Meal Delivery Plans: The Pros & Cons
No, we're not talking about Chinese takeout. We're talking about pre-packaged meal delivery programs. There are many of these services available throughout the country -- some are part of dieting plans, others are more fresh, gourmet fare, and most are all about convenience and/or living by a set meal plan. Check out our pros and cons of a few popular services and what you should be asking to get the healthiest fare.
Nutrition clients often ask Dana and I about these well-publicized plans and whether the convenience of delivery and the food that comes is worth it. To keep up to date, we've done some detective work. Here's what we've found.
On NutriSystem, you choose from several plans and get the meals delivered right to your door (even dessert). They target folks who want the convenience of a well-plotted meal plan to help them lose weight (but remember, you need to exercise too!). Dana signed up for this a couple years back. She ordered a month's worth of meals, which weighed in at about 40 pounds and had a $400 price tag. The meals she tried were highly processed and not exactly tasty (remember, she’s used to her own home-cooked dishes). She also had the fun job of hauling the 40-pound box back to the post office to return it to NutriSystem (and boy did I hear about it!). Since that taste test, NutriSystem has added a new gourmet program — maybe those taste better, but I doubt it.
eDiets creates a weight-loss plan for consumers based on a series of questions (answering them all takes a while). The programs take into account allergies and health conditions, including whether you can eat gluten and dairy or whether you're focused on heart health. They can also create meal plans that follow certain popular diets like Atkins, Bill Phillips or SlimFast. You can opt for home delivery of meals, but that adds up quickly. The online agent told me about several options for delivery: “The 7-day is $159.60 weekly, the 5-day is $119.70 and we have recently added the Freedom plan, which consists of 5 days of meal delivery and two days worth of recipes at $117.60 per week.” I crunched the numbers -- 4 weeks on the 7-dayer comes to $638.40 a month (ouch!). Remember, that's just for one person.
Based on personal experience, here’s what Dana and I found to be the good and the bad parts of these prepared meal “diets.”
- Customized plans for men and women that incorporates and considers various health conditions
- Nationwide home delivery of meals
- Online support available
- Long series of questions during sign-up (not to mention all the ads)
- Some diet plans aren't for everyone, especially if you have certain health conditions
- Food not very appetizing (Dana described some of her meals as “fake-tasting”)
While eDiets and NutriSystem are two of the most recognizable services, there are a slew of other weight loss programs that offer pre-packaged, delivery meals. There are so many that it's hard to wade through them all. I checked out the In The Zone Delivery website. Every meal and snack is a balance of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat -- the exact ration the Zone Diet dictates. The Zone guidelines are pretty inclusive of most foods, but I'd like to know who puts together the meals (is it a dietitian, a chef, anyone else?). The pictured meals on the site look delightful — of course — but I haven’t tasted them personally. The price ranged from $1,200 to $1,500 for 30 days, plus a $3 delivery fee. That's quite a lot.
You might also find some smaller food delivery companies that offer prepared meals. There’s one that delivers to my son’s elementary school because no hot lunch is available there. Or you might come across a local dietitian who teamed up with a chef to run a small, local business.
There are several things to watch out for when considering a meal delivery program that claims to help you lose weight or to be healthy. Don’t be shy; ask as many questions as you want before signing up.
- Find out who they are: Who created the meal plan? You want a registered dietitian.
- Do the math: Calculate how much each meal costs and if it’s worth the money and fits your budget.
- Taste test: Can you return the order if you're not satisfied after trying it out?
- Go for healthy and nutritious: Don’t use plans that provide fewer than 1,200 calories per day or that tell you to eliminate full food groups. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Add fresh fruits, veggies and yogurt: Many meals are pre-frozen and tell you to add a small salad or to snack on fruits and yogurt between meals. It’s a good way to get your latest farmers' market finds into your daily eating plan -- and give you variety.
- When in doubt: If you're not sure if it's right for you, ask a pro. Find a registered dietitian in your area here.