• Minimize maintenance. Some materials and finishes are harder to care for than others. Quartz countertops are rivaling granite in part because they don’t require periodic sealing. Stainless steel appliances remain popular, but if fingerprints are a concern, you might consider a new smudge-resistant finish, such as GE’s Slate.
As for flooring, vinyl held up best in Consumer Reports’ tests against scratches and dents, plus the latest designs mimic natural materials. If you want real wood, opt for a factory finish, which tends to last the longest.
• Contain the clutter. Precious minutes are lost looking for misplaced items and uncluttering countertops so that they can be used for meal prep. In the kitchen, try to put things close at hand, says Jennifer Lava of Austin, Texas, a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. For example, dishes and flatware should be kept in a cabinet next to the dishwasher; cutting boards and sharp knives belong near the food prep counter.
Creating a separate landing spot, ideally just off the kitchen or along its perimeter, for mail, school papers and the like will help keep counters clear. It’s a good idea to keep a paper shredder nearby for documents that contain vital personal information.
• Make it a family affair. Look for ways to enlist other members of the household. If kids are present, you might designate a lower cabinet for everyday dishes or flatware, allowing young ones to help set the table. Or look for age-appropriate food prep tasks, such as washing vegetables.
As for the meal itself, don’t underestimate the importance of sit-down family dinners. In one study, just an additional 3.5 minutes at mealtime was enough to mitigate the risks of child obesity.