When you're busy with work, parenting and general home life, it's easy to swap balanced meals for takeaways, or turn the occasional snack into an everyday (or multiple times a day) treat.
I wasn't looking to lose weight but I knew I needed a bit of a reset and wasn't sure where to start. I'd heard about the pros and cons of Noom but I didn't want to have to track calories (or read a daily curriculum of articles).
I'd seen numerous TV ads for Lite n' Easy and was drawn to the convenience of having calorie-controlled meals pre-prepared for you. For me, it was a literal no-brainer, so within a few days I became one of the thousands of people around Australia using Lite n' Easy.
Of course, I'm a sample size of one – the experience I had may not be the same as the next person's, and I won't assume it's indicative. Plus, I was only on it for a week, so I can't vouch for what it's like if you're on it for longer.
But if you're contemplating using Lite n' Easy, here's an insight into what to expect.
Overall, I was impressed with my Lite n' Easy experience. Whether you're looking to lose weight or want the convenience of ready-made meals, the fact you don't have to think about what you're eating for a week is very appealing.
And if I wanted to lose weight, then I think it could really help to kick-start the process. It takes away the need to count calories, and the additional cost on top of my family's usual grocery bill would be an incentive for me to stick with it until I saw some results.
The fact you don't have to think about what you're eating for a week is very appealing
I can see myself ordering from Lite n' Easy again – most likely their fresh or frozen dinners rather than a weekly meal plan. But even if I don't, I feel I've learnt something from my week on Lite n' Easy that I can benefit from going forward. Particularly in relation to the amount of food I serve up for myself, and how much – or indeed little – I need to feel satisfied. So for that, it was worth it.
Lite n' Easy Winter breakfast menu brochure.
Lite n' Easy has a selection of plans to choose from including Jump Start (a two-week program to kick start your weight loss journey) and various 1200-, 1500- and 1800-calorie plans.
I wasn't sure what meal plan to order, so I entered my details into their website tool – gender, age, weight, height, exercise routine, and whether my goal was weight loss or convenience (I chose convenience).
The average Australian adult consumes about 8700kJ per day
I was recommended a seven-day, 1800-calorie plan, which is the number of calories I'd be limited to on an average day. That's about 7530kJ, for those who prefer to think in metric. (The average Australian adult consumes about 8700kJ per day).
Then I set up an account with my address and credit card details and made note of the delivery day for my area. I liked that there were no joining fees and that you only pay for what you want – you don't have to agree to regular weekly or fortnightly orders.
Having selected my plan, I could either accept the preselected "most popular" options, or choose my own.
There were two choices to pick from each day for breakfast and three for lunch, and more than 50 different options for dinner.
I was generally pleased with the choices on offer. For breakfast I steered towards meals with eggs as I prefer those over toast with spread or muesli. I chose lunches based on what I fancied for the week, and for dinners I chose a mix of fresh and frozen dinners – including the southern chicken with sweet potato wedges dish I'd seen on Lite n' Easy's latest TV ads. Afterall, if it's good enough for MasterChef's Khanh Ong and Diana Chan…
Dietary requirements and food allergies
Lite n' Easy offers a full vegetarian menu as well as some gluten- and dairy-free options, but they make it clear that their meals are "not suitable for those with coeliac disease or food allergies".
However, the website provides a detailed list of ingredients for each meal, along with allergen details for each food, so depending on your requirements you may still find plenty of options to choose from.
Rachel's story: 'It took me a while to work out what I could and couldn't eat'
In 2016, CHOICE food editor Rachel Clemons spent a week following a 1200-calorie plan with Lite n' Easy. She shares her experience of selecting meals that catered to her food allergies.
"Placing my order was a little complicated as I have a few food allergies. But I figured their comprehensive list of ingredients and allergens for each meal would help me navigate my way around the menu and select food that suited.
Placing my order was a little complicated as I have a few food allergies ... it took me a while to work out what I could and couldn't eatRachel Clemons, CHOICE food editor
"However, it took me a while to work out what I could and couldn't eat. Because I wasn't choosing between brands I buy on a regular basis, I had to check the ingredients lists for each type of bread, cereal, salad dressing, cracker and cake. This was rather arduous, although I imagine it would get faster each week once you became familiar with the options.
"I was pleasantly surprised to find I was able to select seven breakfasts and lunches from the menu that catered to my allergies, and there was only one snack that I wouldn't be able to eat. I'm not sure if I'd have the same experience each week, as you can't go off-menu and request the same snack every day of the week, for example.
For the dinners, I selected seven meals from a list of about 50 options. I had to check the ingredients lists for these too, but it was a straightforward process.
Lite n' Easy delivery boxes.
I was more than a little excited about receiving my delivery – a whole week of food that I haven't had to menu plan, shop for, prep or cook – what luxury!
There's no set time frame for deliveries (their website says day orders should arrive no later than 5pm). My order arrived at around 8am when I was in the middle of getting my son and myself ready for the day, so I left the two large polystyrene eskies in the kitchen to unpack later.
Two hours later I was pleased to find the contents were still perfectly chilled, in part due to the block of dry ice wrapped in plastic at the bottom. But you will need to be extra careful when removing your items as dry ice can burn your skin. The packaging has several warning labels cautioning 'do not touch' and 'leave dry ice in esky to dissolve'.
One week of Lite n' Easy in bags.
The bags are all clearly marked with the day (one to seven), the meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack) and where you need to store the food (fridge or freezer).
I hadn't really considered the quantity – my fridge was already heaving from a recent grocery shop for the family – and it quickly became apparent that I'd struggle to make all the Lite n' Easy bags fit.
It took a bit of reorganising, but I managed to squeeze them into one large shelf in the fridge, and haphazardly across all three drawers in my freezer (by playing a game of Tetris trying to fit the bags in between various other packets of frozen veg, portioned mince and ice cream).
It meant I'd have to spend some time each day digging around to find what I needed from the freezer, but I do that most nights anyway when I'm looking for that rogue packet of chicken thighs to defrost.
Packaging from lunch on Day 4.
At the end of every day there was a certain amount of leftover packaging, and for some meals it was quite substantial.
According to the Lite n' Easy website, all of its dinner trays, plastic bowls and other hard plastics can be recycled kerbside. They'll also collect your clean plastic shopping and day bags to be recycled and collect your esky to be reused (if it's in good condition) or recycled.
For the most part the breakfast options I'd chosen weren't dissimilar to what I'd normally eat – avocado on toast, poached eggs or an omelette – and there was just enough variety so that mornings didn't feel entirely repetitive.
Four of the five breakfasts also included a serve of cereal, but as someone who doesn't really enjoy cereal I didn't eat it. For the same calories I would have preferred a larger portion of the main meal.
My breakfast options for the week.
Lunches were more of a revelation. I'd previously fallen into a rut of having dinner-sized leftovers or work-day 'treats' of takeaway ramen or larger than life sandwiches. So when I saw the portion size of my lunches I feared some hunger pangs. But my meals – which included a vegie pizza, wraps, a chicken burger and even a curry – were all filling.
Lite n' Easy lunches.
Each day there was also a small snack, which included choc and nut mix, vanilla yoghurt with yoghurt sprinkles and an apple crumble, and two serves of fruit daily, including at least one fresh item such as an apple, mandarin, kiwifruit or orange, paired with a packaged fruit cup.
If that wasn't enough to tide me over till dinner, I had the option to pick from a selection of additional snacks at any point – such as an English fruit muffin, choc nut bar or packet of cheese and crackers. But I never felt the need to.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the mental load of planning, shopping and cooking dinners for the whole family. So outside of picking and choosing my dinner options, I was thrilled with the convenience of mindlessly grabbing something from the fridge or freezer for myself. (Yes, my family had to fend for themselves during my week on Lite n' Easy.)
I was pleasantly surprised by how substantial the portion sizes seemed, and comfortably full after finishing each meal. The dinners were a mixture of fresh and frozen – and though I didn't have high hopes, they were all enjoyable. I wouldn't go as far as to say any were particularly delicious, but they were all meals I'd happily order and eat again. The vegetables in the two fresh dinners in particular were plentiful, vibrant in colour and still quite crisp after microwaving.
I was pleasantly surprised by how substantial the portion sizes seemed
However, by the end of the week the novelty of being able to eat just minutes after I'd taken the box out of the freezer had worn off. I missed the flexibility of cooking what I wanted, when I wanted, and family mealtimes felt a bit off when we weren't eating the same dinner.
Lite n' Easy dinners.
What I found
Most days the options I selected had some form of bread – sliced for toasting, a roll for lunch or flat bread for a wrap – and in most cases it was always multigrain or full of seeds, which I enjoyed.
Overall the one thing that struck me was the portion sizes. The bread rolls for lunch are of the rather diminutive 'dinner roll' proportions, where I'd normally buy a much larger roll from the bakery. And most of the snack serves were around 25g, much smaller than what I'd normally serve myself. Regardless, each day I felt pretty satisfied with the quantity of food I ate.
Another thing that stood out was the quantity of fresh produce. The week had a decent variety of fresh roasted pumpkin, spinach, tomato and salad leaves on offer the first two days – my first two lunches were a vegie pizza and a chargrilled chicken burger and salad, for example. The rest of the week was a bit more limited – mostly tomato, with a serving of spinach or pre-sliced cucumber on different days.
Obviously any fresh items need to remain edible and appealing over a whole week. However, a larger amount and wider variety of salad ingredients wouldn't have gone astray or done much to alter the daily calorie limit.
I could snack on these optional extras, but was unsure about how and what to substitute if I wanted something off-menu.
Even though I never felt hungry, there were days when I craved something off-menu such as a chocolate brownie from my local cafe for afternoon tea, some Korean black bean noodles for dinner or maybe even a glass of wine after a long day.
Ordinarily, if I was counting calories I could make adjustments for the odd treat, so I really struggled with the lack of flexibility while sticking to the breakfast, lunch and dinner calorie plan.
But I knew it was only for a week, so I was able to stick it out without cheating – and in the weeks since I've noticed I don't treat myself as much as I used to.
There's no denying that Lite n' Easy is incredibly convenient. For a whole week I didn't have to meal-plan, shop, cook or even think about food for myself. I pretty much just had to eat, which I can manage rather well. And I think it's this convenience I was most looking forward to experiencing.
But realistically this convenience wasn't something I could benefit from in the long term, as I knew I couldn't make my partner and young son fend for themselves forever. Not to mention the enjoyment I get trying out new recipes and cooking a meal we can all eat together.
I can see how handy it would be if I lived on my own or if every member of my household was using it – not least how much time it would free up.
Would I recommend it?
Overall yes. Especially if you want the convenience of not having to think about your meals, or to stick to a calorie plan and reset your ideas around portion sizes.
The fact that you're not locked into regular orders is also appealing. While I don't feel the need to have every meal of every day catered to, I like that I can restock my fridge or freezer with tasty meals to enjoy when I'm too tired or can't be bothered to make something from scratch.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.