Ready-to-Eat Meals for Weight Loss: Can They Fit into Your Food Budget?

by Debbie Dragon on 14 January 2011 4 comments
Photo: Alishav

As each new year approaches, millions of people resolve to lose weight or get into shape. Gyms, fat camps, and diet programs all experience a surge of new customers during January and February. If you have considered joining a diet program that provides ready-to-eat meals, like Nutrisystem, but thought the costs of the program were too great to justify joining, here's what you need to know.

The Average Cost of Groceries

It's hard to pinpoint how much everyone pays for groceries, because there are a number of factors to consider — the number of people in your family, the ages of each family member, and any special dietary needs.

The U.S. Department of Labor creates an annual Consumer Expenditure Survey, which shows the average amount of money spent by consumers in various types of households, including annual food expenses:

  • According to 2009 data, a single person spends an average of $4,352 per year or about $84 per week on food. This includes both food eaten at home and food purchased from restaurants or take out facilities.
  • A couple without children spends $6,906 per year, or $132 a week.
  • A couple with children (although it doesn't specify how many children) spends an average of $9,369 per year, or $180 per week.
  • A single parent with children (again, it does not specify number of children) spends an average of $5,348, or $102 per week.

The Average Cost of Nutrisystem

Nutrisystem (one of the leading weight-loss programs with ready-to-eat meals) costs about $11 a day for the basic four-week (28-day) program. This is equivalent to about $77 per week for the program, but you also need to add in the cost of your fruits and vegetables and additional dairy and/or protein servings. Based on my own experience, I spend at most another $2 per day for additional grocery items (skim milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, meats, etc.) with my Nutrisystem meals. (You can read more about my personal Nutrisystem experiences on HealthyTheory.com.)

Does Nutrisystem Fit into Your Existing Food Budget?

For a single person on Nutrisystem, this puts your total food bill at $91 a week, ($77 per week for Nutrisystem and $14 per week for the add-on groceries), or $4,732 annually. Compared to the single person's grocery expenses from the U.S. Department of Labor survey, doing Nutrisystem for a year will cost you about $380 more.

If you look at Nutrisystem as a temporary solution to losing weight, which will be followed by healthier eating in general (and therefore a lower weekly food budget ongoing), the costs may be easier to justify.

It gets a little harder to compare the expenses between Nutrisystem and groceries for households with more than one person and/or households containing children. For example, if a family is spending $180 a week on food before Nutrisystem, they're not likely to immediately start spending $84 a week less (the average amount a single person spends) on groceries simply because one person decides to start Nutrisystem. Most people will buy the same amount of food they've always purchased for their family even when one is eating the majority of their meals through Nutrisystem and supplementing with a few add-on grocery items. This can increase your food budget beyond your means, but for individuals who really want to use Nutrisystem to lose weight, you can make a few minor modifications to work the cost of a ready-to-eat diet program into your budget.

With one person eating the majority of his or her meals through the diet program, grocery shopping should involve purchasing smaller quantities of food. When making your grocery list, keep in mind you are feeding one person less while he or she is on Nutrisystem. You can buy smaller packages of meat, less bread, less cereal, less snacks, etc.

The family could also help support the individual on the weight loss program by skipping some of the take-out and restaurant meals consumed, which will greatly reduce your weekly food budget.

It appears that for many families, a weight-loss program with ready-to-eat meals that cost about $11 per day can fit into your existing food budget — but it may take a little effort to reduce the food expenses for the rest of the family.

Disclosure: I received free Nutrisystem meals for review, but the views expressed in this blog post are my own.

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Guest's picture
andyg8180

Using a system like nutrisystem is NOT A PROPER way to lose weight... Temporary solutions ultimately lead to gaining back all that weight you worked so hard to lose. Change your eating habits and EAT MORE AND LEAN, not less... By eating less, you force yourself into "starvation mode" which retains fat... Eating more and eating lean kicks starvation mode, and when you dont exercise, the weight doent pile on...

I went 2 months without working out and only gained back 7 lbs of the 30+ i lost because i learned how to eat... And trust me, my weight is normally a roller coaster...

So throw away premade chemical filled crap and hit the grocery store. Learn how to freeze food. Learn quick and healthy meals. Learn to EAT BREAKFAST!!! (6 egg whites with some veggies in a nonstick pan will cook in about 5 minutes, thats the same amoutn of time as sitting in line at dunkin donuts!) And finally, learn that leftovers are okay! you can make a whole different meal with leftovers...

So, Nutrisystem as a temporary solution HELL NO! Gradually change your lifestyle now... You know better... And say to yourself "A healthy person does this. A healthy person would do that. I am a healthy person."

Debbie Dragon's picture

This post is more about the affordability factor, but I'll address your points on the food itself.

I have learned a lot about meal planning and portion sizes and such from Nutrisystem, believe it or not. I agree that prepackaged food will NEVER taste as good as fresh foods you make yourself, but this was exactly the push I needed to get started. I look at the nutrition facts for each meal - the number of fats, carbs, proteins, etc - and when I make my own (off Nutrisystem) I do my best to duplicate those numbers. I also spend some time in my members area of the Nutrisystem website, and see what kind of exercise generates most calories burned, look up healthy recipes I can make myself, and just read about health in general.

As for how much you eat on Nutrisystem, I have never eaten this much in a day in my life! You do add in fresh veggies and fruits, dairy or protein each day. There are also a variety of 'free' foods that you can eat in moderation. I have 2 breakfasts basically, 2 lunches, dinner and snacks (because I don't eat the full breakfast or lunch allowance in one sitting, it's honestly too filling). I agree on the importance of breakfast: http://www.healthytheory.com/a-nutrisystem-journey-why-is-breakfast-so-i...

I'm confident that when my time on Nutrisystem ends, I will feel great about myself and have learned better eating habits that I will continue for a healthier lifestyle. This may not be true for everyone, but it's been the one and only diet I've been able to stick with for any length of time, AND has taught me how to order in restaurants and remain healthy, and make my own meals.

Guest's picture
Olivia

Those government figures seem really on the high side. We do a family of four for $84. Granted, we have a very small garden, and a local salvage grocery store to work with, and we eat mostly at home. Still, $84 a week for one person. Wow.

BTW I hope Nutrisystem works for you.

Debbie Dragon's picture

Wow, Olivia - $84 a week for a family of four seems amazing to me. I agree the numbers are inflated a bit because they include both eating out/take out meals and make at home meals. So for families who avoid this for the most part, you're bound to spend a lot less but I'd love to hear how you manage $84 a week for four people. Do you use a lot of coupons? Do you prepare meals with meat or are you a vegetarian family?

So far, so good on Nutrisystem for me! Thank you!