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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 a viable alternative. 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.

Best prepackaged diet plan

Jenny Craig
Jenny Craig

Jenny Craig (Est. $15 and up per month, plus food) 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, support, and as an overall healthy diet. With Jenny Craig, you have meals delivered to your door on a weekly basis; some are frozen and just need to be heated, others are shelf-stable and only need to be opened. You can supplement the meals with fruit or yogurt, in the proper proportions to stay within your caloric range. Your specific diet plan is based upon an interview with a counselor, and takes into account emotional eating issues, as well as any dietary preferences or sensitivities.

Where Jenny Craig doesn't do so well, users say, is in the area of long-term weight loss, partly because not many people can afford it for the long term. While the base subscription seems low, other programs run as high as $40 per month and to that you have to add a registration fee, plus the ongoing cost of food and shipping. We saw estimates that weekly food costs average around $90 to $170 per person.

Experts and consumers say the food is tasty, but the portions are small and we saw many complaints of hunger on Jenny Craig -- as well as hunger's accompanying side effects of fatigue and crankiness. However, there is ample support provided from nutritional counselors and fellow dieters, which experts say is crucial to sticking with any eating plan, and will help you as you transition to eating real food. Jenny Craig gets lower scores for integrating fitness into its program than other diets.

Nutrisystem (Est. $300 and up 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 from users. It is less expensive than Jenny Craig when taking into account Jenny's food costs, but it is still more expensive than just buying groceries and preparing your own meals, experts note.

Another prepackaged diet, Bistro MD (Est. $160 per week and up), ranks behind Jenny Craig in taste tests but it's also one of the pricier options. However, it can easily be customized to your specific needs, whether you're gluten intolerant or diabetic. It lacks a fitness component.

One Bistro MD offering, the 17 Day Diet Delivery is a collaboration between Dr. Mike Moreno, author of the 17 Day Diet, which we review in our section on Best Diet Books, and Bistro MD. The menu offerings are more limited, but it gets top marks in independent taste tests. It is more expensive that Bistro MD's basic diet, and lacks fitness support, but reviewers say it's a great tool to pair with the 17 Day Diet book. (Est. $10 per month, plus food) tries to provide something for everybody, offering meal delivery for several types of diets based upon a free diet questionnaire. However, we found a lot of user complaints about a lack of transparency regarding costs, and quite a few received food that wasn't what they ordered, a serious problem for those with food allergies or sensitivities.

All prepackaged meal plans are similar, but in addition to the cost, they all come with two downsides: First, there are no strong incentives for exercise as there is with other programs that "reward" you with calories for activity. Second, the transition to regular food -- which is the intent of all of these programs, for at least part of your meals -- can be difficult. If you have chosen a prepackaged diet program because you don't like to cook or don't have time to cook, those problems will still exist when you stop having food delivered.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Reviewed Weight Loss Programs: Whether you just need to lose a few pounds, are having weight-related health issues, or just want to find a healthier of eating, there's a diet that's right for you. The top diets are healthy, effective, easy to follow, and come with the support you need.

Best Diet Plans: If weight loss is your primary goal, these plans are the top choices of experts and dieters. We found the top commercial and free diet plans to fit anyone's diet preferences.

Best Diabetes Diet: If you suffer from diabetes or prediabetes, you really need to watch what you eat. These eating plans have been proven to be effective in helping to manage -- or even cure -- type 2 diabetes.

Best Diet Book: Diet books can be a terrific guide in your journey to a new way of eating. They're very affordable and are the basis for many of the most popular diets.

Buying Guide: Not sure which weight loss plan is right for you? We offer a thorough overview of what you need to know to find a great program for the long term.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user sources we consulted to find the best weight loss programs. They are listed in order from most helpful to least.

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