You might remember Jenny Craig from older commercials with celebrity spokespeople. Over the years, the company has had a wide range of celebrities like Kristie Allen, Mariah Carey, Valerie Bertinelli and Jason Alexander endorse its programs. Jenny Craig still offers frozen, prepackaged and low-calorie meals for those wanting to eat healthily and lose weight. But is it for you?
What is Jenny Craig?
Jenny Craig is one of the world’s most popular weight-loss programs. Built on portion-size meals, intermittent fasting, personalized coaching and holistic health plans, Jenny Craig gives structure to losing weight.
One of the most important aspects of this weight-loss program is the meal plans. Jenny Craig claims that healthy food shouldn’t have to be bland.
I set out to taste these food items for myself, judge the nutritional value and speak with a professional on their thoughts about diet programs. Here is what I found.
How does Jenny Craig work?
Within the first week with Jenny Craig, you’re expected to set your weight, activity and food goals. By the end of the first week (if you’re on the largest plan, Max Up), you’ll have consumed seven premade breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, desserts and recharge bars. The idea is that you’ll see some weight loss in the first to second week of Jenny Craig.
As the weeks go by, you’ll start to add your own grocery items to your meal plan. The goal is to transition to home-cooked meals once you’re close to your weight goal, in hopes that healthy eating habits stay with you.
Jenny Craig offers three meal plans to choose from, depending on how many daily meals you want and if you require personal coaching. There aren’t any specific plans for vegans, vegetarians or those who are dairy or gluten-free. However, you can call and Jenny Craig can help you create a custom plan.
The three plans are as follows:
The least expensive plan, at $14 per day, comes with a week of breakfasts and lunches. Best for those trying out Jenny Craig’s food for the first time.
The middle-tier plan in terms of price, $22 per day, comes with a week of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. This plan is for those looking to get the full meal experience.
Max Up Weight Loss
The top plan, at $28 per day, contains all the meals of the Essential plan but includes recharge bars, activity and quality of life plans and personal coaching. This plan offers the most tools to those looking to jumpstart their weight loss.
If you choose the Max Up Weight Loss plan, you get access to a personal coach for individualized counseling on a weekly basis.
Benefits of having a personal coach include extra help planning meals, setting weight and diet goals, exercise tips and advice, the option of meeting virtually or in-person and ongoing support.
The Jenny Craig experience
My order came directly from the closest Jenny Craig facility. I was hand-delivered my Jenny Craig order via courier service (in my case, DoorDash). It was very easy, and I didn’t have to worry about missing the shipment and having food thaw outside my front door. It went right from my hands to my freezer.
My order came with seven of each of the following: breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, desserts and recharge bars. That’s equivalent to the Max Up meal plan. With shipping and tax added, my total was about $215 for the whole week.
Each food item is categorized with a color. Items with a yellow stripe are for breakfast, green items are for lunch or dinner, purple items are for snacks and dessert, and blue items (not seen here) are side dishes.
My order also came with a checklist to ensure I received all of my food items.
Is Jenny Craig food any good?
The only way to accurately judge Jenny Craig’s food was to try it for myself. During my trial run on the Max Up meal plan, I took into account variety, nutritional value and taste. I must point out that I’m not a professional food critic, but I think I know what food is worth eating.
I normally don’t consume frozen breakfast items, mostly because many of those available contain eggs (not a dietary concern, just not a fan). Fortunately for me, Jenny Craig had three eggless breakfast meals to choose from: classic waffles, chocolate muffins and cinnamon rolls. I went with the waffles.
I enjoyed the waffles and found that they were very similar to Eggos. Two Jenny Craig waffles are 160 calories, whereas the same serving of Eggo waffles would be 180 calories. I didn’t taste that much of a difference. Yet, Jenny Craig waffles contain the same amount of protein as Eggos and nearly twice the amount of sugar. You might as well go for the Eggos.
For lunch the same day, I tried spaghetti with meatballs. The pasta tasted fine, and I found the meatballs to be similar to other frozen meatball brands I’ve tried in the past. Although I wished it had come with sides to it. The pasta was only 290 calories, but contained 15g of protein.
I like that each lunch meal could be a dinner meal and vice versa. I tend to eat a lot of pasta, and Jenny Craig had three other pasta dishes to choose from: classic lasagna with meat sauce, three-cheese macaroni and chicken fettuccine alfredo.
I was intrigued by Jenny Craig’s baked cheese curls. The puffy cheese snacks looked and tasted very similar to Cheetos, but with a lighter cheese taste. I found these to be a good alternative when I was craving junk food. Jenny Craig’s baked cheese curls are 130 calories, compared to the same amount of Cheetos at 160 calories. The baked cheese curls contain 180mg of sodium; Cheetos have 250mg.
Alongside baked cheese curls, there were mini chocolate chip cookies, BBQ crisps and white cheddar popcorn. I found the popcorn to be the best. It was both filling and a light snack at 140 calories. It tasted very similar to other white cheddar popcorn you can find at the store.
For dinner, there were only three meatless options (out of 14 lunches and dinners). Of the three meatless options, the mac and cheese dish was the best in taste. It came with cut carrots and broccoli, and while I found the broccoli to be fresh, the carrots were mushy. I would have preferred to make a side of carrots and broccoli on my own.
I also tried the mashed potatoes and fried chicken. The potatoes tasted OK, but I could have made better ones from scratch. There were only a few chicken pieces, and they were mostly breading. While the vegetables weren’t fresh, you can always add some yourself.
After eating these dinner meals, I was still hungry. This was most likely due to the potato and fried chicken meal only being 250 calories. To curb hunger, I would have paired all dinner meals with fresh fruits, salads or vegetables.
The desserts look small, but I found them perfectly sized. The chocolate ice cream was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. It contains half the amount of fat as regular ice cream and was the perfect bite before the 14-hour fast begins.
Jenny Craig offers recharge bars for light snacking during intermittent fasting. If you’re on the Max Up meal plan, recharge bars ease the 14-hour fast, which starts right after dessert and lasts until breakfast the next day. Most of the 14 hours are spent sleeping, leaving you a 10-hour eating window during the day. The bars are to be eaten before breakfast.
As someone who enjoys protein bars, I found the recharge bars tasty. I tried the fudge nut bars containing pecans, macadamia nuts, almonds and chocolate. The bars tasted similar to the chocolate Kind bars I used to eat between college classes. I could see myself eating these each morning.
However, in each 34g bar, there’s 4 to 5g of added sugar. To put that into perspective, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (PDF) suggests limiting daily calories from added sugars to less than 10% of total calories, which equals 50g of added sugars per day if you consume a 2,000-calorie diet (this is called the Daily Value). One recharge bar ranges from about 8% to 10% of the daily value of added sugar. The American Heart Association, on the other hand, recommends that men consume no more than 36g of added sugar per day. For women, it is slightly less at 25g per day.
In addition, each recharge bar contains 16g of total fat. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that the average adult on a diet of 2,000 calories daily obtain 20% to 35% of those calories through fats — that is, about 44 to 77 grams daily.
A day in the life of someone on the Max Up plan:
- Recharge bar
- Egg, cheese and turkey sausage burrito
- Ham and Swiss cheese baguette
- BBQ crisps
- Classic lasagna with meat sauce
- Chocolate ice cream
All of the items included in the plans are the meals you’ll eat in one week.
Simple Meal Plan: $13 per day, $90.95 per week
- Seven breakfasts
- Seven lunches
Essential Meal Plan: $20.78 per day, $145.89 per week
- Seven breakfasts
- Seven lunches
- Seven dinners
- Free delivery
Max Up Weight Loss Plan: $22.52 per day, $185.46 per week, $157.64 with auto-delivery
- Personal coaching
- Seven breakfasts
- Seven lunches
- Seven dinners
- Seven snacks and desserts
- Seven recharge bars
- Activity and quality of life plans
- Free delivery
- Discount with auto-delivery
What do nutritionists say?
While programs that promise weight loss seem like an easy answer, that isn’t always the case. I spoke with a nutrition expert from the American Council on Science and Health in order to understand the science behind these programs.
David Lightsey, food and nutrition science adviser to Quackwatch and author of The Myths About Nutrition Science, says, “Short-term, commercial weight-loss programs can offer various reasonably sound nutritious meals if that is all someone is looking for, but of course, for a hefty price tag.” The price of these programs seems often to be a huge drawback.
“However, most people who are inclined to be attracted to these programs are largely interested in the purported associated weight loss attributed to them,” Lightsey added. “This is where [weight-loss programs] get deceptive with the facts.”
Lightsey explains that companies often are deceptive on the type of weight that is lost on the program: “The [weight loss] include[s] a significant amount of water and muscle tissue weight. Short term, you end up with happy campers. Long-term, you derail their efforts to successfully keep it off.”
He listed the ways that derail long-term success as: “lost considerable muscle tissue, which is needed to utilize fat mass,” and, “possibly lowered the basal metabolic rates due to the loss in muscle mass, which means the calories they now burn at rest are less than prior to the program.”
The list includes “diminished ability to put on muscle mass due to increased activity in conjunction with excessively low calories to support it. In males, testosterone levels may actually drop significantly due to excessively low calories with increased activity.”
Instead, Lightsey recommends seeking out a local registered dietitian who can help prepare you an adequate diet plan.
- It doesn’t prepare you for eating outside of the diet
- Steep price tag
- Could potentially encourage poor eating habits in the future or trigger eating disorders, such as binge eating
Is Jenny Craig for you?
There is no such thing as a weight-loss program that fits everyone. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you will have to work harder to find the right meal plan for you with Jenny Craig. While any diet can foster disordered eating, Jenny Craig has the potential to teach healthy eating and activity habits.
Try Jenny Craig if:
- You want to learn portion control.
- Personal coaching is something you require or desire.
- Your schedule doesn’t allow time to make homemade meals.
Consider other weight-loss plans or seek a dietitian if:
- You only see short-term results.
- You’re looking for fresh meals compared to frozen.
- You struggle to transition to choosing and cooking your own meals.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.