she got "down!") will go a long way toward making it feel like the holiday dinner cleanup is nearly complete. The quickest way to accomplish this goal is to have a spray bottle at your fingertips. However, instead of a store-bought cleaning solution, you could take a page from Clean Mama's book and try her kitchen cleaner. She combines 3 tablespoons rubbing alcohol, 2 cups water, 1/4 teaspoon soap (she uses castile soap), and 1 drop each of three essential oils (in her case, cinnamon, lemon, and clove for a holiday aroma).

You can use paper towels with the spray solution, which would work fine, but a microfiber cloth is preferred since it's less likely to scratch surfaces. Then, when the counters and table are all cleaned up, you, your family, and your guests will be all ready for a relaxing evening of cheering on sports, watching movies, or playing board games — any additional cleanup might just have to wait until the next day while you mop the floor with your rivals!

5. Let it soak!

There is no rule that says the dishes have to be washed immediately after dinner is over. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to put a couple of big dishpans (buy the industrial size to make it even easier) of very hot soapy water on your countertop and place anything not headed for the dishwasher into these containers. Wirecutter notes that you can invest in a really good scrubbing brush (the right tools — brushes, scrubbers, detergents, soaking gels — can make all the difference) to make it a little easier.

If you are the type of person who can't rest unless the dishes are washed, enlist helpers. The work always goes faster with one person washing and another drying. Or if you're letting your dishes air-dry, one person washes while the other rinses. And if you're like my family, it's all accompanied by a soundtrack of copious singing in harmony, sometimes on key, but rarely with all the right lyrics!