The Dish Washing Process That Works For Our Big Family

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Note: I wrote this post before going minimalist and zero-waste. We still keep all these stuff I recommend here because they serve a purpose to our big family and the system works for us.


During a couple of years I worked full-time jobs and during that time I got someone to help me do the laundry, but had to figure out a way to wash fewer dishes because the piles and mounts of dishes were killing me slowly. That’s when, out of pure desperation, I announced to my family that we were going to use disposable plates, cups and silverware. Don’t leave my blog yet! I know, it was a bad decision and one that was also killing me and the trees slowly. I regret it.

Now that I am working from home I decided that it was time to get back to using and washing reusable dishes, but not before I put in motion a plan.

Before I tell you about my plan and process. I want to address those of you that are thinking about using disposables. It’s not worth it and this is why:

  1. Disposables end up being expensive: For a family of 6, sometimes 7 when my mom is in town, buying plates, cups and silverware was at least $50/month. That is at least $600/year!
  2. It creates bad habits instead of correcting them: I was tired of my kids -and husband- using 5 cups, 6 plates, and a dozen silverware per person per day! but when they do not care about the pile of dishes or about washing them, they do not even think about it and use more and more in a careless way.
  3. Disposables occupy so much space in the kitchen, pantry and cupboards: Think about it. Now, instead of having only 8 plates, you have a bag of 600 somewhere. Same for cups, and silverware.
  4. You will be taking the trash out on a daily basis: Disposables create a LOT of trash.
  5. Thinking of all the trash you are producing will get to your nerves: At least it got to mine. I was being selfish, thinking of only myself and my needs while creating mounts of trash. I started to feel anxiety about the damage our family was causing to the environment.
  6. The manufacturing fabrics producing disposables add to the contamination of the air. The mounts of trash add to the contamination of the soil and bodies of water. We are killing animals and trees.

Now we can talk about the plan and process that have worked for our family.

First of all, I bought a bunch of new items. For the minimalists out there (I wish I could be one of you), this is outrageous, but if I am going to have a dish rack with clutter on my counter, it should match my kitchen and look super good to minimize the impact. Here is a list of the things I purchased:

  • Dish Drying/Draining Rack:
    Size: I wanted a small one that could only hold 6-7 plates and cups and 6-7 sets of silverware. I didn’t want one that was big enough to hold pots, cutting boards, big bowls, or utensils. The one I bought ended up being too small for us because of the types of plates I got for the kiddos which are pretty thick (see below), but I think that it would work for the load I was intending otherwise.
    Design: They sell all sorts of dish racks, so before you start looking for them, think about the style you would like to own. I wanted one that was stainless steel, no plastic, with thin lines and a low profile.  
    In-sink vs in-counter: I found one that could go in-sink, and since we have a big, one-bowl sink I thought it would be a good way to keep the dish rack a bit concealed. The in-sink feature didn’t work for us because it wasn’t secure enough and I was planning to have the older kids wash their own dishes. The first time Juliet used it, the dish rack fell on the sink, so we placed it next to the sink and I was happy with it because it wasn’t that big and the plates I got were white and grey like our kitchen. Here is a link to the dish rack we got as shown below:
  • Drying mat: I bought this as an additional drying surface since I was planning to use the dish rack in-sink, but then ended up using it under the dish rack on the counter. It gives me additional space for me to put the cups that do not fit in my small dish rack because the kids’ plates are so thick. I like that it’s made out of silicone, so it is stain and bacteria resistant. It’s also heat resistant, so you can use it as a pot or casserole trivet. Since it has canals, it allows glasses to air dry without getting foggy. This drying mat from the Kohler brand was just what we needed!
  • Plates: 
    – Grown-up plates: I wanted white plates that wouldn’t look ugly displayed in the dish rack. I also wanted cheap plates because they were going to be on the counter, where the kids could grab them, and well you know the rest of the story. These Amazon Basics plates were perfect!

– Kids plates: I found out about Bumkins’ plates on Instagram and I was sold. They are made out of silicon which has several benefits: stain and bacteria resistant, resist the heat of the microwave or even the oven, can go to the freezer, come with silicone lids (sold separately).
I bought them in their grey marble color and they blend perfectly with my kitchen, the rack and the white dishes. They did stain with pasta sauce, but it came off after washing them in the dishwasher, so no need to freak out like I did!   These plates stick really good to the table, counter or high chair; have a flat end, so kids can get them really close to their bellies; and have compartments, deep enough to even hold cereal, soup or yogurt, to remind me that I have to give my kids a balanced dinner. Yes, I need reminders for that or I would give them PB&J sandwiches every day to make them all happy. To buy the Bumkins’ plates click here.

  • Silverware: Since the kids would mindlessly dispose of the spoons, forks and knives, my stainless steel silverware ended up in the trash piece by piece, as well. They would grab them from the drawers if they felt like using “the real stuff”, but ended up throwing them away like they would with the disposable ones. That is the only explanation I have for so many missing pieces. That’s why I had to buy a new set that wouldn’t break the bank, but that it was 18/10 stainless steel with a plain design. This set from Amazon was the perfect price!

I also have nice Villeroy & Boch silverware that I keep a close eye on (I take them out, I put them on the table, I pick them up, I wash them, I put them away). These have been with me for a while, but thought I should link to them here, as well.

  • Color Duct tape: What? Yes, I said color duct tape. It’s part of my plan! I made everyone pick a color, I cut little, tinny pieces of the duct tape and I put them behind each plate, under each cup, and on the handle of each piece of silverware. That way everyone knows what plate, cup and silverware set is theirs. If a plate or cup or fork is dirty in the sink, we know who has to wash it.

I wanted to avoid this scenario: Let’s say Benjamin uses his plate for breakfast, forgets or decides not to wash it, and uses Juliet’s plate for lunch insisting that the dish in the sink is not his. Juliet wouldn’t have a plate to eat and rightfully be upset that now she has to wash a dish even when she already had washed hers after breakfast.   Initially, I thought I would get colored plates, cups, and silverware, but can you imagine all those 6-7 colors on the counter of my mostly white kitchen? It couldn’t handle it, so the tinny little piece of duct tape it is. To buy this set of color duct tape, click here.

When I got all the items, I asked the kids to pick their duct tape color and explained why we were going to stop using disposables. They were totally on board and actually kind of excited.

In the dish rack we only keep 2 grown-up plates, 4 kids plates, the silverware in the add-on holder and 4-6 cups. Any other dishes go in the sink/dishwasher, but there better be a very good explanation for their use 🙂

Then I proceeded to tell them, that after each meal they had to wash their dishes and put them on the drying rack and that they had to use the same plate for all meals.

I got them plates deep enough that they could use for soups, yogourt, or just about anything, so they could have their main meals and snacks on the same plate.

If they want to go from water to milk to juice, they have to first finish their current beverage and wash their cup before getting something different.

They needed a little class on how to wash dishes, and a few reminders during the first week, like any learning curve, but after that, they got it and do it happily on their own.

I am in charge of washing Scott stuff because I feel like he does enough already at work to provide for our family. I also wash the little one’s dishes and all other utensils, pots and pans used for food prep. When my mom is in town, she likes to help us with those extra dishes, but I still have the older kids do their small part.

So far so good. I am happy with my purchases and the kids are happy with having their own stuff and being in charge of something. The process is working smoothly, but I will update you all on it in a few months if anything changes.

Thank you for reading! If you have any process that works for you, please share in the comments below! We would love to learn what works for your family!

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