If your kitchen is immaculate and your house has never looked like Hurricane Wilma came through it, don't read this. This column is not Martha Stewart approved, it wouldn't make the Fly Lady happy, and it's not for the homemaker who keeps the floors so clean you can eat off of them.




Full disclosure: I hate dirty kitchens and I find it rather painful that the floors in our kitchen can sometimes be eaten off of because there's enough gunk on them to constitute a tasty (albeit dehydrated) meal.




Here are nine ways to combat the dinner hour entropy that invades the kitchen. Needless to say, some of this advice will make the more traditional house spouse (note the gender-neutral neologism) cringe.




1) Don't wash the pasta pot. Make pasta, stir it while your toddler bangs her sippy cup against your knees and cries "Uppie Mama!" so the noodles don't get stuck on the bottom of the pan. After you drain the pasta, turn the pan upside down to dry. Pretend it's washed. Justify this with the thought that boiling water (a powerful disinfectant) has been in it.




2) Wash the other pots before you sit down to eat. Those pesky pots. It's impossible to clean them AND get your kids to bed at a reasonable hour (if you do the dishes before the bedtime ritual). Clean only the pots that need cleaning (see No. 6) right after you use them.




3) Get a hanging pot rack. Or make one out of wood and hooks. Then you never have to have pots crowding the drying rack, you just hang them (which means they're out of the way) and let them drip dry.




4) Enlist your 4-year-old to clear and sponge the table. He will do this by using half a bottle of eco-spray ("Puttin' out the fire, reerah, reerah, here comes the back-up trucks!") and five dish towels, which he will carefully lay across the table. He will also spray the chairs but forget to dry them, which will cause his sisters to be in fits about their wet tushies. No matter, the 4-year-old got the table clean (but do you put the dish towels in the washing machine or hang them out to dry?) and you can sit down to eat sooner.




5) Give your kids a "stash" where they keep their favorite dish ware. Then have them unload their dishes into their stash. If there are contested dishes in the house, this will make them that much more eager to comply, especially if their siblings are not home. They will also take the tureen (good for maple syrup pouring), the egg slicer ("It's my turn to bring it to school!") and possibly the Vac-U-Vin.




6) Assemble the plates at the stove and then put them on the table instead of putting food into serving dishes. When dinner is over and there's still brown rice left, put the lid on the pot and stick it in the fridge.




7) Put a plate over the leftover salad and stick it in the fridge in the salad bowl. You can eat it for breakfast and clean the bowl in the morning, after you've had coffee.




8) Train your children to clear their plates, preferably directly into the dishwasher (if you've managed to unload it).




9) Sponge the table. Use two hands and you can do this in less than seven seconds. Even if it means sponging the stuff on the table onto the floor (wear slippers in the house), a sponged table makes it feel like the kitchen is clean.




My friend Michelle, who also has three kids, has a really effective method to keep the kitchen clean &

she rarely cooks or eats in it. Since eating out at restaurants isn't an option for our budget, we haven't been able to try that. But eating outside, now that the weather's so warm, might be the best way of all to keep the kitchen clean.