Eat what you want when you want to, I say, but it's hard not to change my tune with my friend’s sure-to-be-heavily-Instagrammed bachelorette trip is in a month, and I'm expected to be in a bikini. Winter is not the time I care to spend watching what I eat, so the past few months of pasta and wine have made themselves known on my body. Some springtime preparation for less clothing seemed in order. To start, I resolved to give my diet a little reboot. Problem is: My kitchen is currently under renovation, which pretty much took homemade menus off the table. So, like many a New Yorker before me, I outsourced my food prep completely. But this time, it wasn't with Seamless.
Thankfully, meal delivery plans are so much more than Nutrisystem these days. There’s the more hands-on iterations like Blue Apron, which delivers pre-cut and measured ingredients for you to cook yourself. And then there's the less DIY versions like Bonbite, which deliver healthy, chef-prepared meals to your office or home. Since I am without a functioning kitchen, I opted to go the lazy girl route and ordered already-made meals. Unsurprisingly, life gets very excited when you know endless meals are about to be dropped off on your doorstep. Let's assess the options:
22 DAYS NUTRITION
You may recall the moment, about a year ago, when Beyoncé and Jay-Z announced that they were starting a month-long vegan diet. Since then, Beyoncé and her trainer, Marco Borges, have been working on a meal delivery system, which is now 22 Days Nutrition, to bring her vegan experience to the masses. The name 22 Days refers to the commonly held belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Unfortunately, this theory has been disproven by science. Beyoncé’s millions of fans are probably willing to look past that fact (totally fine—21 days is perfectly virtuous in my book). In my own past attempts to go vegan, I always eventually surrendered to cheese. So, I decided to start with one week of veganism. I figure that if I am one third as disciplined as Beyoncé, I am in a pretty good place.
Breakfast : I had ordered the lunch-and-dinner-only meal plan ($115 for five days), so I was on my own for breakfasts. My typical breakfasts are usually fruit or granola with almond milk or other vegan-friendly items anyway. I ate an apple sprinkled with cinnamon and felt totally normal. As a bonus, I decided that I would also do the kind of dance-intensive workouts that I imagine Beyoncé doing for the week. So, I spent my morning sweating with Nicole Winhoffer, who used to work with Madonna. And while Madge is not the same person as Beyoncé, she is a similarly super-fit super-diva—so, close enough.
Lunch: When I got home from my workout, my week’s food had arrived. Sweaty and starving, I surveyed the week’s meals on the counter and felt my mood change from excitement to dread. While Beyoncé’s Instagrammed meals had looked delicious, fresh, and varied, these all looked like versions of the same carb-loaded mush. Rice, rice, beans, quinoa, rice...and more rice. Not a fresh veggie in sight.
I picked a meal at random and ended up with the winter ratatouille brown rice pilaf. I removed it from its container (which felt a lot like the packaging for an airplane meal) and put it into a bowl. After a quick turn in the microwave, I dug into the dish for a first taste. It was…fine. It tasted exactly like it looked. Kind of bland and mostly flavored by the many onion slices in it. I ate it while watching YouTube videos of Beyoncé.
Dinner : I will give the lunch-mush this: I was full all the way until dinner. Either that or I just wasn’t very excited about my next meal. For dinner, I tried the country-style sweet potato lentils. Though they looked nothing like the rice from lunch, they tasted exactly the same. This sent me into a mild panic. Had I just signed up to eat an entire week of soft, onion-flavored food? Beyoncé would never put up with this! Where were the delicious nachos and fresh salads from her photos? Not in my fridge, that’s for sure.
The rest of the week went pretty much the same. There were some highlights like the cheesy butternut squash and broccoli quinoa (vegan cheese, of course) and some low moments (when my friends came over and ordered pizza while I heated up another bowl of rice). At the end of the week, I skipped my last meal in favor of a giant salad. So if their goal is to get you craving real, fresh food, they have succeeded. If their goal is to turn you on to a vegan diet, I would say it is decidedly not working.
The Bottom Line: If you are the kind of person whose kitchen is used primarily as overflow shoe storage a la Carrie Bradshaw, this plan might be for you. I, however, felt confident that I could have made simple salads or rice dishes on my own that would have tasted better.
After my misadventures in veganism, my next foray into meal delivery would just focus on simply eating healthy. I got on the phone with Food Matters founder, nutritionist Tricia Williams. Her whole program is about talking to clients, hearing their individual dietary needs and health concerns, and tailoring a plan for them. With my lesson learned from a week of eating mush, I ordered a single day to try this one out.
Breakfast : Apparently, I was meant to receive a menu by email before my food was delivered. However, I didn’t get one—so instead, I got to play a guessing game with my meals. I decided that the container that looked like chia pudding (Tricia had said she would include this as it is good for combating inflammation, which I had mentioned as one of my concerns) was probably breakfast. I also ate a container of cut-up fruit. I didn’t feel like I was being particularly virtuous in terms of calories, but it was filling and tasty.
Lunch: Here, things got a bit off track. I opened up what I decided must be my lunch to be accosted with a super strong stench of seafood. I don’t eat anything from the sea—never have and never will. It’s a personal dislike kind of thing. I had shared this with Tricia, but we must have had a miscommunication because this was definitely fish. I skipped lunch, gave it to a friend, and moved on to the dinner portion.
The meal that was intended to be dinner was some breaded chicken breast with broccoli and sweet potato skewers. It was totally edible, if not particularly exciting or flavorful. I still wasn’t sure how this meal plan was particularly healthy for me, but I went with it. For dinner, I decided to give up and go out. I’m not a saint.
The Bottom Line: Again, if you are desperate for a slightly healthier than average pre-made meal, you might be into this. But I had no idea what the different foods were meant to be doing for me, and I’m not convinced that it was a particularly diet-friendly or health-friendly day of eating.
Maybe I'm nuts, but I wanted to give vegan eating one last chance. So I turned to Sakara Life, which has made fans of Victoria’s Secret models and celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow. That alone seemed like reason enough.
Sakara Life was founded by friends Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBoise. The two grew up in Sedona, Arizona, with a food-as-medicine mindset. “As early as four years old, we were eating chlorella tablets, reading nutrition labels, and knew what hydrogenated oils were—and to stay way from them,” Danielle says. “When we moved to New York, the healthy lifestyle we knew from growing up was impossible to sustain, and we knew that if we were struggling with this balance, there were thousands of other people struggling with it as well.” Now, they source high-quality superfoods to make nutrition-packed, healthy food that keep you looking and feeling your best.
Breakfast: My Sakara food was the first to come with useful labels and instructions (I opted for one day at $99). I started the day with a yoga class and a bottle of “morning water” which is basically rose water. I then got home and heated up my chia-coconut protein waffles. Let me be clear: Any diet that allows me to eat waffles is something I am 100 percent on board with. They were surprisingly tasty for “health” food. I was already feeling optimistic.
Lunch: For my second meal, I had a veggie wrap (more like a spring roll) with goji hummus on top of tons of lettuce. It was super refreshing, hydrating, and pretty tasty. I would warn anyone who goes on this plan that Sakara appears to be a big fan of garlic. I brushed my teeth several times after lunch because I had to run to a meeting and didn’t want to scare anyone off with my breath.
Dinner: Before dinner, I ate a few handfuls of the granola that the Sakara ladies had included in my meal delivery. For dinner, it was a balancing macro plate with creamy tahini sauce. Translation: it was a plate of veggies with small scoops of rice and beans. By dinner, I was craving something a little bit heartier than a cold salad but this was super filling, and I didn’t even get through half of it before I was done for the night. Again, garlic was a main ingredient—boyfriend was less than thrilled.
The Bottom Line: This was my favorite program by far. It felt fresh, handmade, and actually healthy. The meals were also things that I wouldn’t necessarily have made on my own.
Overall, there really is no replacement for cooking yourself. But if you are going to outsource the work, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into first. On the bright side, I did lose 3 pounds in the process...probably because I was hungry and avoiding my food half the time. I got a lot more work done when I wasn’t always thinking about and planning for my next meal.
So be smart when you’re choosing how and where to spend your money (these programs are not cheap!) on food. At the end of the day, Danielle from Sakara Life said it best: “Eat foods that make you feel sexy. If you feel good during and after eating something, you’re doing it right.”
Photos courtesy of the author.