It's mid-December, which means it's officially holiday party time. Christmas cookie parties, holiday potlucks and extravagant dinner parties start to fill every blank spot on the calendar. It's also a time that can get pretty stressful if you've decided to host a festive get-together.
Instead of getting stressed, get organized! Your kitchen will likely be the hub of activity and the spot where guests are going to want to spend time, so it's important to clean every nook and cranny. Make sure your kitchen is ready to take on guests and food to prevent damage and major cleanup later.
1. Clean clutter from countertops. Get rid of mail and bills lying around, and put important papers away. You don't want to have any type of paperwork lying around while your kitchen is a flurry of activity. Make sure all your surfaces -- backsplash, counters and floors -- are sparkling clean.
2. Clean the microwave. This is often forgotten, but it can be pretty embarrassing to have someone offer to help warm up food and see a gross, food-splattered microwave.
3. Prep your oven. Avoid running the self-clean cycle on the oven right before a big party -- it's actually really stressful on the oven and can cause it to fail right when you're about to put your turkey in. Instead, do a quick cleaning with a wet rag around the top burners, and leave the rest until after the new year.
4. Clean out the refrigerator. The refrigerator is bound to be used a lot during a big meal -- opened and closed constantly and filled to the brim with heavy dishes. Make sure the door handles and gaskets are tight, clean the cold air vents and replace any burned-out lights. Make sure the vents aren't blocked by food or condiments so that the fridge stays nice and cool throughout the evening.
Remove your refrigerator shelving and wash it in the sink with dish soap. Dry the shelves with a dish towel, and make sure they're secure when putting them back in the fridge.
5. Disinfect trash cans. No matter how careful you are, food and gunk manages to collect at the bottom of a trash can. Use a holiday party as an excuse to clean trash cans. Take them outside and wash them with a garden hose and dish soap. Disinfect them with a cleaning spray. Make sure you have extra trash bags, too.
6. Check out your dishwasher. Make sure your dishwasher will run efficiently with a large number of dishes in it. Check the drain and clean off any residue, and make sure there's no broken glass or lost utensils in the bottom. Wipe off the rim of the door and the door gasket, using white vinegar and a sponge to remove any gunk.
7. Get your serveware ready. Have your knives sharpened so you don't end up hacking away at your honey-baked ham. Or sharpen them yourself if you know how -- be careful.
Take inventory of any basic supplies that you're missing, and purchase or borrow them before the party. Check your utensils, cookware, serveware, spice cabinet, cooking oils, canned goods and other pantry necessities.
If you're serving your meal on nice serving plates, clean them up and get them ready to go. Polish silver, wash plates and wash and iron cloth napkins.
8. Double-check safety mechanisms. If small children are going to be around, make sure everything is childproof. Set aside a special area outside of the kitchen for children to hang out. But make sure that plugs in the kitchen are covered, lamps and other glass items are away from table edges, and stairways and other dangerous areas are blocked off.
Check your smoke detector and CO2 detector batteries, and replace them if needed. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher on hand, too.
Take a look at your first-aid kit, and replace any missing materials. You never know when someone is going to cut themselves, get burned, or slip and fall.
9. Stock your kitchen properly. Do any of your guests have allergies? Is anyone vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free? Take these into account and prepare accordingly. Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drink options available, too.
10. Create a cooking schedule. Prep what you can ahead of time. Most casseroles and potato dishes can be put in a baking pan ahead of time, and vegetables can be chopped and stored, too. Having a schedule of when everything needs to be made and put into the oven will not only help you keep things organized, but it will help your guests know when and how to help.
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Houzz is the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish -- online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals around the world. Vanessa Brunner is a contributor to Houzz.