Use these five tips to incorporate as many whole-food meals as possible into your busy schedule.
1. BUYING IN BULK Each month, set aside an allotment of time to buy the bulk of your food and supplements. Prepare your list throughout the month, based on the food you reasonably expect to consume. By buying food in quantities large enough to last until the next month you'll also save money.
2. STORAGE AFTER FORAGE Once you've purchased all that food, store it the way you will use it. For instance, if you plan to cook chicken or beef in large quantities assembly-line style, store it that way in the freezer.
Set aside some of it in smaller portions for those times when you want a fresh-cooked single-serving meal. Freeze any meat you don't plan to cook within a day or two. Refrigerate portions that will be cooked the next day.
Some fresh fruits and vegetables, such as apples, bananas, onions and potatoes, can be kept on a counter or in a cupboard until cooked or eaten. Many fruits, such as peaches, bananas and avocados, continue to ripen after they're picked, so watch them for their point of optimal usage. Overripe bananas can be added to protein shakes to add sweetness and nutrients.
Fresh broccoli, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower can be stored in the refrigerator until needed. Within about a week of your shopping trip, prepare and consume the fresh vegetables that are most likely to spoil first.
3. ASSEMBLY-LINE COOKING Once every three or four days, set aside a few hours to cook meals to be eaten over the next several days. This reduces time spent at the stove. Cooking twice a week means you won't have to eat food that's been sitting in your refrigerator for six or seven days.
4. STORAGE AFTER PREP You can store your cooked food as prepackaged meals, or you can store individual foods in bulk. Storing as meals might be quicker, but storing in bulk allows for more mixing and matching, based on your appetite.
Cooked food should be kept in durable containers, such as Tupperware or Gladware. If the storage container is also microwave safe, you'll save time because you won't have to transfer the food to reheat it and you'll have fewer dishes to wash.
Foods that are going to be eaten within two or three days can be stored in the refrigerator. To avoid spoilage, freeze foods that won't be consumed within four to seven days. Thaw these by transferring them to the refrigerator a day or so before usage.
5. PACKING FOR THE DAY Each morning, pack a cooler with all the food and meals you'll need while you're out. Also include protein drinks and bars. Add a couple of ice packs to keep the food chilled.
At the end of the day, unpack your cooler. Throw away any leftovers. Clean out all the empty containers. This is one of the best ways to prevent GI distress caused by remnants of spoiled food.