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Sometimes convenience is worth its price

There are a lot of obstacles to successfully sticking to a diet, and time and organization are two big ones. If you don't like meal planning and preparation, and you can afford it, prepackaged meal plans are the way to go. These programs deliver three meals a day -- plus snacks -- right to your door. All you have to do is heat and eat. The drawbacks are the price -- which can be quite high -- and the restrictions to eating only what is delivered. If you're dieting and other family members aren't, it may be hard to resist sneaking a bit of what they're eating. It's also difficult to eat out since you're restricted to your prepackaged meals, at least for the first few months.

Jenny Craig (Est. $30 per month, plus registration fee, food and shipping) is probably the most ubiquitous of these programs, but experts say that's because it works. It consistently comes out on top in "best diet" roundups for weight loss, convenience, ease of following, and as an overall healthy diet. Where it doesn't do so well is in long-term weight loss, partly because not many people can afford it for the long term. One source estimates that it costs about $1,900 total to lose 20 pounds. Consumer-reviewers say the food is tasty, but the portions are small. There is ample support provided with the plan from nutritional counselors and fellow dieters.

Nutrisystem (Est. $307 to $535 per month) is another popular prepackaged food plan that is very similar to Jenny Craig. It has many of the same benefits and limitations, but gets lower scores for taste. It costs less, but is still more expensive than just buying groceries and preparing your own meals.

Another prepackaged diet, Bistro MD, gets good scores for taste from experts and user-reviewers, but, at about $160 a week, it's one of the pricier options.

In addition to the cost, all packaged meal plans come with two downsides: You're usually on your own when it comes to exercise, and quite frequently you're on your own for transitioning back to regular food. Testers with Health magazine pick Bistro MD as the food-delivery diet with the best support, including ready access to registered dietitians. Jenny Craig uses counselors to help you transition back to real food once you're halfway to your goal weight, and Nutrisystem offers free access to counseling services.

At the low end of the price scale, Slim-Fast costs about $20 a week for meal-replacement shakes and bars. You'll still make and eat one calorie-limited meal per day, which introduces some variety. Nonetheless, most users quickly get bored with the shakes and bars and, like with any pre-packaged diet, when you try to transition to regular food the weight often comes back.

EDiets.com (Est. $19 per month, plus food) tries to provide something for everybody, offering meal delivery for more than 20 types of diets. However, we found lots of user complaints about a lack of transparency regarding costs, and quite a few received food that wasn't what they ordered.

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