We all need to save time in our busy and hectic lives, and it’s no secret that food preparation is one of the first places we try to simplify (we have plenty of lazy-girl cooking devices to prove it). Even professional chefs seek out quick and easy methods for streamlining their weekday cooking routine. Damaris Phillips is no cooking novice — she won the ninth season of Food Network Star, for crying out loud! But just like us, Damaris is interested in saving as much time as possible in the kitchen, all while preparing healthy, fresh foods whenever possible.
Though we absolutely love kitchen organization hacks, there are plenty of ways to save time in the kitchen that have nothing to do with clutter. We sat down with Damaris to learn more about her top secrets for saving time and energy in the kitchen without sacrificing freshness.
What made you develop this passion for time-saving and organization in the kitchen?
I come from a pretty big family. I’m one of five kids, and cooking has always been a huge part of our lives. All of us are avid cookers.
When I went to school, I considered all kinds of majors, from journalism to education to nursing. But one day I woke up and realized that instead of trying to find a “grown-up” job, I could cook for a living!
Many of the techniques I use now to organize the kitchen came from my mom. She was unbelievably organized — I have no idea how she kept it together with five kids. But she did, and we had great meals every night of the week.
What are some of your favorite quick, organized weeknight meal ideas?
I end up eating essentially the same types of meals every week. My husband and I will have one Mexican night, one Italian night, one salad night… and for me, the key is that at the beginning of the week, I organize.
I make my grocery list and plan out my meals on Sunday so I never have to wonder what I’m going to make on any given night of the week. I sit down with my husband and we decide what we’re in the mood to eat that week.
I also try to incorporate one new angle each week in order to keep things interesting. So, if we have tacos, maybe we’ll incorporate jicama. This way, even though it’s a weeknight and it’s something that we have almost every week, there’s something new and interesting. A lot of this variation comes from spices. I might throw curry over some mashed potatoes or try berbere spice in a recipe.
Do you believe in food prepping?
Food prepping is the only way that we can eat at home every night. Everyone is really busy. If I don’t prep food ahead of time, we’ll end up getting takeout.
For me, food prepping involves washing, cutting and heating my vegetables to a place where we can eat them right away. If I have celery prepped and ready to go, I’m more likely to eat that rather than potato chips.
FoodSaver has these Fresh Containers ($55, set of four) that allow you to clean your lettuce, cut up your tomatoes and do all kinds of vegetable prep ahead of time. They have absolutely changed my life. If I have time on Sunday afternoon, we prep our food and seal them in the FoodSaver containers, and they’re ready to go.
It used to be that I would put things in the freezer and a week later it’d be covered in freezer burn. Now, with the FoodSaver containers, I can cook in bulk and things still taste great. On a weeknight, I can pull a bag from one of their Vacuum-Seal Rolls ($28, set of three), take however much I need and put the rest back in the freezer.
I can now make couscous on Sunday, put it in the bag and, because it’s vacuum-sealed, it’ll still taste great on Thursday. It’s been a game-changer for me.
What are a few of your favorite hacks for saving time in the kitchen?
I’m a planner, so having a menu on the refrigerator helps me a lot.
I also make sure to use kitchen containers that are stackable and durable, and that you can see through. Refrigerator organization is absolutely key. If you can see your food, it’s less likely to get pushed to the back. Those kinds of things really help keep me organized. At the end of the day, the less I have to do, the better.
What are some of your favorite grab-and-go breakfast options?
My husband, Darrick, and I each like to eat pretty much the same breakfast every morning. Unfortunately, those are two different breakfasts.
My husband likes his smoothies. At the beginning of the week, we’ll put all of his fruit, yogurt and other smoothie supplies into a freezer bag. In the morning, we can just throw everything into a blender and it literally takes seconds.
I’m personally a big fan of oatmeal — but unfortunately, oatmeal takes a lot of time to cook. I’m not really into instant oatmeal because I like a fresher texture. So, I take my oats and put them in one of my containers and add cinnamon, almond milk, honey and nuts, and put it in the refrigerator. The next morning, I can eat it cold (it’s delicious cold, because the oats have absorbed all the milk and flavors), or, if I want a hot meal, I just throw it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it up.
Any final tips for saving time and energy in the kitchen?
It sounds simple, but everyone needs to have a sharp knife and a high-quality cutting board. Those are completely essential!
For more time-saving kitchen organization hacks and ideas, follow us on Pinterest!
(Photos via Damaris Phillips)