5 Tips I Swear By for Using Fewer Dishes When I Cook

·4 min read

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

This might not shock you, but I love to cook (check out the things I wish I knew before cooking more at home for more on that). As an editor for a food brand and dietitian, sometimes I cook for work. A lot of the time I cook for fun, for myself, for my family and friends. And it all inevitably leads to one thing: dishes. It is important to add that my little apartment does not have a dishwasher so all these dishes get washed by hand.

That said, I still do and plan to continue to cook often (usually all three meals of the day). Luckily for you and I, I have found some simple, budget-friendly ways to cheat the system. A few easy tips and tricks can help you save on dishes. This means saving time and water if you have to do them by hand, like me. Here are five ways that I cut down on the dishes I use to cook.

Getty Images / Zak Kendal

Dial in Your Order of Events

Ever dirty a utensil or appliance only to realize you have to clean it off and use it again for the same dish? Same, and it's deeply frustrating every time. One way to cut down on dishes is by being strategic with the order that you prep and cook ingredients. For example, you can usually use the same cutting board for a whole recipe. Just make sure you cut things like vegetables first, then any dairy and save meat for last so you only have to wash the board once (you can give it a little rinse throughout if it needs, but you need to actually wash it if it's had raw meat or seafood). If you need to remove a cooked food (note: not raw meat) from a pot to rest it or prep something else, rest it on the plate you are going to use to eat. Sometimes you can even cook in the same dish that you intend to serve your food in—hello cast iron skillet recipes!

Be Strategic with Wet Ingredients

I make a lot of homemade marinades, salad dressings and sauces. They are usually more flavorful, healthier and more budget-friendly than their store bought counterparts. Sometimes this can lead to a little more cleanup than just opening a bottle or jar, but it doesn't always have to. To cut down on dishes, I will mix my salad dressings in the bowl I plan to toss and serve the salad in. Same goes for marinades: I usually mix them in the bowl or bag where I will add what I'm marinating to save myself from cleaning another bowl or pyrex.

This can work for baking, too. For wet ingredients, I will measure liquids first altogether in a large glass measuring cup (this might require a little culinary math, but you can do it). Then I will add the other wet ingredients like eggs, butter, vanilla extract, and more directly to the cup, instead of dirtying another bowl.

Double Down When You Can

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: you can use the same exact spoon to stir, fold in ingredients and serve. Just rinse it in between if you need to. Then, after you eat, that's only one spoon to clean! This goes beyond spoons, too. Having white wine or beer before switching to red wine? Rinse out the glass and reuse it. I implore you to try this when you have people over. There's nothing wrong with reusing glasses, plates, bowls or utensils over the course of a meal. Though this might not work in every scenario, doubling down when you can will seriously help you cut down on dishes.

Get a Kitchen Scale

A few kitchen tools I try to never use if I can help it? Measuring cups, teaspoons or tablespoons. There is something about using a piece of equipment for ten seconds, then discarding it in the sink to be cleaned that doesn't sit right with me. Instead, I opt for my trusty kitchen scale when I can… which is most of the time (buy it: $14.95, Williams-Sonoma.com). Simply set it under your bowl or plate, and you'll get an accurate measurement every time with literally no extra clean up. Personally, I find it easier to use, too.

- 14.95 Available at Williams Sonoma

Clean in Your Downtime

This is not necessarily a way to create fewer dishes, but it pays to not leave them all until after your meal. If you have ten minutes while water comes to a boil or your onions cook down, clean something you are done using. Certain small things or valuables (like my knives) I will wish immediately when I'm done using, dry them and put them away so they don't get lost in the mess that is my kitchen sink. When you can't leave the kitchen while cooking, why not make use of the time. Even two minutes here or these will make doing the dishes feel like less of a bear after your meal.