Seattle Sutton: Healthy meal plan has fast food junkie eating better

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
November 11, 1998

My mission, if I chose to accept it, was to try Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating program for a month.  The goal wasn’t to lose weight, but to see if a fast food junkie such as myself could train herself to eat nutritious meals if they were cooked and delivered to me.

It sounded good. Basically, all I had to do was chew, so I happily accepted the challenge.

Before I go on, there are two things you should know about me. When I had my condo built a few years ago, I asked the contracter if he could make the living room bigger by excluding the kitchen. (He said, “No,” by the way.)  And I replaced my bathroom scale years ago with a pair of Levi’s that I’ve had since my freshman year in college.

So now you know. I despise cooking, and my idea of good health is being able to wedge myself into a pair of old jeans.

But, as my parents often point out to me, I’m not a teenager anymore. It was time to adjust my daily diet of McDonald’s, Dove bars and Diet Coke and introduce a few different food groups into my life.

Eagerly anticipating the food that was about to appear on my doorstep, I told all my friends and colleagues about my experiment. They didn’t share my enthusiasm and usually uttered the same thing: “But you’re not fat.”

This is true. At 5 feet 7 inches and 125 pounds (OK, 130 after Thanksgiving dinner), I am too healthy-looking to be mistaken for a waif. But I also wouldn’t be considered overweight by most standards.

No one in my family has a weight problem. Everyone in my family eats healthier than I do.

I want to eat better,” I told my friends.

Usually, this was met by manic laughter.

You’re never going to give up McDonald’s,” said one buddy. “I give you two days before you bag out of the whole thing.”

Ha! With just a little minor cheating (more on that later), I made it through the entire month well-fed and, for the most part, satisfied with the variety of meals. Ironically, I didn’t crave the sweets I had grown accustomed to eating, but rather vegetables and Asian food.

When Seattle Sutton (yes, that really is her name) developed her service in 1985, the registered nurse had a different name for the program: Diet-Carry-Out. As its name suggests, the service was used primarily by people who wanted to lose weight.

“I used to provide nutritional information all the time to people who wanted to lose weight,” said Sutton, phoning from her home in Marseilles, located about 70 miles southwest of Chicago. “I used to plan meals for patients and things like that. Finally, one of them said, `I’d eat all this healthy food if you’d only make the food for me.’ ”

That comment spurred Sutton to start her business, which now grosses $6 million a year.

“When people hear the word `diet,’ they automatically think of weight loss,” she said. “Actually, diet encompasses everything that you eat, which is why I changed the name to Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. Sure, this program is great for people who want to lose weight since all the food is portioned out for you.

“But it’s really for anybody who wants to eat healthy, freshly prepared meals. And I think that it’s just about impossible for anybody who wants to eat well to get the kind of variety that we provide for them at the cost we charge.”

It’s true. During the monthlong period I was on the program, there was no repeat of meals. Each breakfast, lunch and dinner had a different name and flavor.

Surprisingly enough, most of the food was delicious.  Since none of the meals are frozen, the food was delivered every Monday and Thursday to ensure that diners would receive the freshest food possible.  Each packaged in its own sealed, disposable dish, the meals ranged from a yummy breakfast of wheat bagel with low-fat blueberry cream cheese and juice to a delicious manicotti dinner served with green beans, sauteed mushrooms and red peppers.

It tasted good, so I was positive it couldn’t possibly be good for me.

Cathy Kapica, a registered dietician, begged to differ.  After giving me, my cupboards and my Seattle Sutton meals a thorough once-over, she said the program was ideal for someone like me (i.e. a hearty eater with little aptitude for cooking).

“The meals are well-balanced and look very appealing,” she said. “They provide the nutrients that you need and probably aren’t getting on a daily basis.  I think that someone who doesn’t eat well and doesn’t have a lot of time or desire to cook for herself could definitely benefit from something like this.”

Kapica recommended that someone my size should consume about 2,200 calories a day. My daily caloric intake varies from 1,000 to more than 3,000 calories a day, depending on whether I’m going the Caesar salad route or opting for super-sized French fries, Big Mac and chocolate shake.

The 2,000 calorie/day meals actually turned out to be too much food for me to eat. But the 1,200 calorie/day meals left me hungry and crabby. So I ended up going for the higher end and nibbling on the leftovers throughout the day.

The only major problem I had was with the meat dishes. I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat meat every day. And when I do, I prefer beef and seafood to chicken and turkey. Unfortunately for me, almost all the lunches and dinners included chicken or turkey.

One way Sutton keeps her prices reasonable is by having the staff cook in quantity. Therefore, you can’t special-order specific dishes, though Sutton said she listens to customer input.

“That’s how we developed 84 different meals,” she said. “We listened to what people said they wanted to eat and worked them in. But if someone calls and says to me, `What are you going to do, because I don’t like something,’ I can’t really accommodate that one individual.

“Our ultimate goal is to improve their eating habits, whether it’s learning to like all kinds of vegetables or learning about portion sizes,” she said.

Still, my tastebuds are stubborn and by the fourth week, just looking at another turkey meatball or a chicken breast made me gag on sight. So that’s when I would head over to my parents’ house and give my meal to my poultry-loving father and eat my mother’s home-cooked, turkey-free Korean meal instead.

In the end, I made it through the program just fine. The most important thing I got out of the program is that breakfast can be delicious and nutritious. For a big-time breakfast skipper such as myself, it was a valuable lesson to be learned.

Am I still on the program? No.

Would I re-join the program? Probably.

But I’d take a look at the menus, first, to see which weeks had the least turkey.

Jae-Ha Kim ate a Big Mac and a large order of fries while writing this story.

You may think you eat well. Write it down!

I never really thought about what I ate until a nutritionist suggested I jot it down.  Here’s a typical day, my way, and the Seattle Sutton style. The one thing that didn’t change was my water intake of about 10 glasses a day.

My way:
Breakfast:  8 ounces of orange juice; 2 pieces of French Toast with syrup
Lunch:  hot dog with everything, French fries, chocolate shake
Snack: latte with skim milk, big piece of pound cake
Dinner:  sushi, assorted vegetables, miso soup, salad with ginger dressing.

The Seattle Sutton way:
Breakfast: Raisin biscuit and a couple of large plums.
Lunch:  Two generous slices of quiche and a small spinach salad with tangy vinaigrette dressing.  I eat one slice and store the rest away. The thimble-full of dressing shocks me since I’m used to drenching my lettuce in vinegar and oil. But I sprinkle the dressing over the salad and find that it provides enough flavor. My drink of choice: bottled water.
Dinner:  Chicken a la Marseilles with angel hair pasta, zucchini and carrots.
Snack:  I’m up working late and eat the leftover other quiche.

For more info on the Seattle Sutton plan, call (800) 442-3438, or go online.


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