What's the Deal with All Those Diet Meal-Delivery Services?

You can get much more delivered to your door than just pizza or Chinese takeout these days

From Jenny Craig to Bistro MD, “healthy” delivery services are a booming business — one hinged on your desire to save time and lose weight. It's an industry that will swell past $1 billion by the end of 2014.

There is a lot of competition and a lot of variety within the meal-delivery business. Almost every need and whim of its hungry consumers is catered to. There are more traditional diet-focused plans, like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem. And there are the more modern ones focused on real and healthful food, like Plated. If you're shopping by flavor and quality, Bistro MD and Plated have been our taste-test favorites by a long shot.

If you're shopping by price, there's no better bargain that Jenny Craig, at $3.96/day for the first month and 66 cents per day after that. Freshology is the most expensive, at $52.95 to $55.95 per day, depending on which plan you opt for. In the mid-range are: 17 Day Diet Meal Delivery, Bistro MD and Diet To Go all deliver for less than $28 per day. Here, we break down seven of the biggest competitors for you.



How it works: Jenny Craig is the only service that goes beyond the plate to personalize meals and exercise plans and provide weekly one-on-one sessions with a counselor. Beware: these counselors do not generally have professional nutrition backgrounds. Rather, any health enthusiast with a customer-centric attitude can get a certification through Jenny Craig’s training course. However, these counselors do have access to and rely on advice provided by the brand’s registered dietitians. As for the food, these are shelf-stable (non-refrigereated) meals that come pre-portioned and ready to heat and serve. Caloric intake is a modest 1200-1300 calories per day; the three meals and one snack each day are made up of 50-60 percent carbohydrate, 20-25 percent protein, and 20 to 25 percent fat.

Pro: One-on-one counselor relationship that is held in person or by phone

Con: Foods are packaged so you have to pay to add fresh grocery items, like fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

What you’ll eat:

Breakfast: Blueberry Pancakes and Veggie Sausage

Lunch: Broccoli and Cheese Potato

Dinner: Three Cheese Ziti Marinara with Side Salad

Dessert: Triple Chocolate Cheesecake

Price: $99 enrollment fee (plus cost of food and shipping) and then one of two programs: $39.99 per month to pay as you go, meaning you can opt-in one month and maybe skip the next; or $19.99 a month if you set up for recurring billing



How it works: You get signature Zone meals that adhere to the 40/30/30 ratio of the super popular diet and lifestyle program. That means each meal is made of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent healthful fats. In the Zone suggests that this allows the dieter to reach a hormone equilibrium that yields results like weight loss, more energy and regulated insulin. Their 500 menu options are prepared fresh by their chefs and shipped expeditiously to you.

Pro: Balanced meals made up of healthy carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats. Fresh prepared; never frozen

Con: Not affiliated with Barry Sears' original The Zone Diet. Who is behind this diet then? Just a private company.

What you’ll eat:

Breakfast: Egg, Tomato, and Feta Cheese Spinach and Egg Omelet

Lunch: Chicken Salad on a Multi-Grain Panini

Dinner: Coffee Crusted Sirloin Steak with Gouda Baked Broccoli and Sweet Potato

Price: $1199.70 for 30 days of 3 meals (including dessert) per day



How it works: You get a month’s worth of food in one shipment, covering breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks for each day. The core plan that most users follow provides only shelf-stable/pantry-ready food — meaning no necessary refrigeration or freezing; however, frozen meals are available as well. Nutrisystem’s menu is low on the glycemic index (meaning generally suitable for diabetics) and meet a nutrition ratio of 55 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent healthful fats,and 20 percent protein. Diners generally report feelings of fullness and satisfaction on this roughly 1200 calorie per day diet, which includes three meals, two snacks, and six servings of fresh fruits and vegetables (that you provide yourself).

Pro: More than 150 meal options

Con: Limited flexibility because and no guidance for going off plan. In other words, any food that isn’t from Nutrisystem isn’t part of the diet plan

What you’ll eat:

Breakfast: Honey Wheat Bagel

Snack: Fresh orange

Lunch: Chicken Tacos

Dinner: Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

Dessert: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Price: The Basic program costs $229.99 but you’re getting preselected best-of meals; The Core costs $269.99 and you get to pick your own prepackaged foods; The Select costs $319.99 but you can choose from prepackaged and frozen foods



How it works: Behind their impressive menu are chefs, weight loss physicians and nutritionists — all ensuring the food marries healthfulness with taste. Like most of these plans, portion control is built in and there’s a proper balance of proteins, carbs, and healthy fats served. Quality ingredients like whole grains, cane syrup, or even seaweed in the vegetarian burrito help set Bistro MD apart, as does the exclusion of artificial dyes or other chemical additives.

Pro: Our blind review panel named it the best meal delivery diet of 2013 because of overall nutrition, taste, and quality.

Con: Meals tend to be very high in sodium.

What you’ll eat:

Breakfast: Cinnamon Sweet Potato Pancakes

Lunch: Pulled Pork Sandwich with Baked Beans and Corn

Dinner: Jerk Chicken with Okra

Dessert: Mini Chocolate Cheesecake

Price: Starts at $99 per week for 7 days’ worth of meals



How it works: Named one of the top 10 most popular diets of 2013 by DietsInReview.com, the goal of Diet-to-Go is to provide fresh and healthy food in the proper portion sizes that is delicious and makes weight loss easy. Their meals adhere to low-fat, low-sodium, and low-cholesterol guidelines set forth by organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. All fruits, vegetables, and condiments are provided with these meals. Within the three different meal plans, you can also choose to do fresh local pickup if it is available in your area, or simply have it delivered via FedEx.

Pro: Broad selection in menu plans, including vegetarian and low-carb options

Con: Relies on brand name, packaged foods that can easily be purchased by the customer on their own for less

What you’ll eat:

Breakfast: Egg Quesadilla

Lunch: Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup

Dinner: Lobster and Vegetable Ravioli

Price: $79.49 per week for a standard 5-day, 1600-calorie per day plan



How it works: Gone are shelf-stable and powdered foods of other competitive meal delivery brands. With Freshology, they prepare healthful portion-controlled meals, freeze, and then ship them to you.

Pro: Upgrades available for organic foods or wild-caught fish and seafood

Con: Meal packages do not display nutrition facts labels nor ingredients.

What you’ll eat:

Breakfast: Tomato Spinach Egg Stack

Lunch: Whole Wheat Penne with Eggplant and Sauteed Spinach

Dinner: Shrimp Jambalaya

Dessert: Mini Raspberry Cheesecake

Price: For the basic Dining program, you’ll pay $1588.50 for 30 days; for the Edge (accelerated weight loss), you’ll pay $1678.60 for 4 weeks. There are also Mommy, Fresh Gluten Free and The Waltz (where they partner with Dancing with the Stars) options.



How it works:

Plated isn't a weight-loss system but it remains a good way to eat healthily throughout the week. You get all of the fresh ingredients — meat, seafood, vegetables and spices — and follow the gourmet recipe provided to make yourself a quick but delicious meal.

Pro: No ingredients wasted since they are all pre-measured to exact need

Con: The box we received wasn't labeled as a refrigerated item and the meat spoiled before we could use it

Price: $12 per plate for members or $15 per plate for non-members — $10 monthly membership fee, four plate minimum order



All prices were gathered the week of January 13, 2013. Some of these brands are advertising partners of DietsInReview.com but that in no way influenced this data nor review; DIR is committed to being the largest unbiased third-party diet review site on the web.

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