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How to Streamline Thanksgiving Dinner Cleanup

Clearing and cleaning Thanksgiving dinner can be a snap if you do a little prep work first. See more pictures of the Thanksgiving turkeys.

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy the company of family and friends and to express gratitude for the year's accomplishments. Don't let the after-dinner dishes put a damper on your holiday. Follow these tips to make Thanksgiving dinner cleanup a less burdensome task.

Pace Yourself

Planning and preparing certain foods ahead of the big day smoothes the cooking and cleaning processes. Cookbook author and TV cooking host Nathalie Dupree suggests making and freezing your gravy a month in advance of Thanksgiving Day [source: Dupree]. You can also put casseroles together two days before the feast, and bake pies the day before. When your guests arrive for Thanksgiving dinner, the dirty dishes from these preparations will be long forgotten.

Another important do-ahead timesaver: Clean out and organize the refrigerator so the leftovers fit in without a lot of fuss.

Enough Is As Good As a Feast

When planning your Thanksgiving dinner, keep the menu reasonable. Exercise "restraint," says renowned chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, especially if you're new to hosting the Thanksgiving meal [source: French Laundry]. "Just do three or four things instead of trying to do eight or nine." This advice cuts stress levels on meal preparation and clean up.

Make a Clean Start

Try to stay on top of the mess by wiping counters and washing and clearing pots and pans as you cook. Before your guests arrive, run and empty the dishwasher, even if it isn't quite full. This way, you can whisk many of the dinner dishes out of sight when the meal is over. Empty the trash can, too, so you won't have to stop and take out the trash during the table clearing. It's a good idea to place a couple of extra bags in the bottom of the can so replacements are on hand.

When the cooking's all done and you're ready to carve the turkey, jump-start the cleanup. As soon as you transfer the turkey to the serving platter, fill your roasting pan with soapy water and let it soak in a 250 degree Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius) oven. The baked-on food softens up while you enjoy your guests' company and the meal.

Container Savvy

Get your cooking, serving and storage containers on your side with these tips:

  • If guests bring side dishes or desserts, ask them to bring them in disposable containers.
  • Consider purchasing some of your menu items ready-made from specialty stores. The containers are self-storing and disposable.
  • Choose baking dishes that do triple duty as serving dishes and storage containers.
  • For a short-cut with style, use edible/disposable serving dishes, like bread bowls, a pumpkin or acorn squash.
  • Provide your guests with inexpensive plastic or cardboard storage containers and let them make their own take-away selections.

Finally, don't labor alone. Thanksgiving is a family affair. If you have helpers on hand, call on them, even if you only ask someone else to take out the trash.