Cooking Tips

Get Your Act Together with Holiday Cooking: Use a Kanban Board

  This Japanese organizational system revolutionizes holiday prep.

Published Nov. 9, 2023.

I’m a stickler for organization, especially when it comes to keeping my household cooking operations running smoothly.

Weekly menu plan? Check. Grocery shopping list up to date? Check. Spices arranged alphabetically, freezer contents cataloged, and pantry cleanouts scheduled? Check, check, and check. Oh, the satisfaction!

So when my colleague Andrea Geary mentioned a simple method for tracking prep work for big and/or complicated holiday meals, I was excited to add a new tool to my routines.

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What Is Kanban?

The organizational system called kanban originated in the Japanese automotive industry in the 1940s when Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer with Toyota, sought to streamline car manufacturing practices. Ohno implemented an inventory control process in which assembly line workers would use a card, or kanban, as a visual signal that they needed assistance or a part from another department. 

The cards represented tasks as they moved through various stages of completion, so employees could monitor progress at a glance.

Since then, kanban boards have been adapted to be used for all sorts of projects, including prepping for multicomponent holiday meals. With a kanban board for reference, you and other family members will always know what stage every dish is at.

Plus it's fun: Moving a note to the Done column provides a small but motivating dopamine rush. Before you know it, you may be using kanban to organize all your projects. 


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What You Need to Make a Kanban Board

You’ll need a pen, sticky notes, and a vertical surface (the kanban board)—the side of the fridge is ideal. 

How to Make a Kanban Board

1. Divide the board into three vertical sections: “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” Write each task on a separate sticky note and place all the notes in the To Do column. Consider using different sticky note colors for shopping, prepping, and last-minute tasks.

2. Move a few notes—most kanban users move no more than three at a time—from the To Do column to the In Progress column.

3. When these tasks are completed, move the notes to the Done column.


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