By Carolina Santos-Neves, Epicurious.com
Diets. No one wants to go on one but there comes a time-especially after the holidays and before bathing suit season-when the overindulging has to stop. The main stumbling blocks with diets are that they have a reputation for taking time, require tremendous discipline, cost a lot, and the notion of curbing your enthusiasms just isn't very fun. For those who cook a lot, they have to learn how to eliminate and substitute certain ingredients and dishes.
Related: Our Complete Guide to Eating Healthy and Losing Weight
At Epicurious, we spend a lot of time cooking healthy, low-calorie recipes but we recognize that even the most enthusiastic home cooks don't always have time to whip up a meal; so we took a hard look at the diet delivery world in search of tasty meals that are both reasonably priced and healthy. Believe it or not, such commercial diet plans do exist. We focused on companies that sell nationwide, offering meals that are available either fresh daily, packaged using MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) technology, flash frozen, or frozen, and can be ready to eat in just a few minutes. Of the dozens of options, we found eight well-known brands that met our criteria, and of those, three diets we would all happily go on for a sustained amount of time.
Diet to Go
(Average cost per MAP meal: $7. Average weekly cost for 15 meals: less than $120)
What we tasted: For each plan we looked for a white-meat main dish. Diet to Go offered a Thai turkey tenderloin over rice with green beans and grape tomatoes. "The turkey was tender, and the veggies nice and crisp like they never are but should be," said one editor. For dessert, there was a choice between chocolate pudding and a chocolate brownie.
What we loved: Diet to Go gives you choices-plenty of them. You can sign up for low-carb, low-fat, or low-fat vegetarian meals. You pick whether you want to consume 1,200 or 1,600 calories a day, plus the nutrition info is available on the site. Meal options are pre-selected, but customization for allergies and sensitivities are allowed. All flash-frozen meals get delivered at once in the beginning of your start week.
What we didn't love: There was a little bit too much sauce in this particular dish. We sampled the chocolate pudding and brownie and found them to taste somewhat artificial.
The Biggest Loser Meal Plan
(Average weekly cost for 15 MAP meals: $150; starts at $22 a day)
What we tasted: Roasted Chicken Breast, Cranberry-Walnut Wild Rice and Caramelized Onions. (No dessert was included.) "This looks homemade with the wild rice nut and dried fruit blend!" said one taster, while a second agreed: "I would never think this is diet food."
What we loved: The nutrition info and list of ingredients are available on the site. They make it easy by pre-selecting menus, or you can pick your own.
What we didn't love: There were no veggies in this chicken dish, but it appears that most meals do include some. This plan is very strict and does not allow for desserts, only snacks.
(Average cost per fresh daily meal depends on selected program, but one day is about $43)
What we tasted: Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast with Sauce Choron, Broccoli Spears and Aztec Whole Grain Blend and Banana Cream Tart. The portions are generous, especially the rice. "The cheesy spinach stuffing is so creamy that I can't believe this is healthy," said one judge.
What we loved: Very user-friendly! You can pick how often you want your meals delivered, whether it be daily or once a week. It doesn't require a long-term commitment, unlike so many other diet delivery plans. Just want one day's worth to sample? Not a problem. Want an entire month's worth? Not a problem, either. One day's package comes with three prepared meals and two snacks (savory and dessert). Not to mention that some of the meal-plan choices include heart-healthy, vegetarian, sugar-free, kosher, and even a kids' menu.
What we didn't love: They deliver only to the New York tristate and Los Angeles areas. The banana cream tart left much to be desired. Tasters all agreed they would have preferred a small piece of dark chocolate or mini-scoop of ice cream instead.
Related: Weight-Loss Apps for Food Lovers
The Other Contenders: The Bottom Two
If we eat with our eyes, then Jenny Craig's frozen Chicken Alfredo is one we did not want to eat. Blanketed with a greasy-looking cheese sauce, the meal looked unhealthy. The tasting revealed that it was too salty. The long list of ingredients seemed excessive and outrageous, as well. Nutrisystem's Roasted Turkey Medallions were covered in gelatinous gravy, and like Jenny Craig's, seemed to have way too much salt. The turkey lacked flavor and had a processed look.
Additional Taste Test Details
All eight varieties evaluated are available nationwide and online, with the exception of Chefs Diet. Listed from highest to lowest score achieved, they are: Diet to Go, the Biggest Loser Meal Plan, Chefs Diet, eDiets, Fitzee Foods, Healthy Chef Creations, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem.
Methodology: In a blind taste test, judges compared the flavor, consistency, and appearance of eight types of poultry-based diet delivery dinner entrées. Dishes were ranked according to the Epicurious four-fork rating system (four being best).
Prices and availability subject to change.
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By Carolina Santos-Neves, Epicurious.com
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