The stars stay in the Zone with their own chefs

Nothing in the meal plan was as delicious as this!

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
October 29, 2003

Jennifer Aniston does it. So do Madonna and Demi Moore.

No, we’re not talking about the latest yoga craze, but rather the Zone diet, which promotes eating 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent dietary fat in each meal.

Of course, Jen, Maddy and Demi have something the rest of us don’t — personal chefs to prepare each high-maintenance meal. But thanks to a gourmet food preparation and delivery service called Balance for Life, Chicago area foodies may enjoy the concept — for a price.

For $1,085 each month, you’ll have the luxury of having ready-to-be-heated meals delivered to your front door nightly. Each day’s allotment includes three hearty meals, two snacks and a 16-ounce bottle of water as well as plastic utensils. It’s delivered in a black insulated bag with ice packs to keep the food fresh. When you’re done with the bag, you leave it outside for the delivery person, who’ll retrieve it when leaving the next day’s meals.

“I’m not a doctor or a chef, but I know good food,” says Balance for Life President Troy Sutter. “And I’m fortunate to have a chef who is the bomb. He can find a dish that everyone likes and make it work in this program. You don’t have to be deprived of good food to stay healthy and fit.”

The 39-year-old Sutter launched Balance for Life in 2001. Currently it delivers meals to Chicago and the surrounding suburbs as well as southern Florida. He’s preparing to expand his market to Texas and New York later this year.

“The Chicago clientele for Balance for Life started off as top heavy with women,” he says. “There was a 70-30 ratio of women vs. men. But that’s changed to about 60-40 now, which means guys are feeling more comfortable with the program. They don’t have to tell anyone they’re on a diet and the lunch bag doesn’t have any cutesy logo on it. It just looks like a lunch box.”

Honestly, I was surprised at how much food I had to eat every day. I actually called them to make sure they had me on the women’s program rather than the men’s. Indeed, I was on the 1,200 calories/day program. I am a big eater, but I was never hungry.

Some of the food was delicious — the chicken and tuna wraps for lunch were flavorful. The Thai beef salad with baby greens and soy vinaigrette was tasty. And the asparagus and spinach ravioli was to-die-for good.

But there were some clunkers, too. Forgetting the adage that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, I made the mistake of picking the cheesecake for dessert. The cake was more like a sweet, gooey bread, but not in a good way. Same for the muffins, which I found a bit squishy and tasteless. As for the key lime pie, well, it would’ve tasted better if I had just sucked on a lime.

After that, I selected the small tuna salad portions for my daily snacks. Much better.

Overall, I would’ve liked less meat and more veggies in my meals, but that would’ve gone against the Zone’s 40-30-30 concept.

Dietitians say programs such as Balance for Life can be a great way to jump-start a diet, but they stress that without making a life-long commitment to eating differently and exercising, the lost weight will quickly find its way back.

“This can be a wonderful tool to provide structure,” says Gina Hammarlund, associate professor of nutrition at Finch University of Health Sciences. “But it’s important for people to work at making long-term changes and understanding what they’re eating and why. [Delivery services] can give you the best food in the world, but if it’s not palatable to you you’re not going to eat it. You need to work with someone to help you adjust your menu to meet your taste preferences so you get everything that you need.”

Over my month-long stint with the program, I found myself subbing out some of the food I’d grown to dislike with my own snacks, like cherries, a slice of cheese or a big leafy salad.

Balance for Life rates high for convenience, though. The meals are delivered nightly. On Friday evening, they drop off your weekend meals. On the third weekend, they forgot my Sunday portions and I was secretly happy. I’d gotten sick of the food and wanted to eat something spicier.

“We can’t cater to specific meals for people, whether it’s Asian or vegetarian,” says Sutter. “But we’re hoping that people learn about portion sizes and eating the right combination of foods to maximize their food intake.”

Did I lose any weight? Maybe a pound or two, but I honestly can’t say whether it was due to sticking with the program or because I was so stressed from planning my wedding.

But I will say that the first thing I ate after my month was up was a slice of Eli’s cheesecake. And the calories were worth it.

Want to try it?

If you decide to try the program, choose the 7 days/week option. It’s actually cheaper than the 5 days/week program.

Meal plans:
31-day cycle, 7 days/week: $35/day or $1,085/cycle
31-day cycle, 5 days/week: $39/day or $1,209/cycle
16-day cycle, 7 days/week: $39/day or $624/cycle
16-day cycle, 5 days/week: $41/day or $656/cycle

For more information, call (866) 225-4543.

Comments (7)

  1. Kenya Stone says:

    I am a big fan of this service. It seems pricey but when you factor in the time you save and not having to pick up groceries all the time, it’s not a bad deal. I agree that some of the meals are bland, but I don’t mind bland as long as I don’t have to cook it. bahaha

  2. Alan says:

    Jae, is this the guy who complained because you didn’t rave about every single element of his stupid food service?

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      To be diplomatic, let’s just say that I stand by what I wrote.

    • I was there in the newsroom! says:

      Alan it’s the same guy! He called and made a huge stink. He said that someone else should’ve reviewed his product rather than an Asian person because Jae couldn’t possibly understand what real American food is like. Such a racist pig!

      • Steve says:

        I came for the article and stayed for the comments! 😛 I’ve been doing research on precooked food plans and this came up. But if this guy actually complained about this, he must be incredibly thin skinned. What a jerk!

  3. Stephanie Marchant says:

    I tried this and found it to be incredibly overpriced and bland. I can’t imagine that Madonna would eat this, so her private chef must whip up something much tastier. I’m not a huge fan of Seattle Sutton’s either, but for basically the same food, her service is much more affordable. Congrats on your nuptials! How exciting for you!

  4. Liam Lee says:

    I haven’t found any meal delivery service where the food doesn’t taste like school cafeteria food. For this price, I’d rather eat out at a restaurant or buy things at a deli. For people who want to lose weight, just try to eat less of what you already eat or sub in the snacks with fruit and vegetables and exercise a little every day! It’s really the simple things that can make the biggest changes. Obviously if you’re morbidly obese you will need help from a doctor, trainer and nutritionist. But for the general population that is 10 or 20 pounds overweight, you can do it without paying for a service like this.

    Also, this guy sounds too thin skinned to run a successful business.

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