What Is the Jenny Craig Diet?

Jenny Craig diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

Jenny Craig is a weight-loss program that attributes its effectiveness to the simple restriction of calories, fat, and portion size. Clients enrolled in the plan are provided packaged foods that cover all meals and most snacks. It is one of the most popular commercial weight-loss programs available and has helped millions of people successfully lose weight. In addition to easy-to-follow food plans, Jenny Craig provides motivational support through face-to-face or phone meetings with a consultant. But is it right for you?

Jenny Craig was founded in Melbourne, Australia, in 1983 by Jenny and Sydney Craig. It expanded to the United States in 1985 and today has more than 600 weight-management centers worldwide. The program combines nutritional counseling and support with portion-controlled frozen foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy. Clients enrolled in the plan are provided pre-packaged foods and supplement meals with fresh food from the grocery store.

The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks Jenny Craig number 12 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.5/5.

What Experts Say

"The Jenny Craig diet is a meal delivery program based on whole, real foods. The meal plans are balanced, but the program is pricey and for most people, it isn’t sustainable."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

Jenny Craig is ideal for people who don't have the time to shop for or prepare food at home. On the program, you can choose from a wide variety of Jenny Craig breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, and snacks, and provide additional fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy food options.

What You Need to Know

On the Jenny Craig diet, you eat six times a day—three meals, two snacks, and dessert. There is no need to count calories, weigh food, or measure portions while on the program.

Users select from a menu of more than 100 entrées and snacks that can be ordered by phone or online for home delivery or purchased at a local Jenny Craig weight-loss center.

They are not nutritionists but help clients set achievable goals, develop a meal plan, address dietary challenges, and celebrate successes along the way.

The dietary intake ranges from 1200 to 2300 calories per day depending on the client's weight, fitness habits, and motivation level. Jenny Craig users weigh-in once a week either at home or at the program center and lose an average of one to two pounds per week.

Compliant Foods
  • Prepackaged meals and snacks by Jenny Craig

  • Jenny Craig condiments, dressings, and soups

  • Fruits

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables

  • Low-fat dairy

Non-Compliant Foods
  • Restaurant food

  • Store-bought food other than those listed

  • Sweets and desserts other than Jenny Craig brand

Almost all of Jenny Craig entrées are frozen and need to be kept chilled. This may be a problem for some people who are frequently on the road or do not have access to a microwave. 

Clients are encouraged to "volumize" frozen entrées by adding high-fiber, low-calorie foods like fruits and veggies to the meal so it is more filling. Known as volumetrics, this makes it easier to adhere to the diet without feeling deprived. Helpful tips for volumizing are provided on each entrée package.

For example, a Jenny Craig pot roast meal may not be satisfying enough on its own, so you can add a wedge salad with Jenny Craig salad dressing or a similar side dish. If you need more than two Jenny Craig waffles for breakfast, you can add some fruit or other fat-free toppings.

The Jenny Craig daily plan allows for three meals, two snacks, and a dessert. There is no special meal timing required for the plan or fasting required. The different Jenny Craig programs and options are available on the Jenny Craig website.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Easy to follow

  • Pre-portioned servings

  • Tastes good

  • Support

  • Complete, balanced nutrition

Cons
  • Entrées need to be frozen

  • Cost

  • Processed foods

  • Not safe for food allergies

  • No eating out

Every person who wants to lose weight has a different lifestyle to consider when they choose a diet. Jenny Craig provides a well-designed plan for weight loss, but it won't work for everyone. In addition to the factors above, keep in mind these pros and cons.

Pros

Clients on the Jenny Craig program get a comprehensive weight-loss program when they meet with their counselor each week. Support includes food tips, recipes, exercise motivation, and your own personal cheerleader. All foods are pre-packaged so the guesswork is taken out of portion control.

Motivational support is built into the Jenny Craig program from the beginning of the diet plan. For many, the face-to-face option for support gives it a leg up against competitor Nutrisystem.

Jenny Craig food tastes good. Of course, not every person will enjoy every food, but in general, the quality is satisfying.

Cons

For some, Jenny Craig is not the most convenient option. The meal entrées need to stay frozen and then reheated in the microwave. If you don't have access to these appliances during the day, your diet may be harder to follow.

The cost of the Jenny Craig program is frequently cited as a drawback of the diet plan. Depending on the plan you choose, your location, and the time of year, the cost may range from $15 to $23 a day, plus shipping. A month's worth of food can cost between $550 and $800. There are also program fees in addition to the cost of food.

Many of the prepackaged frozen foods are processed, and some may be high in sodium. Additionally, some meals contain unhealthy ingredients such as white bread, sugar, or bacon. There may not be allergy-safe options for some people and eating out is not part of the plan when eating pre-packaged meals only.

Is The Jenny Craig Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Jenny Craig is a popular weight-loss plan with a track record of success. It is a convenient and easy-to-follow program of heat-and-eat meals that offer variety and balanced nutrition. However, the cost can be prohibitive for some.

Its ranking is based on being scientifically sound, well-balanced, safe, and effective for short-term and long-term weight loss. It is similar to Weight Watchers, Medi-Weightloss, and Seattle Sutton diets.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shares guidance for improving and maintaining overall health and well-being. Its dietary recommendations include calorie guidance and tips for a healthy, balanced diet. Jenny Craig provides the government’s recommended amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and the diet supplies ample fiber and calcium. To calculate your personal calorie needs, give this calculator a try.

In addition to the meal plan, those following the plan get support from Jenny Craig consultants either by phone or in person, many of whom are former Jenny Craig clients who have undergone nutritional and fitness training.

Health Benefits

May Promote Healthy Weight Loss

According to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2015, dieters who followed the Jenny Craig plan lost an average of 4.9 percent more weight over a three-month period than a control group who received nutritional counseling and education. In the study, Jenny Craig dieters also fared better than both the Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem groups.

May Help You Reach Nutritional Goals

For those who have struggled to reach or stay within the recommended daily amounts of fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and fats the Jenny Craig diet may help them reach these goals. The diet provides enough of these nutrients while mostly staying within the recommended limits.

Health Risks

Not For Those Who Are Gluten-Free

Jenny Craig is not a good option for anyone on a gluten-free diet, especially people with diagnosed celiac disease. Almost all meals on the plan contain gluten ingredients—muffins, donuts, pasta, sandwich melts, pizza, etc. The few meals that include no obvious gluten are not intended for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity due to gluten cross-contamination in processing.

Not Safe for Some People with Allergies

Jenny Craig may not be safe for people with food allergies, including peanuts, soy, dairy, and gluten. While some products may not contain allergens, the potential for cross-contamination is high.

High in Sodium

Since Jenny Craig's meals are processed, they can be high in sodium, making it difficult to stay under the USDA recommended daily amount of 2300 milligrams. Keeping your dietary sodium within the recommended range may help prevent high blood pressure, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

A Word From Verywell

If considering the Jenny Craig plan, do a head-to-head comparison with other weight loss programs, tally the costs, and take a good, long look at how each plan fits into your lifestyle. In the end, the "right" diet plan will be the one you are willing and able to stick to.

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Article Sources
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