Organized Kitchen Activity Centers

In the kitchen, there's a primary rule: tools that work together should live together. Carry out this rule by creating activity centers in the kitchen: centralized places that group and organize tools needed for routine kitchen activities.
Food Prep Station With Cutting Boards

Food Prep Station With Cutting Boards

The sink/cutting center is where much food preparation begins. Here you'll house all the tools you'll need for slicing, chopping, cutting, grating, sieving and squeezing.

Photo by: DK - House Works ©2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

The sink/cutting center is where much food preparation begins. Here you'll house all the tools you'll need for slicing, chopping, cutting, grating, sieving and squeezing.

Each center will be organized according to an activity focus, be assigned a designated space and encompass storage for tools needed for that particular activity.

In most kitchens, activity centers will overlap. A sink/cutting center — the zone for peeling, chopping and washing food — may sit cheek-by-jowl with the cooking center focused on the nearby stove. Drawer and cabinet space may be shared between centers, and so may the tools and items they contain. Don't worry! The focus is on function, not boundaries. So long as you can get the job done without taking a step, overlap between activity centers is the norm.

Sink/Cutting Center

You're making potato salad for a picnic. In the next 15 minutes, you'll drain fresh-cooked potatoes, peel and grate hardboiled eggs, chop onion and celery, and mix a tasty dressing for your salad — and you'll do it all using the natural components of the kitchen's sink/cutting center.

This center's focus: washing, chopping, draining and preparing food. Its designated area: the sink and a counter area next to the sink. Storage for this center can include the counter, sink storage areas, a drawer and cabinet space.

Most-used cutting tools earn a home on valuable counter space. Paring knives, serrated knives and butcher knives are close at hand — and attractive — stowed in a knife block. Hang a paper towel dispenser on the wall or beneath a cabinet to save space. To encourage hand washing and hygiene, decant liquid handwashing soap into a pretty pump dispenser and assign it a home next to the sink.

Other Items Found at This Center:

Cutting boards, grater, strainers, colander, juice squeezer, mixing spoons, rubber scraper, garlic press, vegetable peeler, vegetable brush, melon scoop/melon baller

Clean-Up Center

The potato salad is sitting pretty, garnished and ready to chill. It's time to clean up — and to do so, we'll call on the activity focus, designated space and storage in the clean-up center.

In this area is everything needed for cleaning up and trash collection. The designated location is under the sink, and includes the center's storage; in households with young children, be sure to secure the cabinet with childproof locks or choose an inaccessible, high-up storage location close by.

Moisture is a persistent issue in a cabinet beneath the sink, so a cabinet liner is a must. Scraps of vinyl flooring, cut to fit the base of the cabinet, make it easy to wipe up spills and keep the area sanitized.

Large under-sink turntables make it easy to store items in the inaccessible back of the under-sink cabinet. Increase under-sink storage by mounting specialty organizers to the cabinet doors. A towel rack keeps hand towels at the ready; small shelves stow dishwashing liquid, sponge and rubber gloves for easy access at washing-up time.

When it's time to toss the trash in the under-sink garbage can, plastic liners are clean and convenient. Make it easy to change liners by storing a good handful at the bottom of each can, underneath the current liner. When you remove the full bag, a fresh bag is always available.

Other Items Found at This Center:

Dishwasher detergent, dish pan, dish drainer, cleaning cloths, cleaning supplies or cleaning tote, abrasive cleaner (scouring powder), silver polish, houseplant watering can, houseplant fertilizer

Cooking Center

Focused on the stove top and oven (and maybe a microwave oven), the cooking center is the place to fry chicken, simmer chili, or bake a batch of cupcakes. It's home to the pots and pans, whisks and spatulas used to heat, cook and bake food.

Because the cooking center's tools are many and large, look hard for storage options near the stove that can be included in this activity center. Above the stove hood, store baking pans and cookie sheets. Some stoves feature under-store drawers that are natural homes for the broiler pan and large bakeware. Put pots in their place with hanging racks that store cookware in plain sight — and within easy reach.

Spoons and spatulas are durable friends; store them in the easiest-to-reach drawer, or stand them upright in a stoneware crock near the stove. Affix a hook in the wall or underneath the cabinet for hanging potholders at the ready — but not too close to heat sources.

Store cooling racks, muffin tins, cookie sheets and broiler pans vertically on their sides in the cabinet. You'll be able to reach just the pan you need, without having to lift, sort — and scratch — the rest of the group.

Herbs and spices need to be conveniently located for easy seasoning, but make sure they are in a cool place: they'll lose their savor stored under hot conditions.

Other Items Found at This Center:

Microwave cookware, loaf pans, pie pans, roasting racks, ladles, instant-read thermometer, candy thermometer, meat thermometer, covered roaster

Mixing Center

In the words of an old song, "Can she bake cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?" She can — if her organized kitchen includes a well-planned mixing center.

The focus: mixing, preparing and assembling food. The mixing center is the place where cookie dough and piecrusts, marinades and muffins make their appearance. Star player in the drama will be the electric mixer, with supporting roles filled by measuring cups, baking supplies, canisters and sifters.

The mixing center is the most movable of all the kitchen activity centers. Since it's not tied to a fixture, such as the sink or stove, it can be located in any designated area with counter space available. Storage includes cabinet, drawer and wall areas around the designated counter space.

Other Items Found at This Center:

Food processor, automatic bread machine, mixing bowls, batter bowls, mixing spoon, rubber spatula, rolling pin, cookie cutters, biscuit cutters, herbs and spices, shortening, sweeteners, cupcake papers, cake decorating tools

Dishwashing/Tableware Center

Kids Breakfast Center

Kids Breakfast Center

Pull together cereal, fruit and unbreakable dishes into a breakfast center for kids. Place items on a low shelf for easy reach.

Photo by: DK - House Works ©2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - House Works, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Pull together cereal, fruit and unbreakable dishes into a breakfast center for kids. Place items on a low shelf for easy reach.

The meal is over and it's time to clean up — and turn to the dishwashing/tableware center to get the job done. Chances are, this activity center will lie right next to the cutting center, since both share the kitchen sink as a designated space and use the same washing tools. The automatic dishwasher is the second compass point for this activity center.

The center's focus is the washing and storage of dishes and tableware — in a manner that will help family members to get the job done fast. Find storage for these items in drawers and cabinets convenient to the dishwasher. Shelf paper helps prevent scratching when putting dishes away; plastic skid-resistant shelf-liner cushions delicate china and glasses, preventing breakage. Assign dishes a home according to their function and use. Just because you purchase dishes as a set doesn't mean you should store them that way. A "breakfast shelf" holds cereal bowls, salad plates and mugs — and lets children set the breakfast table each morning.

Seldom-used serving dishes live in the inaccessible way-back of the cabinet shelf, while plates and soup bowls enjoy the air and light of the shelf front.

Keep plastic food storage containers nested and handy. They'll help build the next day's lunches from the evening's leftovers. Corral lids separately in a plastic basket or drawer to prevent fallout — the descent of multiple containers onto your feet when the cabinet door is opened.

Other Items Found at This Center:

Cutlery (knives, forks, spoons), serving utensils, napkins, dishpan and dish drainer, rubber gloves, liquid dishwasher detergent, hand towels, dish towels

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