We’ve completed our first ever side-by-side comparison of three leading meal delivery diet programs – Bistro MD, Diet To Go, and Freshology. This segment of the diet industry is large and continues to grow. Last year, John LaRosa of MarketData shared with us that the segment should “sustain 4.5% average annual growth from 2012 to 2014, reaching $1.09 billion in the latter year.”
Which one is the best? You’re always asking and we’re always wondering ourselves. So we finally sat down to find out.
The winner? Bistro MD. It was a stand out favorite on many levels, from nutrition to taste and quality, as well as packaging.
Diet To Go took the second spot, and Freshology rounded out the list at third.
Let us explain how we got there.
In the most qualitative part of our review, we took ourselves out of the equation and invited five individuals to sample the meals. Four women and one man sampled five meals from each brand. We paired three similar meals together in five rounds; for instance, round two featured soups/stews and round four featured all egg-based breakfast dishes.
Our testers knew the brand names, and we provided each cooked meal in the containers in which they were prepared alongside the packages. Testers scored each on a 1 (worst) to 5 (best) scale and left any notes they thought worthwhile.
Score Results (based on an average of all scores)
Bistro MD - 3.5
Freshology – 2.86
Diet To Go – 2.39
Bistro MD received the most five-point scores, while Diet To Go scored only as high as a 4 for its Lentil Chili with Grilled Cheese and a Brownie. The most preferred meal of Bistro MD was Jerk Chicken with Okra. For Freshology, the Tomato Spinach Egg Stack breakfast scored the brand’s only 5.
The most common comment across all brands was too much salt, evident in taste and on nutrition labels. Some dishes didn’t stand up well to microwaving – like Freshology’s Shrimp Jambalaya which became “quite chewy,” the Turkey Burger from Diet To Go that was incredibly watery and fell apart, and Bistro MD’s corn which looked “old and chewy.”
NextAdvisor.com recently did a meal delivery comparison too, and found different results than we did. Freshology was not included, but Diet To Go took first place while Bistro MD took third. Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem were also included.
Bistro MD and Diet To Go both included standard nutrition and ingredient labels on their packaging; Freshology skipped this entirely, which we found very disconcerting.
There weren’t any true winners here. With two brands to compare, neither met our dietitian’s criteria for frozen meals. Mary Hartley, RD suggests a frozen meal should have 300-450 calories, 0 trans fat, less than 3.5 grams fat, less than 1 gram saturated fat, more than 5 grams fiber, less than 600 milligrams sodium, and less than 2 grams sugar. Only one of Bistro MD’s meals exceeded the calories, while five of Diet To Go’s nine meals exceeded.
Bistro MD only had two meals that came close, meeting four of the criteria – Cinnamon Sweet Potato Pancakes and the Salmon Pepper Coulis (which our taste testers were impressed by the quality/taste). Diet To Go had one meal that came close, meeting three of the criteria – Macaroni and Cheese (which our testers called “average” and “bland”).
Most Bistro and Diet To Go meals exceeded sodium recommendations. The worst offender for Bistro had 850 milligrams in the Jerk Chicken meal; while Diet To Go had three meals with alarming amounts of sodium (1110mg, 1300mg, 1430mg).
These brands were mostly true to their word to use whole, fresh ingredients in their meals. Whole vegetables were present and best attempts to preserve the fruit were taken. Artificial ingredients were used sparingly if at all.
Bistro MD impressed us with whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat flour, seaweed in the vegetarian burrito, and cane syrup in the sweet potato pancakes. However, we were dismayed by the inclusion of sucralose (or Splenda) in the berry crepes and veal stock in the stuffed chicken breast. And what is “beef flap meat” in the vegetable beef stir fry?
Diet To Go had some interesting inclusions – like whole cups of Yoplait yogurt which is something we say is worse for you than a candy bar. A DanActive yogurt, V8 Fusion, and Ocean Spray orange juice and apple juice were also included; we would have rather seen whole fruit. Enriched flour was used for the cornbread muffin breakfast, but wheat pasta was used for the macaroni and cheese. In their turkey burger, no vegetable toppings nor instructions to add them were included, and a ketchup packet with high fructose corn syrup was.
Again, Freshology provided no information about ingredients.
- Freshology was the most expensive at $42.95 per day for their Dancing With the Stars-themed 10-day meal plan.
- BistroMD was the mid-price at $25.99 per day for the 5-day meal plan without snacks.
- Diet To Go was the most affordable at $20.43 per day for a 7-day meal plan.
LaRosa’s MarketData found that the average cost for a month on a meal delivery diet can cost $726, and these plans were no exception. At these prices for 30 days, Freshology was $1288, Bistro $779, and Diet To Go $612.
Cooking instructions were also excluded from the delivery. Their name and marketing imply fresh foods, but the processing dates printed on our meals (received the first week of January) were November 12, and December 1, 2, and 3. As for packaging, one of our testers called the “Dancing With the Stars”-themed meals “glitzy and a little embarrassing.”
We received one of the first deliveries of the all-new Bistro MD. The brand underwent a major update in recent months with changes from their menus to website and logo. We had two “old” packages in our mix of meals giving our testers something to compare. The packaging was called “clean and inviting” by one tester and the inside “looked the most like a frozen dinner.”
Diet To Go
Our testers were the least impressed with the this brand’s packaging, calling it “sloppy and not appealing.” Another said the pre-cooked food looked “like school lunch.” We were most taken by the amount of brand-name, packaged ingredients within the Diet To Go meals that could easily have been purchased at the grocery store for less.
Meals for this review were provided by the brands, but we were under no obligation to any for a biased or in-favor review. The results, comments, and review of these meals remains our own opinion and a reflection of our own experience and that of our independent, volunteer testing panel. Bistro MD provided meals from their brand and Freshology; Diet To Go provided their own meals. We are an advertising partner for Bistro MD and Diet To Go.
January 15th, 2013