My best Thanksgiving prep trick comes from a highly unlikely source

Psst: It works for every other dinner party, too

Published November 22, 2021 4:30PM (EST)

 (Julia Gartland / Food52)
(Julia Gartland / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

What thrills you about Thanksgiving? Is it the menu-making? The wine pairings? The guest and playlist selections? Yes, all of the above for me. But I'd like to throw in one more: The scrum board making and monitoring.

Allow me to introduce you to my favorite, most efficient way to set up for a multi-course meal, which incidentally borrows some project management parlance. In its simplest form, a scrum board (also known as a sprint board) is a visual task board that many teams use to chart out and follow along the progress of one or more projects ("sprints") from beginning to end. It can be a physical board or a digital one, but the function remains the same. At its most basic, the scrum board is divided into three categories:

  1. To do
  2. In progress
  3. Done

And there can be additional stages in between. Tasks move through each of these categories until completion.

Now, how does this fit in with dinner? Very aptly, actually! Whether it's for a birthday meal or a holiday feast like T-Day, the scrum board is a vital tool that keeps my husband and me organized and moving along so that we can spend time with our guests once the time comes. Here's how we do it, and how you can replicate it to suit your own festivity's needs.

What you'll need

  • Post-it notes
  • Sharpie
  • Whiteboard or blank wall space
  • A can-do attitude

Scrum board how-tos

1. Dedicate a space

In our apartment, my husband and I use the narrow part of our kitchen wall as a makeshift scrum board, breaking down the components of what will need to get done before, during, and after a soiree via good old fashioned Post-its. The reason we opt for a physical space is because once the prepping and cooking get underway, your hands get dirty and wet — we find that moving tactile Post-its around is much easier than scrolling through our phones or navigating our laptops with caked fingers. If you're inclined, you can also assign different color Post-its to the varying courses or elements of your party; it isn't absolutely necessary, though. I would, however, recommend a fresh Sharpie because that just feels nice.

2. Read and break down recipes

Depending on the size of the party, we start the planning as far as a few weeks out. After we've chosen and/or read through the recipes, we re-read them carefully and parse out the to-dos on individual Post-its. These tasks drill down further than what a singular recipe instruction or seemingly straightforward task might indicate. For example, a directive to "prepare the salad" might be broken down to a few different Post-Its whose position on the board will inevitably vary: "Wash/spin lettuce," "Make vinaigrette," and "Toss salad."

Also, by studying the recipes all together, we can see where we can be efficient and streamlined. For example, if multiple recipes call for preparing chopped onions or other aromatics, we can create a single Post-it for this task and just be sure to write out the amounts we'll need for each recipe, ie: "Chop 2 cups of onions: 1) 1 cup for stuffing; 2) 1/2 cup for gravy; 3. 1/2 cup for soup." Another alternative Post-it might be: "Prepare 2 onions: 1) 1 onion, chopped for stuffing; 2) 1 onion, quartered for stock," etc.

3. Don't forget the non-cooking tasks

There are a whole host of non-cooking to-dos waiting to be filled out. First, we start with the recipes and identify areas that will require attention that are related to cooking, but not the actual cooking, ie: "Heat oven," "Rest turkey," "Refrigerate cheesecake," and "Chill wine." Then we move onto tertiary areas, like preparing the tabletop and dining area. Such tasks can include: "Set table," "Prepare serving ware," "Vacuum," "Take out trash and recycling (pre-party)" and "Take out trash and recycling (post-party)." This is a good time to really think through those tasks you tend to always forget until the last minute (see: "Buy more unscented candles" and "Refill toilet paper and hand soap").

4. Set it up

At the top of the scrum board, above eye level, we line up our three categories from left to right: 1) "To Do"; 2) "In Progress"; 3) "Done." Now that we've identified most of the tasks, both cooking- and non-cooking-related, we're able to easily sort and/or group the Post-its on the "To Do" portion of the wall, whether by course, task, or other salient theme.

Photo by Hana Asbrink

Photo by Hana Asbrink

5. Keep it movin'

As we slowly start to work through the left column of our "To Do" list, we try not to forget to move tasks into the middle "In Progress" section as soon as we begin them. Not only will this be a good physical act, it's also nice to step back once in a while to really get a visual sense of how far we've come along in the prep. Don't forget to document the journey on Instagram Stories as people will be interested and invested in your progress!

6. Enjoy the guests

Once the guests start arriving, we're prepared to answer the myriad questions around what all these Post-its are doing up on the wall. We make them a drink (one for the chef, too!) and keep an eye that little visitors' hands don't accidentally start making their way around the wall. If there are small guests, give them their own Post-it pad (different color, preferably) and pen, and let them have at it.

Hana Asbrink
Photo by Hana Asbrink

7. Pat yourself on the back

At the end of the long evening, we sit back and admire the now-empty first two columns. We find deep satisfaction in this moment. If we aren't too tired, we load the first round of dishes in the dishwasher to make our morning a bit easier.

These days, we are content just to see and spend time with loved ones at all! It might take a minute to get back into pre-Covid-level entertaining, but it's worth dusting off the Post-its for. I'd love to know your tried and true techniques for keeping the trains running during the busy holiday season; be sure to share them with us all below!

By Hana Asbrink

MORE FROM Hana Asbrink

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Food Food52 Holiday Menu Holidays Party Planning Scrum Board Thanksgiving