Following a nutritious and balanced diet can take time and dedication to prepare menus, shop, cook, and stick to it. Wouldn't it be nice if someone would do it all for you? Several diet programs can do just that. They will prepare your menus, cook the food, and ship it to you. All you need is a fork, and usually a supply of fresh vegetables and dairy products. What could be easier! The most popular of these plans include NutriSystem and Jenny Craig. With these programs, your meals will be delivered by UPS in shelf-stable packaging. A new player on the block, Fresh Cuisine, offers fresh prepared foods that are more expensive, but promise to taste better. We've decided to try each of these programs and we're starting with NutriSystem.
Suzanne's week on NutriSystem
Most of you have heard of NutriSystem. You've seen the commercials, or may know someone that has tried the program. You purchase most of your food from them, and buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy on your own. We've heard mixed reviews of NutriSystem in the past, and wanted to find out for ourselves what it was like. I volunteered to try it out and share my review. After all, I LOVE the idea of someone cooking my meals for me! I enjoy cooking, but my inner diva dreams of never having to wash dishes or spend a lot of time waiting in supermarket checkout lines with common folks.
NutriSystem offers a variety of pre-planned menus, all packaged and ready to go. You can choose from programs for women, men, diabetics, and vegetarians. Most of their packages include enough food for 28 days. I placed my order for NutriSystem products using the A La Carte option on their website, and chose the 1 week option for $79.99 plus shipping, for a grand total of $90.99. I'm a picky eater, and wanted more control over my meal choices. I secretly feared mystery meats or cauliflower.
I went through the order process, and was prompted to choose 7 each of the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. The breakfast options sounded good. I was able to choose between a variety of muffins, granola bars, cereal, pancakes, and even scrambled eggs. I couldn't imagine eggs packaged in anything other than an eggshell, so I chose from the other offerings. The lunch selections included mostly instant "just add water" type foods, such as instant soup or potatoes. I was also able to select meal replacement bars or shakes, if I preferred. The dinner entrees sounded good, and the photos resembled many popular frozen dinners, though these were shelf stable and not frozen. How ingenious! I could choose foods such as Cajun Style Chicken, Thai Noodles with Tofu, and even Cheese Pizza! I made my selections, placed my order, and waited on my package to arrive.
I received my NutriSystem package about a week later. The full weeks worth of food fit inside a box that measured 10x13x7. I was provided with a sample menu that required I buy plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk. I made my list and spent an additional $20 at the supermarket. Over the next few pages, you'll read about each of my meals, followed by my thoughts on the plan. The real question is would I recommend this plan to anyone that I had to look in the eye the next day?
Breakfast included two NutriSystem baby banana muffins that weighed 2 oz total, 1 cup of skim milk, and 1/2 cup applesauce. I briefly heated the muffins in the microwave, and enjoyed the scent of banana bread as it wafted through the kitchen. The muffins were rather dry, but that's to be expected when your breakfast comes from a warehouse instead of your oven. I walked away from the table feeling proud that I'd completed my first NutriSystem meal and felt satisfied and brimming with willpower. Lunch was NutriSystem instant "Hearty Minestrone" soup, milk, and salad. I was instantly transported back to a time when I was younger, thinner, and had high expectations for my life. It reminded me of the cheap instant soup I ate when I was in college and had a food budget of about $10 a week, and shopped at the food salvage store. I wasn't impressed, but I finished it anyway. The soup was loaded with preservatives and other additives that tasted almost metallic, but I managed to balance the flavors by serving a large salad piled high with mesclun, grape tomatoes, and freshly roasted red bell peppers. I had a sweet Gala apple for an afternoon snack, and used my dairy selection to make a skim milk and green tea chai. I make my own chai from fresh spices and loose leaf tea, then close my eyes and pretend I'm in India. Dinner was NutriSystem cheese and spinach ravioli in meat sauce. I regret that purchase because I didn't notice 'meat sauce', and I don't eat beef. I scraped away the meat sauce and was left with two large ravioli that looked good, though they smelled and tasted like canned pasta. So I wasn't exactly transported to Italy. The meal was saved by a delicious salad I made from butterhead lettuce, drizzled with light balsamic vinaigrette. Dessert was a NutriSystem crispy "mocha" bar which tasted pretty good.
It wasn't a bad day, despite a few grumblings. I walked on the treadmill for an hour, and did some light weight lifting, then I planned my menu for the next day.
NutriSystem Day 2
I had NutriSystem lemon poppyseed muffins for breakfast today, along with skim milk and an orange. Once again, the muffins were dry, but the meal was still satisfying. I didn't heat the muffins before serving, and think I probably should have, as they lacked flavor and fragrance. Lunch included another portion of instant soup, a salad, and a glass of milk. The instant broccoli and cheese soup had a somewhat scorched flavor, which I couldn't take the blame for since I just poured boiling water in a styrofoam cup. I think it would have been much better if I had added a little bit of steamed broccoli, to add more fresh flavor and color. I began to get hungry soon after my meal. My afternoon snack included a 1-ounce packet of NutriSystem Sour Cream and Onion Soy Chips, which were very tasty. I don't think I've ever had soy chips before, and I enjoyed the hard crispness and rich flavor of the snack.
For dinner, I decided to try the NutriSystem thin crust cheese pizza. The picture on their website looked good, so I had ordered two of them. I opened the box and pulled out a tiny prebaked crust, a packet of sauce not much bigger than a ketchup pack, and a packet of shredded cheese. I was shocked by the size of the pizza, and had to run get a ruler to measure it. It measured at 5 inches diameter, though it looked even smaller than that. The crust was about 1/4 inch thick and full of air bubbles. I preheated the oven, assembled my pizzette, and prepared a salad. The pizza tasted ok, though the full 3 ounce serving didn't fill me up. Keep in mind that a 1/4 cup of water weighs 2 ounces. So I ate another salad. The pizza sells for $5.09, weighs 3 ounces, and contains 140 calories. A Lean Cuisine pizza sells for half of that, weighs twice as much, and contains about 280 calories. I also had a beautiful, deep purple blood orange that was SO good! It's amazing how a so-so meal can make a simple, perfect piece of fruit taste so good. I also exercised, and considered it a day spent on program, even though I didn't feel full or satisfied.
NutriSystem Day 3
I decided to have NutriSystem Granola for breakfast today. The package was very small, there may have been about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of granola in it. I added my milk and had applesauce on the side. The granola had a good flavor and crunch, there just wasn't enough of it. I was starving by mid-morning, and wish I'd saved my fruit serving for a snack. For lunch, I chose the NutriSystem tuna salad. I was surprised to open the small flat packet and find an odd tuna paste inside. It didn't resemble tuna salad at all.
I was allowed to add a serving of protein to my meal, so I boiled an egg then diced and added it to the tuna salad to give it a little texture. The picture on the package showed it served with 4 pieces of Melba toast, but they only included 2 pieces with my order. I wish I had a jar of pickles at hand, because the tuna salad really needed something extra. There were tiny bits of chopped water chestnuts, added for crunch, but it was still lacking zing. I also had a small salad, and the extra flavor was refreshing and much needed, though it wasn't very filling. I really wanted those two extra melba toasts. I imagined someone in the NutriSystem warehouse stuffing his pockets with little packets of melba toast, the way the rest of us take ink pens and paper toilet seat covers from the office. Lunch ended pretty quickly, and I hopped on the treadmill to take my mind off of my growling stomach. Dinner included NutriSystem Thai Style Noodles with Peanut Sauce and Tofu. It wasn't bad, though it tasted artificial. The tofu was too mushy, and the pasta was overdone. I didn't finish the dish, but I had a second helping of steamed broccoli. I had a NutriSystem Toffee Bar for a snack, and it was sweet, crunchy, and made up for the lack of a complete dinner. I exercised in the evening, and kept reminding myself that at least I was staying on plan and had not eaten anything fattening.
NutriSystem Day 4
I chose the NutriSystem Pancakes for breakfast, which was actually a packet of pancake mix. It was so tiny that I was convinced it would just make one pancake, but was surprised to see it swell and make 3 average size pancakes. They recommended sugar free syrup to go on it, which I didn't have and didn't want to buy just for this meal. I drizzled the pancakes with 1 teaspoon of honey, which still left most bites unadorned, and pancakes should never be naked. I also had a pear and a glass of skim milk. The little packet of pancake mix cost $1.95, which is the cost of a whole box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix.
Breakfast was boring, but was satisfying enough to hold me for a few hours. For lunch I prepared the Spicy Oriental Noodles with Vegetables. This was in an instant soup type cup, and I guess it was like Cup-o-Noodles, or Ramen Noodles - another memory from college. I added the boiling water and watched the noodles and freeze-dried green beans plump up. It tasted very salty, but I think I didn't stir it well enough, and had clumps of the seasoning mix that were overpowering. It retailed for $2.79, while a comparable box of Lipton Cup-o-Noodles costs about 50 cents. Dinner was NutriSystem Tuna Casserole. The photo on the box showed pasta with chunks of tuna, and it looked pretty good. You can't go wrong with tuna casserole. What I received was quite different, and no mother I know would have ever served this. The pasta was there, but I didn't find any chunks of tuna. There were bits of something, but based on the ingredient label, I think it was texturized vegetable protein. It was all in a tuna sauce, that appeared to be liquefied tuna. I reluctantly tried a small bite and wasn't quite sure what to think. Remembering my mothers advice to always give yourself 3 bites to decide if you like it, I ate two more bites. I kept thinking about the liquefied tuna, and was reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit from the 70's. Do you remember the Bassomatic? I couldn't eat anymore. I decided to give it to my dog, Lola, but even she wouldn't eat it. Lola sniffed a few times, tucked her tail between her legs as she nearly limped away, and turned around to look a few times as if to say "is it STILL there?" Dinner was a bust, so I went to McDonalds.
NutriSystem Day 5
I began the day with a bowl of NutriSystem NutriCoconut O's cereal for breakfast. The cereal appeared to be not one, but several types of cereal combined. It was supposed to taste like coconut, which I had looked forward to, but I didn't even taste a hint of coconut. It was still ok, for a bowl of cereal. I saved my fruit portion for a mid-morning snack, since I've learned by now that I need something every few hours to keep me going on this plan. Lunch was NutriSystem Tex-Mex rice and beans, another concoction in a styrofoam cup. The flavor reminded me of Van Camp's Spanish rice, which was one of my favorite childhood foods, and I've not had it in 20 years. I wonder if they still make it.
I don't think I've ever used my electric kettle so many times in one week. I boiled, I stirred, I ate. Cleanup was a breeze! I really am not a fan of instant foods, but I can see where this type of food would be convenient for someone that worked in an office, or even a college student. It seems almost like junk food, because it doesn't contain anything fresh. I read the long lists of unpronounceable ingredients, and often wondered what I was putting in my body. I may be a Fat Chick, but that doesn't mean I fill my body with junk.
We had a family birthday dinner, so I brought my second little box of NutriSystem pizza to my parents house. I wanted to show my sisters how small it was, and looked forward to serving it with a Greek salad. We all got a surprise when I opened the box and pulled out a green, moldy crust. It was still sealed in plastic, so I have no idea what went wrong. I enjoyed the Greek feast the family had prepared, all the way down to the Baklava. When I got home, I emailed NutriSystem and asked for a refund for the moldy pizza. It retailed for $5.09, and they said they would issue a $10 refund to my credit card. Customer service was very nice about it and seemed genuinely concerned about the problem.
NutriSystem Day 6
I had a NutriSystem granola bar for breakfast, along with the usual fruit and milk. I enjoyed the sweetness of the bar, and think it would have been the perfect meal on the go, if only I had somewhere to go. The breakfast buffet at Shoney's comes to mind.NutriSystem pasta The newness of the plan has worn off, and I am no longer looking forward to the meals. I'm hungry and bored. I had the NutriSystem Chicken Noodle left for lunch, which was similar to Campbell's soup, and that's a good thing. It wasn't an instant soup this time, and it was in a small microwavable container. The soup retails for $2.59 per serving. If I were planning to continue with the NutriSystem plan, I don't think I'd buy the soup again, simply because I can buy a single serving can of Campbell's at the supermarket for a fraction of the price. I had an afternoon snack of NutriSystem cheese curls, which were very good. They weren't greasy, like regular cheese curls, and had good flavor - for a cheese curl. I spent the afternoon dreading dinner, which was supposed to be pasta primavera with tofu. The picture on the package looked awful and I found that I couldn't muster up the courage to open it. So I had a Lean Cuisine frozen pizza, along with oven roasted green beans. I had NutriSystem instant pudding for dessert, which was very similar to Jello instant pudding, though not quite as flavorful or sweet. I mixed it with water in my serving bowl, and it thickened very quickly. I finished my pudding, comforted by the thought that there was just one day left on this plan.
NutriSystem Day 7
I had NutriSystem instant oatmeal for breakfast today. I would have preferred steel cut or even 5 minute rolled oats, but it was tasty enough and hit the spot on a chilly morning. I saved my fruit and milk for a mid-morning snack. I didn't have anything left for lunch, because apparently the little NutriSystem Toffee bar I ate one night for dessert was really a lunchtime meal replacement. So I had a large salad with a chopped egg. I still had a NutriSystem dessert leftover from the night I skipped in lieu of the birthday baklava, so I had it after lunch. It was a lemon blueberry bar, and was really good. Unlike most of my friends, I happen to love the flavor of artificial lemon. My NutriSystem farewell dinner was chicken with almonds and rice. It turned out to be the best NutriSystem meal all week. It wasn't great, and I wouldn't want it again, but it was better than the other NS meals I tried. It tasted similar to canned LaChoy chow mein, and just needed a few dashes of soy sauce. The chicken was good, and didn't seem overly processed. I couldn't find any almonds in my dish, but I didn't miss them. Afterwards, I had Nutrisystem fudge cake for dessert. It was packaged like a bar, and was about the size of a brownie. It was ok for what it was. It wasn't Death by Chocolate, but it was good enough for diet food. I think those two words summed up the week - diet food, which you can look at as a pro or a con. When we think of diet food, we think of food that is lacking something - mainly taste and substance. Many people prefer diet food because it helps them stay focused. Others walk away feeling deprived, and are more likely to go off plan. I'm practically relieved that the week has ended.
NutriSystem - Final Thoughts
I have to admit that I'm a very picky eater. I prefer fresh foods, and avoid most processed foods, especially processed meats. The breakfast and snack foods were good, and I liked the portion control of the program. The instant lunches were not filling, and were the types of foods I would only eat if my paycheck were delayed, my cabinets were bare, and I couldn't get a date. The dinner entrees were really awful and I hope I never have to eat another. In fact, I can't think of one food I've had this week that I would intentionally ask for again - except, of course, the birthday Baklava :) I couldn't wait to steam a head of broccoli and slide a fish filet under the broiler.
I entered my food into FitDay every day, just out of curiosity, and included the NutriSystem foods as well as the milk and produce I added. Each day averaged 1350 calories, 33 grams fat, 110 grams protein, 2800 mg sodium, and 180 carbs. I also walked on the treadmill for an hour and did 20 minutes of light weights every day. I lost 2 pounds during my week on NutriSystem, despite my Greek feast and the night I ran to McDonalds for a Cobb Salad. Salad? I'll bet you thought I had a Big Mac! I was really a good girl that night. I was also hungry every day, which is not normal for me on any diet. I was following the NutriSystem Nourish plan which is low GI and high in protein, which they promised would help keep me full and satisfied all day. I followed the meal plan as closely as possible, other than Greek night. The week before I tried NutriSystem, I had followed the Flavor Point diet which was very filling. I ate a lot of whole grains, freshly prepared seafood and vegetables, and plenty of fruit. I also had to cook everything from scratch, but it was a lot of fun to play with new recipes. I was never hungry, and I also lost 2 pounds that week.
Not everyone shares my experience. We have quite a few members in our community that follow NutriSystem and love it. It really depends on the types of food you are used to eating, and what helps you stay committed to a diet plan. Some of the members said they also had certain food choices that they hated, but tried enough varieties so they found selections that they enjoyed and could look forward to. A few odd fellows even used the word yummy!
NutriSystem Pros: Convenience and portion control are the only things this diet plan has going for it. If you are busy, would rather not deal with menu planning, and your taste buds are comatose, this may be the plan for you. It is a calorie controlled diet, and it really does work, if you can stick with it. If you are considering NutriSystem, I really suggest that you check out comments from other members that have tried it, so you get more views than mine. You can also order a couple of items from their website without investing in a large package that you may not be able to finish, so it's a good way for the adventurous to try it out without a commitment.
NutriSystem Cons: Most of the foods have a highly processed flavor. The quality isn't very good. Portion sizes are controlled, but they are very small. The foods are very expensive for what you actually receive. Most of their selections have equal or better counterparts at the supermarket for about half the cost, and it would be easy to duplicate the program.