Making dinner is a process. Lean and 5S can help.

An article by Jason S. Sullivan, 05/20/2019

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Think of making dinner as a process. And, let’s be honest, it sure feels like a process sometimes!

What’s for dinner?

Did you know that the process you use to make dinner is similar to the process a manufacturer uses to make a product? And, even if you don’t realize it, you both probably use lean and 5S. 

Let’s think about that dinner.

Making dinner – 

  • You obtain uncooked food, ingredients, materials, kitchen gadgets, and everything else you need from the supply chain.
  • You decide what’s for dinner. The “order” gets pulled through the system – meaning, you don’t make dinner until you’re ready for it.
  • You prepare and cook dinner. It goes through different steps and stages in the assembly line.
  • Dinner is the finished product. You and your family are the customers. Hopefully, the customers don’t return the product!
  • And, clearing the dishes from the table and putting away the supplies is an example of reverse logistics – putting something back into the supply chain.

A process – whether for a manufacturer or for making dinner in your kitchen – needs to be efficient, organized, and optimal. 

What is lean and 5S anyway?

The basics of lean

Lean is a methodology for minimizing waste. Waste is anything that doesn’t add value to a process.

Manufacturing environments and many other industries use lean. It’s not only for something on that scale. You can apply the basics of lean to your daily life.


Lean involves 5S. 5S comes from five Japanese words – Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.

The English translations – Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

It breaks down like this –

  • Sort – sort what you have.
  • Set (in order) – organize or arrange it in a useful manner.
  • Shine – keep the area clean and tidy.
  • Standardize – have a system in place.
  • Sustain – keep the process going.

5S is a cycle – not a straight line. It’s meant to be continuous, as the steps build on each other in sequence.

That’s a very brief lesson in lean and 5S. There’s a reason why companies use it in their processes. It works.

Let’s look closer at 5S. How can you apply 5S to your kitchen and making dinner?


It starts with sorting. You probably have too much in the kitchen. The more you have, the harder it is to keep it organized. Whether it’s coffee mugs, cool kitchen gadgets, food, or anything else – adopt a “less is more” mentality. 

Ask yourself these questions – 

  • Is it past its expiration date? (Everything has a “best by” date, not just food.)
  • Have you used it in the last year?
  • Does it add value?

Make a judgment call. If it doesn’t add value to the process of making dinner, then consider getting rid of it. 

Set in order

You probably wouldn’t put the kitchen utensils that you use daily in one of the cabinets out of reach. No, you’d want the “dailys” where you can get to them easy.

Think of this step as, “There is a place for everything and everything in its place.” 

Put the kitchen stuff in the kitchen. Organize it into groups or categories. Put the items you use daily or often within easy reach. Move the items you don’t use as often into the higher storage cabinets.

Having the right items in the right place saves time. Instead of walking ten steps from Point A to Point B (and back) over and over again, move the two things closer together if you can. It minimizes transportation, which is a form of waste.


Let it shine! Keep your kitchen clean and tidy. Don’t allow outside stuff to creep back into the picture. It only needs to be there if it adds value or it’s part of the process.

This step takes discipline. It’s easier and faster to put things where they don’t belong. Pretty soon, its temporary home becomes its permanent home. That’s how things get disorganized. 

Take a few extra seconds and put things back where they go. Clean up after yourself. Gently (or not so gently) remind others to do the same. Keep the area clean and organized. Consider having an inventory list, using labels, and setting clear boundaries. It takes effort but can have an impact on staying organized.


Have a system in place that works for you! There isn’t a one-size-fits-all for this. Figure out what works best for you and your kitchen. Calibrate, fine-tune, and make adjustments. Don’t wait until the process breaks and then start to fix it. If it starts breaking down, fix it before it gets worse. Preventative maintenance goes a long way.

If other people are involved, make sure they know their role and yours. The process is easier to follow when everyone knows it.


Make the first four steps a habit. Build momentum – and keep it going. You likely use the kitchen every day. Make the process smooth and delicious.

Making dinner is a process! Lean and 5S can help.

About the author – Jason S. Sullivan is an aspiring writer. Connect with Jason on LinkedIn and check out his other articles!

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