Tips to Minimize Dish Cleaning During the Holidays

Hosting a holiday gathering for friends and family can be really fun, but it also poses a tremendous challenge. The opportunity to provide guests with good food, a warm home, and refreshing spirits for one evening will make the holiday season even more special.

A woman wearing dish washing gloves and an apron contemplates doing the dishes.

Before setting a date for a holiday gathering, one must consider the heavy workload required to put the whole evening together.

Aside from expenses, one of the greatest overlooked aspects of throwing a party is the work required before, during, and afterwards.

So much time and effort goes into shopping for ingredients and cleaning the home.

Once the house is clean, the food is cooked, and the candles are lit, the work is done, right?

Wrong. There is still the great responsibility of having to clean the dishes.

Holiday meals tend to generate numerous dishes that will leave the host toiling for hours in the kitchen, long after the guests have left and gone home to sleep. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

After putting forth all that hard work and expense, the host reaps the rewards of wrinkled dishpan hands and tired feet.

The good news is there are a few tips to minimize dish loads for your next holiday gathering.

Disposable Dishes

Maybe not the greenest of advice, but one way to rid yourself of having to spend hours cleaning dishes will be to use paper or plastic plates and silverware.

Many people refrain from doing this because they may want to maintain a holiday theme using their favorite Christmas or Hanukkah patterned dishware. Another reason people may not use disposable items is because they don’t want to appear cheap, plain and simple.

The good news is that much of the dishware found in stores today will include fancy patterned themes printed on the cups and plates, especially during the winter season. Just be sure to leave the carbon footprint light by buying from eco-friendly manufacturers, and using those items that can be recycled again, after the party is over.

Use Fewer Cooking Dishes

Another way to use reduce dish washing time is to cook with fewer pots and pans. Serving multiple side dishes can be the main culprit that leads a mountain of cookware to clean.

Decrease the variety of offerings at your party, or consider cooking a greater quantity of those items that you are sure everyone favors instead.

Another acceptable measure to minimize cleaning cookware is to outsource some of your meal items. It doesn’t hurt to allow a few guests to bring side dishes, appetizers, or desserts, especially if they offer (and if they’ll be bringing their own dish back home afterwards).

Disposable Cookware

Cleaning plates and cups is much easier than tackling the heavy duty items, like pots and pans. Most plates require just a simple rinse before being placed in the dishwasher. But there are many types of cookware that are not dishwasher safe, and require a lot of manual soaking and scrubbing.

Be sure to keep the cookware cleaning to a minimum by opting for disposable pans such as aluminum roasting pans. These are great for preparing turkeys, roasts, lasagna, and even side dishes. And they will double as excellent storage containers once the party is over.

These are just a few simple steps to lighten your dish load. In addition to these tips, consider accepting help from those that volunteer with cleaning up. A little can go a long way, cutting kitchen time in half and becoming a great venue to catch up on some good conversation.

What’s your favorite trick for speeding up the holiday cleanup? Let us know in the comments!

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About Lynne Jaques

Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!

43 thoughts on “Tips to Minimize Dish Cleaning During the Holidays”

  1. Boy oh boy, i wish i had these amazing tips way back when my mom{an extrovert} would have droves of visitors in our home and the dish-washing responsibility solely lay on my shoulders…. nearly back…don’t get me wrong am all for visitors…a mini me says…NOT! {am an introvert}, i remember slaving hours on end in the kitchen, just when am about done, mom would pop in with a ‘am sorry baby’ face but ‘you have extra dishes to wash’ and back to the sink i ‘d go…glad to know about these tips, when am hosting a few friends not droves :).

    • Omg! Are you me? I mean, people in my extended family actually call me the dish girl. I’m the one always soaked head to toe, slaving away over a steamy sink, doing *all* the dishes! How does this happen to us?! Are we born with a sign on our foreheads that everyone else but us can see? Seriously. No matter if it’s my house, or my mom’s house, or great aunt Bessie’s house- I’m the gal doing the dishes!

      Hugs, dish sister. hugs. 😉

  2. I will admit I tend to use a lot of disposable foil pans around big cooking holidays. I don’t feel so great about it, but I’m getting old! Dishes absolutely *kill* my back.

    The best tip I have when it comes to cleaning up big holiday dinners is: switch to a potluck! We’ve started doing this and not only does it really cut expenses down for the host- everyone gets to bring their own signature dishes and take their dishes back with them!

    The first few times we did it, we had complainers that it wasn’t the traditional family holiday get together, but everyone seems pretty happy with it now.

    Another bonus is the host actually gets to mingle with the family instead of slaving away in the kitchen 🙂

  3. My mom and I biggest problem during celebrations since we do not have someone at home to do the dish washing. My mom has a wide collection beautiful plates and dishware, and tend to use them during special occasions only. After the party, I would expect a huge load left in the kitchen. On my baby shower next month, I will start using disposable plates, cups and pans. I want to get out of this conventional way and my mom would surely want this to. I guess she would understand me if by this time, her beautiful set would be in put on display for a while!

  4. I admit to using foil trays for roasts, roast potatoes, and roasted vegetables too. I’ve even done the odd lasagne or shepherd’s pie in one of them. I used to get the odd disapproving look from my mother-in-law, but she has come to realize that it’s crazy to make so much work for yourself when you can cut the odd corner or two.

    I think your idea of paper plates and plastic cutlery is a great idea for some gatherings. Last year I laid on a baby shower for my friend; I had 22 people to cater for, and even though it was just a buffet, I didn’t want to be left with a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards – especially as I put the party on to begin with. I was able to get some really pretty vintage design paper plates, napkins, cups, and little sweet dishes , online. There was even a matching cardboard cupcake stand! Everything looked beautiful, and it went down very well. The best thing was no clearing up! This gets the thumbs up from me.

  5. I try to stay away from disposable dishes and cookware because of the environment. I know using water to clean dishes is also a problem but I’d rather go that route. My usual route is to make sure wine is readily available. Once everyone has had a few drinks they love to chip in and clean up and wash dishes 🙂 I accept the help.

  6. With Thanksgiving less than a month away, I’m already planning for this – dish cleaning. That’s the one thing about big holidays: lots of guests = lots of food = lots of dishes. I have managed to decrease the amount over the years by outsourcing to my cousins and aunts. I have a big family. So, when everyone contributes a dish, it definitely helps.

  7. I finally convinced my mom one year that we didn’t have to use the fancy dishes for Thanksgiving. She resisted, because “it’s tradition!”, but my argument was that we were there to spend time with her, not do chores. She caved, and we spent the time we would have been washing dishes playing Wii bowling, and she was glad we did.

  8. This is going to be me next week! Along with the stress of buying the food, preparing the food, cleaning the house, making arrangements for family members that are coming to stay a few days, the tired feet and legs, and don’t forget the backache from standing all day, the holidays are worth it all. I decided last year that I would buy some of those fancy disposable plates and cups and they worked out great. I also learned to wash the pans as I am cooking and then place the food in disposable pans and dishes when they are done cooking. This makes clean up time a lot faster.

  9. I plan on using as many aluminum pans as possible when preparing Thanksgiving dinner! They are recyclable and it will cut down on the hassle of having to clean extra baking dishes, etc. I also plan to buy some smaller ones with lids for guests to take leftovers in.

    • The festive season is supposed to be fun but when dish washing is included, it becomes a boring season. I think using recyclable kitchenware is the best idea.

  10. These are great tips! One thing I try to do to make cleanup easier is clean up and wash dishes along the way as I cook. Sometimes I have a free moment while something is cooking to wash mixing bowls, appetizer dishes, or anything else not in use. Even if I am busy cooking, I can enlist the help of one of my family to help get a jump start on dishes.

  11. My mother would never let us use disposable dishes during the Holidays because she thought it was “tacky” and “ruined the Spirit.” We used disposable dishes this Thanksgiving though! I picked out the prettiest paper plates I could find (I was thankful that there are actually quite a few beautiful designs if you take the time the look) and I presented them to my mother with the word, “pretty please? Just once?” She ended up liking them more than her favorite china and she went back to the party store where I purchased them and bought 20+ more packages of them for upcoming Holidays!

  12. We own a huge roast pan now that always fits our turkey. Before that though we used an aluminum roasting pan and it worked great and was disposable so we didn’t have to keep it. My mom always host a huge meal, I try and help her but some years my aunt steps up to the plate and does the supper dishes which is mighty nice of her. On my boyfriends side they do use paper plates for their meal for the reason of “I am not cleaning that” Which works to. I prefer a nice table setting so I am not sure if I could go with paper plates.

  13. Lynn, I can relate to you being a military wife and mom, yes mom, too. My husband is a retired LTC and my oldest son was in the 82 Airborne. So time is of the essence when it comes to housework, I still have two younger ones at home. And I’m their PTO president at their school, yeah, I have plenty of time on my hands! NOT! But I do try to keep paper plates in the house because dishes do tend to accumulate extremely fast in our house.

  14. I’m not a mom nor do I have kids around but (and so maybe I’m just dreaming in colors) I feel like I would try to exploit my kids (or other people’s kids!) on this one. Sort of a, “Hey, you can open your gifts tomorrow morning… OR! Or, if you wash a few dishes for mommy, you get to pick one gift to open right now! Yay!”

    As for me, well, I am not a big fan of disposable plates (the green factor, mostly) and I think that if plates get a good warm soapy soak, they basically clean themselves! It’s just a question of having enough space to soak ’em all.

  15. This article is really great because it focuses on the part of entertaining I always forget about until it’s staring me in the face- the monster pile of dishes and cookware that makes you want to cry late at night once everyone has left.

    I think these tips are really great, especially the bit about using disposable cookware- that never would have occurred to me, but is something you can do even on occasions that are too ‘formal’ for you to use disposable plates and cups and utensils.

    Something else I always do is accept any offer anyone makes to help. I think too often hosts get caught up in wanting their guests to be comfortable and decline offers of help they should and could really accept. I usually get at least one person helping me with dishes this way.

  16. The best advice I was ever given was to wash as you go. Get smaller items washed periodically and start pans off soaking as soon as you ca. Otherwise, you do end up with a massive mountain which always looks impossible to tackle. If you have too much cooking to do to be able to do this then get your partner or kids in to help you out. I do like crayonelles bribery tactics though!

  17. Cleaning the kitchen especially the dishes is why I don’t like holidays at my house. I mean it puts me in a foul mood just thinking about it. Paper plates, and plastic forks anyone? I know that sounds terrible of me. It’s just how I feel. I do however get through it so these tips will come in handy for when I have company over for dinner.

  18. Fortunately for me, my holidays do not get very many dishes. Most people bring a dish or two and once it is empty they’ll either wash it themselves or just carry it back home to be washed later. I guess I’m blessed.

  19. Well, after completely wearing myself out over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, I fully intend to cut corners for Easter. I often use foil pans, but after cooking with them, I also use them for sending home leftovers with family. I don’t feel too bad, since I get at least two uses out of them.

    I’ve threatened to use disposable plates more than once. My husband really doesn’t like that idea for dinner. He does help me clean up, somewhat, but I still end up doing the majority of it. We’ve compromised, and I do use paper plates for desserts.

    One tip I’ll throw out there, is to try to wash up pans, mixing bowls, utensils, etc. as you go. That way, there’s less to to do at the end. It at least breaks it up some and keeps the final pile a bit more manageable.

  20. Here’s my tip: Oh, hello, you want to eat tonight? Great, I’ve made some fantastic dishes but I’m going to have to let you in on a secret. If you want any food that I have made to go into your mouth you’re going to have to clean some dishes. Oh, what? You’re just a guest, you say? Well you’re not a guest if you see me cooking all day & then accept that I am now cleaning. You are not MY guest.

    • Joan, you go girl! This is basically my new attitude as well. I just can’t do it all, by myself, any more. And, I shouldn’t have to. This Thanksgiving, I delegated after dinner. Since my husband and I did nearly all the cleaning, shopping, prep, and cooking, I started handing out chores afterward.

      “You get to clear the table.” You get to wash the plates and cups. You get to wash the pans and bowls. Yep, all of you enjoyed the feast, now you get to help clean it all up!

      This was actually part of the tips, getting help from family… I was just a bit more “stern” about it, ha ha.

  21. The dishes and pots and pans sure can get out of hand when cooking and serving holiday meals. These are some good tips for keeping them under control. I also sometimes will use china and silverware for adults, while serving the children on thick disposable plates and plastic flatware and cups. That often cuts down on the dishes considerably, and you don’t have to worry about the kids breaking the good china or glasses. If you’re not a stickler for the old fashioned way of doing things, many stores and restaurants also offer holiday meals, where you can purchase the entire meal pre-cooked, or just the meat or side dishes. This works especially well if you’re short on time or cooking space.

  22. Great tips! Another useful strategy is to transform your gatherings into potluck parties. This way you can save time and reduce your workload in preparing the food. One way to make this interesting is to assign a main ingredient to each guest and let them surprise you with their unique recipes. With this strategy, you are eliminating duplication of dishes and you and your guests will be able to learn from each other by exchanging recipes and cooking tips.

  23. Great tips, next time, I’ll be sure to try using disposable dishes when we have parties during the holidays. Another extremely useful tip is to multi-task. Clean as you cook. You’ll be surprised at how much of clutter you can minimize by actually doing both cooking and cleaning at the same time.

    It’s also a good idea to buy a dish rack. That way, you can easily wash and put away the dishes easily.

    • Clean as you go is the #1 best way.
      I like to use disposables at family bbq’s, but it just doesn’t feel right for the holidays.
      I also recruit some family members who are not great at cooking just to help cleanup as I or my wife cook away.

  24. We usually go to other people’s houses for the holidays and everyone brings a dish or two. This way, nobody is stuck cooking all day, or cleaning up mounds of dishes all night. The disposable tips definitely don’t fly with me. We don’t do any disposable dishes, and only have reusable cloth napkins. I even feel a bit bad about using the odd paper towel here and there, for my painting projects. A tip that would be better, for the more environmentally conscious, which I believe someone else mentioned as well, would be to clean as you go. Prep all your ingredients first, then while something is cooking, you’ll have a bit of down time to clean a few dishes, instead of prepping for the next dish. This works even better with multiple people in the kitchen, as someone can be prepping/cooking while another is in charge of keeping the dishes cleaned and dried. Another good bit of advice would be to prep some dishes before hand that you can just throw in the oven the day of. This way, the few things that can’t be made, or heavily prepped, in advance will have clean cookware and utensils ready, and much less dish cleaning in between cooking/after dinner. The bulk of the dishes will now be at the end, with whatever dish ware, drink ware, and utensils guests used. This has an easy fix: throw them in the dish washer. Make sure it’s empty the day of, so you can pile it full of the dinner dishes and then just run it, and be done. If there are some dishes left still, rinse them off/soak them and leave them for the next morning so you can spend time with your guests. Minimizing dish cleaning does’t have to involve wasteful and expensive disposables.

  25. This is some great practical advice. In spite of the fact that we have a dishwasher, trying to keep the kitchen clean during Holiday cooking is a nightmare. Sometimes I run it all day! One of the ideas I like is using disposables. I think that’s much “greener” than using so much electricity and hot water.

  26. Oh my god Lynne Jaques,thanks so much for these great tips. It’s really the cleaning part of the night that turns the Thanksgiving Holiday into the Thanksgiving Nightmare. I’m definitely going to enjoy a Thanksgiving with less dishes and cleaning, and a little after party with my girlfriends in the kitchen. Thanks again!

  27. Well there are certainly some useful ideas here, but for me and my family this has actually never been a problem. I think I must be exceptionally lucky! We all cook together and enjoy the camaraderie of doing so, then, when the meal is over, we all tend to gravitate to the kitchen and fill the dishwasher and wash up the fragile things and the pans together – with the exception of the outdoorsy types, who go out and fetch wood and empty ash from the fire and so on. I guess it may be because we donut see each other very often, but there’s always something to talk about, recipes to share and plans to make for the next meal.

  28. Thank you so much for these amazing holiday tips. I am most certainly trying all of them. Hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time with my guests and less time stuck cleaning in the kitchen this time around. Hey I’m interested in making an apple pie to for dessert this Christmas, by any chance could you share a good apple pie recipe with us? Thanks!

  29. Disposables are the way to go in the holiday season. Disposable dishes may not seem cool but there are some really classy looking ones available nowadays. If not for the soft feel, the family wouldn’t even know.

  30. I honestly think that disposables should only be a last resort. The convenience comes at such a great cost to the environment, and I urge others to avoid them if possible.

    Personally I follow an approach where I wash whatever I use once I’m finished using it, so there’s never a large pile of dishes and utensils waiting to be cleaned.

  31. I love the idea of using disposable dishes (especially holiday themed ones – those are so cute!), but I’m also worried about environment… At the same time, me not using those during X-mas won’t stop them from being produced.
    Till now I’ve always washed everything just after it got dirty, but it sort of ruined the mood.

  32. Oh my gosh, I despise doing dishes. More than any other chore… there is nothing grosser to me than looking in a sink full of dirty dishwater and seeing all the food gubbins and having to put my hand in it. Call me high maintenance, but I will wash all your laundry if you do my dishes. =) Although I normally would not go for disposables, holidays might be one of those times when I should go ahead and go for it… it’s a time for indulgence, right? Although, I agree, recyclable and compostable disposables are ideal. I also like the idea of asking guests to bring some dishes. I think that’s a great way for everyone to be sharing the responsibility. It’s crazy to me to have one person slaving away in the kitchen, unable to be a part of the party, when we could all bear some of the load! More fun for the host, for sure.

  33. This article is a Godsend, every year my mom basically hosts thanksgiving at our house and she makes like 30 dishes no joke. Then all my cousins and aunts, and uncles(I have like a million of them) show up and eat 2-3 plates of food. Then afterwards she gives my younger siblings all the easy chores like collecting the dishes and gives me the hardest one(yes, I wash all the dishes). I need to show her this article and suggest maybe she start using disposable plates. That or she could at least split the dish duty in half. It’s about to be Christmas and I’m already getting cold chills thinking about the mountain of dishes I’ll have to clean.

  34. This couldn’t have come at a better time. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ll be using paper plates simply because I don’t have enough plates for everyone coming! Same thing with a roasting pan; that will be disposable too though I might try and wash it to save it. This will be the fest Christmas we host both our families who’ve only met once, so I could definitely use these tips. Going to be awkward enough!

  35. Thanks for the tips! Our family tends to use disposable utensils but then again, thinking about it, it’s not really environment-friendly, is it? Well, using a lot of water to wash a lot of utensils wouldn’t be good for the environment, too… Nevermind -_- I guess this Christmas we’ll still use disposable utensils anyway since it’s pretty hard to clean the dishes on Christmas Eve (when it’s already time to sleep, hehe).

  36. I can definitely confirm that using disposable dishes is the best way to go around on the holidays. Especially since there are some disposable dishes that are kind of fancy. It saves you a lot of time when it’s time to clean up. I also think that is cheaper to do this, because kids end up breaking one or two glasses/dishes over the holidays anyway

  37. We are hosting a dinner party next week and some of these tips might be helpful. Cooking a bigger amount of one or two dishes is a good idea and I love the idea of everyone bringing something to eat, it not only saves you on dishes to wash, it also saves a lot of money.

  38. I remember as a child I always had dish washing duty after Christmas along with my sister and it was so much work. So believe me when I say disposable plates and cups are my best friends, they really are. They spare me time, water and money. It’s become such a habit of me to throw my plate right in the trash bin after eating that I have to remind myself not to do that when I go out to eat at a friend’s home. Spoons and forks aren’t that big of a deal to me but I might replace those as well, eventually. Great article!

  39. Well this is certainly some good info and some things that I can use to make my job a little easier, which is always welcomed news of course. Disposable dishes are nice but of course I feel the guilt of the money wasted and the fact that it is just going to the dump, but there are recyclable options out there. The one thing I have found to be good are the aluminum foil baking dishes, because they clean really well and you can reuse them probably a good thirty times before tossing them. Good stuff though, and thanks for sharing.

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