Monday, January 27, 2014

How does Jenny Craig food taste? How much does it cost? Can it lead to lasting results?

As much as I'd like to say I was eating healthier before I joined Jenny Craig, I think I wasn't. I was ordering in at work at lunch (picture a couple of tacos, or a burger, or an Indian platter, or Pad Thai, or Chinese something or other or sushi). Then for dinner, we were doing takeout often (picture more of the above, leaning heavily toward Mexican cuisine since Will is gluten-free). And then breakfast was often Starbucks. Sad, right?

All that is embarrassing to write, but it was true, at least some days out of the week. And it means that eating this processed frozen food, while not ideal, is not as bad as it might be if I had been eating organic kale soups previously.  I really never thought I'd go for this pre-packaged thing, like, truly never crossed my radar, but the easiness factor won me over. That and the fact that much of this stuff actually tastes good.

Especially at the beginning, I loved that I would just go once a week, give a list of food to someone else (the JC consultant), and she'd go round up the items and bring them to me in bags. E-A-S-Y. And also non-tempting. So much simpler than trudging through the supermarket and trying to not end up undoing all my efforts with a few poor choices. Facing the many choices in the supermaket has gotten MUCH easier, by the way, but at the beginning, limiting my options really helped me.

I pick my food up at the JC Center in person, but here's what it looks like
when it's shipped to you via UPS (another option).
Image courtesy of
So this is a big issue and comes up a lot when people are considering Jenny Craig. How much does all of this stuff cost? Hanging my head sheepishly, I have to make a strange and guilty confession...I think that based on what I was buying and consuming before, that I'm actually saving money on the Jenny Craig diet. It seems I'm probably an outlier in that, based on what I've read online, but in my case, and with Manhattan food prices (especially ordering in dinner!), I think it is true. I'm mixing Jenny food with other stuff more and more - meaning less of the Jenny food, and more other food instead - and therefore now am probably spending between $50-$75 on the Jenny food a week. At the beginning, when I ate all Jenny all the time, I think I spent $100-$125ish a week. Which sounds like a lot!! And yet order in a single lunch or dinner for Will and me in Manhattan and you're talking easily $20ish for lunch and at least $40 for dinner, so...well...this is cheaper. Someday I will get my sleep schedule sorted and my life organized and cook everything ahead for the whole week and we'll live on $150 a week for the whole family. Maybe. Seems doubtful, but it would be good!

But does it taste good?

In case there are any Jenny Craig users reading this, I'll briefly post some of my favorite items:

Breakfast (all JC breakfasts are between 150-240 calories): 
(Note - I'm an egg person. I don't really do cereal or pancakes and gave that bready stuff up entirely when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, so I haven't tried the more carb heavy breakfast items. So the pancakes or French toast might be good, but just not my thing). 
  • Florentine Breakfast Pizzas - my favorite - it's basically eggs with spinach and cheese. I could eat this a few times a week
  • Ranchero Breakfast Skillet - my second favorite - Mexican-ish. Really good, esp. with added tablespoon of greek plain non-fat yogurt and salsa fresca. Yum!
  • Breakfast Scramble - eggs and meatish stuff and potatoes (also better with the salsa + n.f. greek yogurt)
  • Sunshine Sandwich - an adequate stand-in for an egg mcmuffin or starbucks sandwich. Not truly the same at all, but convenient and is only 210 calories, so much less than those)
Lunch (all JC lunches are between 200-300 calories):
  • Stuffed Shells - in marinara sauce with spinach. Pretty tasty.
  • Beef & Cheese Slider - It's basically a small cheese burger. I add dijon mustard and a couple of pieces of boston lettuce. I like how you heat up the meat separate from the bun so it's not a soggy mess.
  • Beef Chow Mein - actually well-spiced and has a good amount of fresh veggies in it.
  • Broccoli & Cheese Potato - I'm of Irish descent, so this one's a no brainer. If I could have a baked potato several times a week, I probably would (not broccoli and cheddar every time, tho...)
  • Pasta Ole - orzo pasta in tomato sauce, with black beans, bell peppers, corn and cheese. I don't usually like orzo, but this is a bit Mexican-ish and pretty good.
  • Tuna Salad Kit or chicken salad kit - shelf stable and a bit small, but nice little lunch kit with cut up fruit or apple sauce and crackers. Good when traveling or on the go. 
  • Southwestern Chicken with Rice - This one isn't frozen, but also isn't I'd only recommend if traveling... but it's pretty good, especially given the frightening fact that it can be stored at room temperature ( I do like that they have a few of these types of options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I was away giving a two-day training and didn't know what type of time/travel/and hotel situation I'd find myself in, I brought all shelf-stable food and didn't stray once. I was pretty glad to be done with the shelf stable stuff by the time I got home, but also grateful it was an option.)
Dinner (all JC dinners are between 200-300 calories): 
  • Chicken Fajitas - quite good. I add my own organic orange and red  and yellow peppers and onions to make it a feast + a dollop of nonfat greek yogurt and salsa. Yum!
  • Spaghetti with Meatballs  - I don't even like spaghetti, but I like this. The meatballs are surprisingly good.
  • Rising Crust Pizza - fairly tasty veggie pizza, if you overlook the fact that the crust on this pizza ain't never gonna rise.
  • Homestyle Chicken Casserole - nice comfort food saucy chicken yumminess. Need I say more?
  • Sesame Chicken - breaded chicken with veggies and noodles. It's pretty good. I take it for lunch sometimes too.
  • Traditional Lasagna - for those times you need lasagna. It happens. I'm starting to get tired of the meatless crumbles but it's yummy overall.
Additional Veggies and Dairy:
From the very start of the Jenny plan, I added, per their recommendation, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. For me, trying to keep things simple, this means that over the weekend, I make sure pick up a big bag or two of organic premixed salad greens like this

and several of those BirdsEye Steamer packages of veggies. Note to Birds Eye - I would gladly pay more if you would make an organic version of these! I usually choose things mostly comprised of non-starchy veggies and that are lighter on the carrots and corn, etc...

So daily, I have a big salad with my lunch (JC has these pre-measured salad dressing packets ranch or balsamic vinegar flavor that are EASY and make it brainless) and a big bowl of steamed veggies with my dinner at night. I also eat an occasional piece of fruit for a snack (I have eaten A LOT of clementines), but probably less fruit than I am supposed to.

Also, I usually start the day with a Venti sized tea from Starbucks  with non-fat milk and splenda, and that + my JC meal or that + the Starbucks egg white turkey bacon breakfast sandwich (with half the english muffin tossed in the garbage, a trick I learned from my gestational diabetes days) gets me tidily to lunch.

I don't eat many of the snacks and desserts that are part of the Jenny Craig plan because they just haven't appealed to me much. They have these vitamin "anytime" bars that I eat probably 3 of each week (I like the chocolate peanut butter bar). But generally, I'm full without it and take a multivitamin instead, and I don't tend to be craving additional snacks.

After dinner, I usually have a big mug of decaf PG Tips tea and non-fat milk and splenda as my dessert and I'm a happy camper. When I DO want a real snack/dessert, I'd rather have what I want - air pop some popcorn at home or have a few bites of Will's ice cream (once I had a half a candy bar because I really wanted it.). I don't typically feel that I need a Jenny Craig frozen diet key lime pie or cookies and cream cheesecake or "diet" tortilla chips. For me, starting to eat snacks and dessert every day (not something I did before) would just lead to more bad habits I'd have to change later. And I have enough bad habits as it is! I also think the choice to not do so many JC snacks and desserts has helped keep the cost of things down, and probably has accelerated my weight loss. That said, I tried and liked the lemon cooler cookies and the white cheddar popcorn and the cookies and cream cheese cake. They also have a fake snickers bar type item that was pretty good. I've tried a few other things and didn't love them. I haven't tried so much else, though, and if you're a dessert fiend all of the dessert and snack options might be just what you need to stay with it for the long-haul.

What about non-Jenny food?
When I AM cooking meals, we make a lot of baked fish or shrimp or scallops and veggies or use Will's new slow cooker (Christmas present from Mo!)  to make a healthy chicken or vegetarian recipe (lots of bean-based dishes with veggies, few grains).

Our "new" takeout options are often to hit up Subway for a sandwich (only for me - no bread for Will since he is gluten-free) or Chipotle - both have calorie counts and online tools, not to mention numerous options I can choose to control my intake (yes or no cheese, guac, rice, condiments, etc.) so I can decide what I'm getting into calorie-wise.

When we've been out to eat at nicer restaurants (a few times so far at home...much more when we were traveling), I just ask for things prepared without butter or oil and watch my portions (choosing a lean meat or seafood usually instead of something diet-deadly like risotto or pasta). And when we've had friends over and ordered take out, we've gotten sushi, so I could just have a few pieces of sashimi and make a bunch of steamed kale and broccoli I can eat with abandon.

Even the Christmas holidays with back-to-back food-stuffed family events and holiday parties were relatively ok. I just planned ahead, tried to be sure I wasn't ravenous, and chose wisely and controlled portions (although I DID almost cry on Christmas when the steamed green beans I'd been eyeing as my diet saving grace were then generously dolloped with a half a tub of margarine by one of the hosts. I'd been thinking - Oh awesome! I can have as many green beans as I want! So I'll have a small amount of meat, and a small amount of pre-dressing-covered salad, and then tons of green beans. Yay! As the margarine was scooped generously on, if you'd seen my face..I'm sure you could not have missed my horrified look of OH NO!).

We also spent nearly a week in Florida around Christmas without any Jenny food and ate out two meals almost every day (ugh, I was NOT thrilled about that!!). I handled it by just being very careful about what I ordered. Lots of steamed seafood. Lots of salad (with my own dressing). Careful with potatoes, etc. I usually started the day at home with a big veggie-filled omelet (one whole egg and two or three egg whites + veggies and a bit of parmesean cheese. yum! and very filling!). I lost over 4 pounds the two weeks around Christmas and New Years, so I guess it worked.

Envisioning a future post-Jenny
Of course, I won't be eating Jenny Craig forever (sometimes this is a comforting thought; other times anxiety-provoking). Will I be able to keep going indefinitely in my new habits and keep the weight off? That's a big question, and something I've tried to have in the front of my mind the whole time. How can I use this structured time in the Jenny Craig program to translate to lasting changes? I don't have the full answer at all yet, but here's some thoughts for now. I think that the Jenny food has helped me begin to internalize a new idea of portion sizes. I'm also much much more calorie-conscious, logging everything I eat. It has helped me in planning what to eat to try to stick to close to the counts that the Jenny food has for my entree if it's not a Jenny item (150-240 calories for breakfast and between 250-300 for lunch and dinner). (This is plus the veggies and snacks and dairy, so don't think I'm wasting away). 

It's funny, but the Jenny food serves as sort of a crutch for me. It's a safe choice. I know what's in it (and I know it isn't perfect, but at least it's a known imperfect). Once I passed the halfway point with my weight loss, I've been trying to back off from the Jenny food and replace it with other foods more and more. The hardest part is figuring out how to estimate portions and ingredients in restaurants or when outside the house. Or to exercise control when there is a heaping food in front of me.

More than I would have thought, the Jenny food has begun to re-educate me about portions and calories, I think especially because a lot of the Jenny food is not traditional "diet" food (e.g., chicken carbonara? chicken parm? crazy!). So I've really internalized the lesson at this point that if I'm going to eat something like pasta, I can't have very much of it. Also that non-starchy veggies are awesome in terms of their nutritional values AND for satiety. That last fact is not so novel to me, but I really look forward to my veggies now, which is a shift.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes to begin to internalize some of these new eating behaviors. Right now, when I step away from the packaged food, it feels perilous...delicious but perilous. I imagine that as time passes I will develop a better sense of what and how much I can have, as well as how to occasionally deviate for a special occasion and get right back on track again. I use to track my food and that helps a lot. I'll probably post on that in the future, but it just helps me have a good sense of how much I'm eating and how I'm doing nutritionally. But I look forward to some of this becoming more automatic and "habitual" over time.


P.S. I added a "Weight Loss" blogroll at the bottom of my list of blogrolls. In case of interest! If there's a weight loss blog you really like that's not there, please tell me about it!

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  1. Mo, you have AMAZING self-control! I really am so very impressed.

    After my two week holiday, I now have 5 kg to lose so back I go to Weigh-Less on Saturday :)

  2. Marcia, I've never heard of Weight-Less - we don't have it in the U.S. Is it pre-packaged food like Jenny Craig or more counting your own points/calories like Weight Watchers? Or something else?

  3. Great post! Very comprehensive, thanks! When I read: "Will I be able to keep going indefinitely in my new habits and keep the weight off?" it totally reminded me of myself. I am very worried that not only will I dislike the food but also not be able to maintain the weight loss afterwards. Gaining it back would be my worst nightmare! I'm also concerned about the cost. I managed to find the full price list for this year. I can't believe how high some of the meals have gotten, when I last researched JC, it was about 5-6 bucks a meal...Do you take the supplements also? What about those new shakes? Oh, here's the Jenny Craig food price list, in case anyone is interested!


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