Just days before the new year Nutrisystem announced its new program, Nutrisystem Success, and a new spokesperson, Janet Jackson. With a focus on fresher, higher quality foods and updated dietary guidance, we were immediately interested in finding out for you what was really going on in those little frozen boxes.
We haven’t always been generous in our reviews of the Nutrisystem product. Shelf-stable, packaged, processed foods that sometimes leave little more to be desired than a freeze-dried, just-add-water hamburger or hotdog didn’t exactly send us on a path of praise. So believe us when we say we’re very impressed with Nutrisystem’s Chef’s Table line, part of Nutrisystem Success.
Nutrisystem Success is a refreshing change to what’s expected of their product. When the large cooler showed up at my office I knew we were headed in the right direction. Inside, packed in dry ice, were the seven Chef’s Table meals. The cooler is how each Nutrisystem Success customer receives their meals. I’d already heard quite a bit about them during my previous interview with Michael Solomonov, one of the five premiere chefs who created these new meals for the brand.
“With the guidance of the educated people at Nutrisystem, we’re highly motivated to make the best possible food for people to diet, lose weight, and keep it off,” Solomonov told us. He credits the expertise, creativity, and high level of technology the chefs were working with to allow them to come up with meals that inspire great change for Nutrisystem.
Each meal comes in a well-designed box, as any frozen meal would, and includes a brief profile of the chef who created it. On the Chef’s Table Moroccan Inspired Chicken package you’ll find Michael Solomonov; it’s a meal Nutrisystem users have already given four out of five stars. The technology he speaks of is a steamer bag that simulates poaching. “We can extract as much flavor as possible with lower sodium and fat that are low on the glycemic index,” notes Solomonov.
LIVE TASTE TEST
We brought in taste testers to give the Nutrisystem Success Chef’s Table meals a try. They were given no information other than the instruction to share their brutally honest opinions. Our taste testers were a trio of sisters who stair step in ages from 49 to 52. One is married, one is engaged, and one is single. Each works a full-time job; two have adult children. Two of them have used Nutrisystem previously; all of them have tried a variety of diets. A few months ago they challenged one another to a weight loss challenge, so they seemed like the perfect people to try these meals.
We met on a Sunday afternoon, just in time for everyone to be hungry for lunch. And they were! Following the package instructions, we placed each meal in the microwave for about five minutes. Unlike typical frozen meals, these don’t come with trays inside, the food is just neatly arranged inside the steamer bags. We placed each bag on a plate and had to carefully open them (if you pick it up like a bag of popcorn you’ll have a mess and disarrayed meal on your hands). This was especially true of the Butternut Squash ravioli, which was quite messy and happened to be the least-liked meal, with a score of 1.6.
On a scale of 1-5, the meals received an average score 3.4 from our taste testers. Their near unanimous favorites were the Arroz Con Pollo with a 4.6 score, and the Adobo Pork (which was also our favorite) with a 4.3 score.
We were all immediately struck by the aroma of the meals, which filled the entire house. In almost every instance the food perfectly matched the pictures on the boxes. They didn’t appear processed or of low quality; instead, the food looked as fresh as possible and we were glad to see that it tasted that way too. Fresh herbs and spices were very noticeable. Our taste testers made frequent mention of the generous portions – you didn’t have to go hunting for meat or pieces of sweet potato or other vegetables. By the end, each of our taste testers said they felt full and satisfied. They unanimously agreed that they would recommend these meals to others.
See this slideshow for a look at their review, scores, and comments on each of the seven Chef’s Table meals.
After our taste testers were more than satisfied, we handed the packages over to our resident dietitian, Mary Hartley, RD. Overall, Mary says that the Nutrisystem Success Chef’s Table meals are “fine” and “okay.”
In almost all cases the meals matched her criteria for healthy frozen foods:
< 250 Calories
< 7g Fat
< 2g Saturated Fat
< 350 mg Sodium
> 2g Fiber
“These meals are basically OK, although the beef and ricotta have a bit too much sodium and saturated fat, as would be expected for those foods,” she said. Too much sodium was the biggest offender for exceeding those benchmarks. Surely they aren’t using it for flavor, because all of the herbs, spices, and produce offer plenty of that on their own.
Within the ingredient lists themselves, nothing stood out to us as alarming. In fact, we were quite impressed with the simplicity of the ingredients. As Mary noted, “I don’t see any unsafe ingredients such as artificial colorings, BHA, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” The ingredient lists might look lengthy, but Mary says it’s only because they spell out the sub-ingredients.
“I approve and do not see any red flags,” is her final thought. “These foods are fine for those that like them, and they are much better than the old Nutrisystem food.”
From our staff, to our dietitian and our taste testers, everyone agreed that the Nutrisystem Chef’s Table meals are a far cry from anything they’ve served customers before. And we all mean that in the best way possible! The expertise of the chefs involved in creating these meals is evident, and it’s clear that Nutrisystem has prioritized making meals as simple as possible that truly provide their customers something that’s good for them and good to eat.
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February 14th, 2012