reduce. reuse. recycle. how the 3Rs can help you with the washing up

stack of white plates sardines in a can

Moving house. Never a fun time. Although it can be a great excuse to clean out and work a bit of minimalist magic, there’s always so many logistics to think about. Or not.

Last week when my removalists decided to come a day early, I rushed to get everything packed in time. All went smoothly and after the truck had left, I set about making myself for lunch.

Logistics fail. No kitchen equipment, except for a knife and a stray spoon. So I did the only sensible thing and made myself a sardine salad using my salad leaves bag as both mixing and serving bowl. Too easy.

As I ate my salad from the bag with the spoon, it got me thinking about washing up – that seemingly necessary evil. I’ve had a few people tell me that while they have a love of cooking, they tend not to venture into the kitchen as much as they’d like because they just hate the cleaning up part.

I understand where they’re coming from but cooking doesn’t have to be like that. So today I thought I’d share some tips for keeping the piles of dishes at bay.


Reduce the amount of equipment you use by embracing simplicity. Keeping the amount of equipment in your kitchen to a minimum will help – you can’t dirty things that don’t exist! Have a look at the post I wrote about setting up a minimalist kitchen, if you’d like some ideas.

Seek out one pot meals or things that can be made and eaten from the same pot. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

Serve in the cooking pot.
The whole idea of transferring your creations to a separate platter or serving dish is great if you have an army of servants to help clean up. But not a great idea if you’re the cook and the cleaner. If your saucepans aren’t good looking enough for the table, it might be better to invest in more attractive cookware and skip the serving ware.


If you need a spoon, reach for the one you’ve already used rather than grabbing a clean one every time. Same goes for pots and pans. A quick rinse will have most things ready to go again in only a few seconds.


Compostable or recyclable plates and cups will certainly save on washing up. But it doesn’t really feel right using them everyday. I save this option for picnics or large parties.

sardine salad

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
washing up free salad

serves 1

This is my go-to lunch when I can’t think of what to eat. Tuna in chilli oil is easily my most commonly used fish. But sometimes I like to mix it up with a bit of canned salmon or even cute little sardines canned in olive oil, like I did today.

When I’m in the mood for a vegetarian version I swap the fish for drained canned chickpeas. Delish!

It’s also a great work lunch if you have access to a supermarket – just duck in for a bag of washed lettuce, some canned fish and a lemon and do a bit of make-your-own back at the office. I also have been known to make this in hotel rooms for dinner when I’ve been travelling for work and am sick of eating out and room service. Just the thing to sooth a weary worker.

1 can sardines, preferably in olive oil
1 bag washed salad leaves
1 lemon
small handful pinenuts, optional

1. Drain some of the oil from the fish, leaving a little to help dress the leaves.

2. Open salad bag, add fish and a generous squeeze of lemon to the bag.

3. Toss in pinenuts, if using. Season with a little pepper if you have any. Eat from the bag.


video version of the recipe

With love,
Jules x


  • This is great, except that “prewashed” (i.e. industrially rinsed) bagged salad greens should still be properly washed at home before eating. It’s really nonsensical to risk e.coli, especially, to save washing up a bowl.

  • I’m one of those who hates doing dishes… ;)
    I love the idea of a salad on the go and the ingredients are healthy and couldn’t be easier! I don’t buy pre-washed salad in bags (too much packaging for a simple use of my spinner), but will definitely keep the idea for a meal on the go.


  • You’ve hit on the real reason why I didn’t cook as much when my children were small- A nine-hour work day, plus prep, plus cooking, plus clean-up? No, thank you! Great tips, Jules!

    (Of course, now that they’re grown and coming over for dinner, I often hear things like, “Wow, you never used to make THIS!”)

  • My wife and I try to focus on the three R’s when we’re cooking. Various ingredients are mixed together in-the-pot as often as possible, and served straight off of the stove using whatever stirring implement has already been used (unless we have guests).

    That’s part of the reason that I’m loving the 5 ing. |10 min. recipes so much, as less equipment is required when there’s less ingredients to start with.

  • I try to clean up as I go but one-pot dinners do fit the bill nicely. When I am around my younger sister I can cook anything as she will eat just about anything and then SHE does the dishes! I tried paper plates and cups the first time my grandkids came to visit for several days. We ended up with too much trash and still seemed to be doing too many dishes so I just use regular dishes now and skip the paper.

  • I always use the same spoon to mix one thing and then another when I’m cooking. And if the meal calls for a spoon, I’ll then eat with it too. So much easier than using up all the spoons and having none left to eat with!

  • alleyne
    good point about the pre-washed salad.

    love that now you have more time your kids are enjoying it too!

    luck you with your sister – it’s great if you can find a willing eater / cleaner.

  • Your article reminds me of a cooking course I did in a simple home in Rajasthan, Northern India last year.

    We arrived on Rickshaws to the house and walked into the living room. Whilst the husband talked about spices and flavours his wife set up a 2 pans, a spoon, a single burner stove, a knife, some spices boxes and ingredients and a serving plate or two. Everything was sliced with the knife in his hands straight into the pan, pastes were mixed and pummelled with the hand. Beautiful simplicity… delicious meals presented.

    The week after I returned to Oz and went to Victoria’s basement with my mum who purchased her 3rd grater to add to a multiple sized collection… We’re over fed the need for excess in the West!

  • Oooh, I’m so obsessed with sardines right now! I usually just eat them straight out of the tin (also makes for no washing up! :P) but I like your make-a-meal-of-it approach :)

  • josh
    thanks for sharing that story – I know where you’re coming from

    yay for sardines! if I’m eating them from the can I usually give them a squeeze of lemon or sherry vinegar. lovely to hear from a fellow sardine fan!

  • I think camping and a submarine sized kitchen in one apartment a few years ago forced me into minimalist kitchen appliance/tool use. It is amazing what you can do if you think about what you are using…. and if you only have one sink… and have to collect and then melt ice for the washing up and cooking. You learn very very quickly to RRR.

  • wow alex – melting ice for cooking and washing up is hard core. you’re right – camping is a great training ground for keeping it simple – actually the first time I made a salad in a bag was camping in the northern territory – I’d forgotten about that

  • One day when I was living in Panama I visited an a fishing dock and talked to the guys selling fish right out of their boats. They had long story about how much time and energy it takes to bring in fish these days. I asked them why that was. They weren’t sure, but I was: over fishing. So I gave up my tuna and salmon. I didn’t want to be part of the problem. Then I did some research and decided what fish was easy to get and not part of the problem. (

    It might not be something your interested in, but it’s worth reading and thinking on.

  • Ha Jules – I guess given that ice/snow melting usually only happens on weekends or on the occasions we have run out of water when the ground freezes too deeply for our well, the novelty factor is high (but with a huge impact on how I view things). It doesn’t feel hard core – that is just how we do things up here! Eating tasty camping meals that don’t involve rehydrating a precooked meal is always my aim!!! I actually use alot of your 5 ingredient recipes while I am out and about. Nice to have more than just pasta and pesto dinners or oats for breakfast after a long day in the hills – and working out portion sizes and reducing packaging before the trip ensures that I keep the weight in my pack down sufficiently to allow room for chocolate and other treats!

  • foy
    thanks for sharing the whole sustainable seafood question is really interesting!

    love the thought of my 5 ingredient recipes being used for camping! I agree that camping food doesn’t have to involve rehydrating a precooked meal.

  • This is a fantastic idea. I’ve been struggling with work lunches lately (if I have no leftovers remaining I end up buying lunch) and this looks like a tasty, cheap option.

    I’d love to see more like this; or any recipes that can be made with access to only a microwave and a sink (ie. most office kitchens).

  • jez
    thanks for giving me a brilliant idea – love the office kitchen challenge – will add it to my investigation list!

  • Thanks for the inspiring post. Managed to reduce the clutter in my tiny kitchen quite a bit. Tried the recipe, too, nice idea. Added some cold potatoes to that.

  • glad you enjoyed ville – and great idea to add potatoes – it’s really flexible and great for using up bits and pieces!

  • I have a book called The Conscious Cook (Giselle Wilkinson) that has recipes aimed at reducing washing up (amongst other ethical matters). You might like it, Jules, although it far exceeds the 5 ingredients biz ;-)

    A favourite of mine is any dish that goes in the oven for long enough that I can clean up before it’s ready to serve. That way all that is left to clean up after dinner is the main pot and a couple of plates! Leaves a bit more time to top up the wine glasses and reflect on a job well done.

    ps. I have been om-nom-nomming some of Grandma’s Eggs this week!! My first visit to the markets last Sat, it was more of a reconnaissance mission because we were so unprepared. I said a quick hello to Maureen but it was so busy it was hard to hold a conversation. She might remember me as the tall chick dressed in lycra hehe…we came straight from training!

  • Greetings,
    I just discovered your Blog and am loving it, I especially love how you edit your recipes, they look beautiful!
    I also wanted to pop on about the pre-washed salad tho–I have had many friends get terrible food poisoning from eating these salads right out of the bag:{ Best to either wash yourself or avoid them!! {Spinach is the worst offender}
    Great ideas though, I will be sure to pop back here!

  • Lovely blog — I’m a sucker for pretty sites (don’t look at mine, it’s… err … having a redesign).

    Just a quick note to say thanks for pushing sardines — they’re delicious!. I too am guilty of eating a lot of tuna and there have recently been a lot of campaigns and TV programmes in the UK that highlight how wrong it is that we eat so much tuna, cod and salmon over here (whilst wasting fish like sardines and mackerel). There’s more info here if you’re interested

    PS. Hugh F-W is like Jamie Oliver — they are both celeb chefs, friends and constant campaigners for better food and animal welfare standards.

  • I’m really pleased to someone else with my philosophy of minimalism in the kitchen! For many years I’ve made a practice of using as few bowls, pots, utensils as possible. If I can save washing or cleaning up, or space, or make cooking more straightforward, I do. As for simple salad, I’ve been known to simply wrap various things (sardines, cheese slices, pesto, grated carrot and raisins, etc.) in lettuce leaves to eat, when on my own.

  • Great post! -However I am lucky in this regard, I have a dishwasher; I couldn’t live without one- it’s my ONLY non-negotiable in the kitchen. Cooking is so much nicer knowing that I don’t have to wash up! :-D

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