Saturday 18 February 2012

Jenny Craig week 1

Well, as I told you earlier in the week (here), those lovely people at Jenny Craig sent me a fabulous hamper containing a month's worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks to try out. Fitting it all in the cupboards was a bit of a headache but I got there in the end. So what have been my first thoughts and what does it all taste like ?

Well, to start with, you need to sit down and read through at least some of the information folder so you know how it all works. You get four weekly menu planners, telling you exactly what you should be eating every day, but I admit that I haven't been following them properly, partly because I like to have an element of choice in what I feel like eating but mainly because trying to locate one specific meal pouch in a cupboard absolutely stuffed full of them (especially when they all look the same) is like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack !

So, Tuesday, my first full day on the Jenny Craig plan brought :

Breakfast was Yogurt-coated & Wholewheat Flakes with skimmed milk and a small glass of apple juice. The portion-sized bag takes all the guesswork out and is a real timesaver, although it's not very eco-friendly. It's a great way of learning what a sensible portion size is, for when you're off the Jenny Craig and back on normal food.I was actually surprised to see that it's about the portion size I would usually use and it tastes just like regular cereal (which it probably is, as the parent company of Jenny Craig is Nestlé).

Lunch was Tuna Pasta Salad Mediterranean style, a bottle of fizzy water and a clementine. Had I been at home, I would have added in a bowlful of salad (because you're supposed to add vegetables or salad to each meal, but you also have a list of "free foods" that you can dip into guilt-free) but as this was lunch at work, I couldn't. The pasta salad is only smallish - about the size of a toddler tray meal - but surprisingly filling and surprisingly tasty. The tuna is defnitely tinned but in proper flakes, not the wet mush you often get in cans. The lovely tomatoey-sauce and herbs/spices means it is not bland at all.

The plan suggests you eat a snack (Jenny Craig snack which could be a chocolate bar, cereal bar or bag of crisps) and fruit in the morning and afternoon. Now, I have to admit, I am very wary of this as I don't usually snack and I don't want to get into the habit of doing it unless I am really hungry. I did have a White Chocolate Wholegrain Cereal Bar today though after work because I was worried I'd be fading before the end of my parent-teacher evening at 9pm. It was absolutely divine and I even tweeted "how can something be this delicious for 100 calories ?"! It certainly doesn't taste like diet food - something I've been saying a lot this week actually !

For my evening meal, I chose the Three Bean Chilli With Peppers. I was slightly disappointed when cutting the top of the pouch because it was only half full. I wish companies wouldn't do this because it seems dishonest. I'd much rather have a smaller pouch to see the actual size of what you're getting but I imagine, for Jenny Craig, it's because they use the same pouches for everything (which is also a shame because it makes you feel like you're eating the same thing every day even when you're not. Opening the cupboard and seeing different coloured packaging would make it seem less monotonous than beeing faced by two whole shelves filled with endless identical pouches.)

The chilli was lovely with a great taste and perfect amount of chilli heat but it was a bit sloppy and could have done with a generous serving of rice to mop it all up. Being good, I opted for a side serving of carrot sticks and red pepper chunks though, which went really well and added some lovely crunch.

On to the next day - Wednesday, my day off - which I thought may be more of a challenge as I'd be able to eat in between meals if hungry (which I can't do at work) and because the kids would be wanting sweets and snacks as the day progressed.

I started off with a bowl of Porridge with Apple & Cinnamon. It was lovely and very filling but I found it a bit too sweet for my taste. I checked the pack and was shocked to see that the second ingredient on the list is sugar. I would much prefer to have the sugar on the side as I had the impression I was eating calories for nothing. It was tasty though.

Now, for lunch, I bit the bullet and opted for one of the products that I was the least inspired by - the pots of instant noodles that reminded me of Pot Noodles which I haven't eaten since I was a student ! I opted for Noodles in Sweet & Sour Sauce. Sure enough, peeling off the foil top revealed an uninspiring dried out mish-mash of noodles, carrots and assorted odds and ends. Hmmm.

I decided this would need some help to salvage a decent meal so I made up a side salad with tomato, cucumber, red pepper and gherkins and took half a beefburger (which is what the plan tells you to do - add 1 protein and a cup of salad). After letting the noodles sit in the boiling water for five minutes, I have to say they actually came out a lot better than I expected, with a thick soupy sweet & sour sauce and noodles that tasted of, well, noodles, rather than bits of cardboard. Serving it on a plate rather than eating directly from the pot also gave me the impression that this was real food and not a pot noodle (because how healthy can that be ?!).

As predicted, the kids wanted a snack halfway through the afternoon so I snipped the tops off four bags of Jenny Craig Potato Bites, giving the Lightly Sea Salted ones to the kids and taking a bag of Thai Chilli Flavour ones for myself. The texture is a bit like prawn crackers - not unpleasant at all - and taste-wise, you would never know they are low calorie (under 100 calories a bag). Just as satisfying as a bag of crisps but guilt-free.

I felt wrong eating crisps though because I wasn't hungry and wouldn't usually eat them mid afternoon but, in the name of doing a proper review, I wanted to follow the Jenny Craig plan to the letter at least for a few days to see how it worked. The potato bites were delicious and I was amazed at how many you get in a bag but I am a bit concerned that by encouraging you to eat a sweet or bag of crisps every day, it's actually encouraging a bad habit that could be very counter-productive once you come off the plan and start eating normally again.

For my evening meal, I had a pouch of Chunky Lamb Hot Pot and added some carrots as my portion of cooked veg. The meaty chunks were tender and the big bits of potato pad it out so it's really filling. Again, it doesn't seem like diet food at all. I finished off with fruit and a big glass of Diet Coke (which I'd stopped drinking but it's in the free-foods so why not ?!).

Day four - Thursday - I was running late so didn't have time for a proper breakfast, opting instead for a Breakfast Energy Bar (see the recipe here) at the bus stop. Although they're healthy, I was actually a bit stunned to see they weigh in at 254 calories a bar ! That's the huge plus point with a plan like Jenny Craig - they've done all the calculating for you so there are no nasty surprises.

For lunch I had a French style Tuna Pasta Salad followed by a clementine and a bottle of fizzy water. Again, I felt full and enjoyed the meal. I love the fact that the pouches and salads don't need to be kept in the fridge so you can store them in your bag or locker for lunch at work. I usually eat at the canteen and felt very virtuous when I walked past and smelt that on the menu today, it would have been chips. Jenny Craig also suggest heating your pouch and taking it to work in a thermos flask which I may do when I have run out of salads.

Again heading into a late night at work (parent-teacher evening again, until about 9pm), I purposely had a snack at 5pm just before it kicked off - another delicious White Chocolate Cereal Bar, which I had been looking forward to all day, knowing it was in my bag (!) and an apple - which I ate despite not feeling particularly hungry.

Getting home from work, Madhouse Daddy Mike had gone to the trouble of reheating a frozen pasta bolognese bake for us both, topped off with loads of grated cheese. Eeek ! I debated saying thanks but no thanks and heating up a Jenny Craig pouch instead but decided that this wouldn't go down well and wouldn't encourage him to get in the kitchen again so I grudgingly came off the plan, even deciding to go the whole hog and finish off with a small Love Tub chocolate pudding (purely for the sakes of another review, you understand !) I'll get back on the plan tomorrow.

Friday morning was a blur - the kids, who had been in bed when I got home the night before, were all excitedly telling me about their day yesterday and catching up on cuddles - so I didn't have time for breakfast. I took an apple and a bottle of fizzy water to eat on the way to the bus stop, figuring it would be better than nothing.

For lunch, I had another moral dilemma. Usually, every second Friday, I catch up with Madhouse Daddy Mike and some mutual friends and we all eat at a little restaurant in town. I wanted to see them but also wanted to get back on the Jenny Craig plan. However, deciding that the plan was already making eating into a very lonesome affair (ready meals for one make you into a bit of a social recluse, especially if you're the only one in the family eating them - although Madhouse Daddy Mike has been saying he'd be quite happy to eat them too because they look nice !) so I decided to go along and just eat as healthily as possible. I opted for a couscous, which they serve in big bowls to share, and went heavy on the veg and chickpeas as opposed to meat. I had a diet coke and skipped dessert - could have been worse !

Determined to get back on track, I skipped the afternoon snack and had a light dinner - Tangy Tomato Soup With A Hint Of Basil.

I was expecting it to be thin and watery but it was actually very nice. The texture reminded me of normal tinned tomato soup. I topped it off with a quick sprinkle of grated cheese (it's allowed, as one of the protein portions you need to add in, so it's great to be able to "splash out" and sex things up every now and then, so it all feels a bit more indulgent and non-diet like.) As I got the munchies during the evening, I settled down with a bag of Jenny Craig Sour Cheese & Onion Potato Bites, which hit the spot nicely.

So here we are - Saturday morning - and I've decided to do a bit of a stock take. I've been pleasantly surprised all week by the food. The snacks are totally indulgent and delicious and I would buy them in the corner shop in place of unhealthy snacks if the option was there. I've had to keep checking I'm doing the plan properly because I seem to be eating an awful lot of food, even without always eating the suggested snacks or adding in the extra ingredients (vegetables, salads, free foods, etc). I've only been following the plan since Monday night, so that's four days with an evening off and a lunch off (which they do write into the plan in later weeks, but encourage you to avoid at the start). I wasn't expecting to have lost any weight at all, so I was stunned to see I've lost 1/2 kilo in those 4 days. (Starting weight : 86.1kg, weight today 85.5kg). I haven't felt hungry at all (although I wonder sometimes if this is the Thinking Slimmer SlimPod effect too ?) and I've thoroughly enjoyed everything I've eaten, even the instant noodles (although I do find it a bit disheartening to open the cupboards and see nothing but identical pouches every time I want to prepare a meal !).

I'll keep you updated for the rest of the month !

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