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Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is the best way to stay healthy, but sometimes a busy lifestyle or other circumstances make it hard to prepare a full meal.
Meal replacement systems are meant to help you get a meal’s worth of nutrients when you don’t have the time or access to enjoy a proper meal.
The most popular alternatives include shakes, bars, and powders.
However, just as everybody has different nutritional needs, not all meal replacements are created equal. Therefore, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to replacing a meal.
Still, some alternatives may provide you with enough energy and nutrients to get you through the day.
This article examines meal replacement products based on the following criteria:
- third-party testing and other quality certifications
- ingredient quality
- nutrient ratio
Here are the 8 best meal replacement products.
A note on price
General price ranges with dollar signs ($ to $$$) are indicated below. One dollar sign means the product is rather affordable, whereas three dollar signs indicate a higher price range.
Generally, prices range from $1.46–$6.65 per serving, or $23.99–$79.80 per multipack or tub. Though this may vary depending on where you shop.
Note that serving sizes vary by product. Some products are sold in multipacks while others are available as multi-serving tubs.
- $ = under $2.50 per serving
- $$ = between $2.50–$5 per serving
- $$$ = over $5 per serving
Although it’s sold as a protein shake, Vega Protein Nutrition Shake packs some healthy fats and carbs to complete your meal.
The shakes are sold in packs of 12 in chocolate or vanilla and provide enough plant-based protein and vegetable blends to fuel your body.
They’re certified vegan, non-GMO (genetically modified organism), and dairy-, soy-, and gluten-free. Plus, they’re B-Corporation-certified — a third-party certification that ensures a company meets high social and environmental performance standards.
While they’re a good choice, they have quite a low calorie count. Therefore, it would be best to pair them with a serving of fruit and nuts for an extra dose of nutrient-rich carbs and fats.
Here’s the nutrition information for the vanilla-flavored shake:
Smart for Life Protein Bars provide all three macronutrients — carbs, protein, and fats — while staying on the lower calorie side.
These gluten-free, non-GMO, and kosher-dairy bars come in various flavors, including caramel apple, choco crisp, cinnamon pecan, lemon, peanut butter chocolate, s’mores, and strawberries.
Additionally, they’re manufactured in a Safe Quality Food (SQF) Level 2, good manufacturing practices (GMP)-certified, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-registered facility, ensuring that good agricultural, manufacturing, and distribution practices are followed.
Still, just as with Vega’s shake, make sure to pair them with a serving of yogurt, fruit, or nuts for some added high quality calories to complete your meal.
Here’s the nutrition information for the caramel apple protein bar:
Available in two sizes that provide 400–600 calories per bottle, AMPLE Original Complete Meal Shake offers a high protein, high fat, and high fiber meal that’ll keep you feeling full for over 4 hours.
Each bottle comes with a chocolate-, vanilla-, vanilla-cinnamon-, or berry-flavored powder, which you prepare by mixing with water, milk, coffee, or your favorite juice.
The shakes are gluten- and soy-free and contain no artificial sweeteners or flavors. What’s more, they pack a wide range of high quality nutrients, including prebiotics and probiotics to support a healthy gut.
Additionally, AMPLE products are manufactured in a GMP, FDA-registered facility and boast both NSF International and NSF Sports certifications, meaning that they’re free of substances banned by athletic organizations.
Note that the fluid with which you mix the powder may change the nutrient composition.
Here’s the nutrition information for the AMPLE original vanilla-flavored shake:
Soylent meal replacement shake is another high calorie alternative suited for those looking to fit more nutritionally balanced calories into their day.
This shake offers some plant-based nutrition and is gluten-, dairy-, and nut-free. It’s also manufactured in FDA-inspected, global food safety initiative (GFSI)-certified facilities.
Here’s the nutrition information for Soylent Original Plant Protein Meal Replacement Shake:
American Metabolix Keto Meal Replacement Powder offers a meal solution that supports the keto diet by providing 75% of calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs.
Its 20-serving tub comes in multiple flavors, including apple pie, vanilla cake, chocolate, blueberry cheesecake, and peanut butter cookie. Additionally, the powder is manufactured in a GMP-certified facility.
Still, each serving only provides 217 calories, which is a relatively low number for a full meal. Thus, enjoy your shake along some hard-boiled eggs, nuts, or cheese to enhance your meal.
Here’s the nutrition information for the vanilla-flavored powder:
Keto Function Keto+ Shake also provides a 75:20:5 ratio of fat, protein, and carbs to help you maintain your keto lifestyle when you’re short on time or keto-friendly meal choices.
This one is also sold in powder form, which can be mixed with water, coffee, or plant-based milk. Moreover, it contains added probiotics to support a healthy gut and 20 mg of caffeine for an energy boost.
However, the gluten-free, Dutch-chocolate-flavored shake is also on the lower calorie side and should be complemented with some keto-friendly foods, such as jerky, cheese, or nuts to get the most out of your meal.
Additionally, the shake is manufactured in an FDA-registered, GMP-certified facility.
Note that the nutrition composition may change depending on the fluid with which you mix your shake.
Here’s the nutrition information for Keto Function Keto+ Shake:
Garden of Life makes an organic meal replacement powder full of nutrient-rich ingredients.
It comprises multiple organic nutrient blends, including sprouted protein, fiber, flavor, fruit, vegetables, greens, vitamins, minerals, and probiotic and enzyme blends.
The 28-serving tub comes in four flavors — chocolate, lightly sweet, vanilla, and vanilla chai — that you can mix with water, coffee, plant-based milk, or juice.
Furthermore, it’s NSF-certified gluten-free, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-certified organic, non-GMO, vegan, and kosher, as well as certified by Informed-Choice — a global sports supplement testing program.
Yet, although it has a high protein content, it has the lowest calorie count from the products on this list at 130 calories per serving. Consuming it by itself would be more of a snack than a complete meal.
Therefore, try and blend it with some fruit, nut butter, and your favorite plant-based milk for an extra dose of heart-healthy fats and carbs.
Keep in mind that the nutrition composition may change depending on the fluid with which you make your shake.
Here’s the nutrition information for the chocolate-flavored shake:
ALOHA Organic Plant-Based Protein Bars offer a balanced nutrient ratio of carbs, protein, and fat.
You can find these paleo-friendly bars in three flavors — peanut butter chocolate chip, caramel sea salt, and chocolate fudge brownie. They’re also vegan, USDA-certified organic, non-GMO, and gluten-, soy-, and dairy-free.
However, given their low calorie count, try to pair them with some high quality carb and protein sources like Greek yogurt, hummus, or edamame to increase your meal’s nutritional value.
Here’s the nutrition information for the peanut butter chocolate chip bar:
When shopping for a meal replacement, make sure to get one that provides a good ratio of macronutrients — protein, carbs, and fat — that best fits your lifestyle.
Generally, try to go for an option containing 15–25 grams of protein, 10–15 grams of fat, over 10 vitamins and minerals, and over 3 grams of fiber per serving — and avoid those with added sugars.
What’s more, look for high quality brands that use whole food ingredients and third-party quality testing to ensure you’re getting the best possible alternative to a nutritious meal.
Also, consider the product’s packaging to ensure it’s convenient enough to fit your needs, and consider complementing it with nutrient-rich foods if going for an option that’s below 250 calories per serving.
Still, remember that meal replacement systems are meant to be a convenient way to get your nutrients when you’re short on time, on the go, or don’t have access to high quality foods.
They may also come in handy if you’re struggling to fit a high number of calories into your day or practice endurance activities, such as biking or hiking.
However, they shouldn’t replace your everyday meals. Instead, aim to eat whole, nutritious meals the majority of the time and only opt for meal replacements every once in a while.
Making lifestyle modifications would be the best approach for sustainable, long-term weight loss.
Meal replacement systems are designed to help you fit a meal’s worth of nutrients whenever enjoying a wholesome meal isn’t an option.
You may find them as bars, shakes, and powders in a variety of flavors and comprising various nutrient compositions.
When shopping for meal replacements, choose high quality brands that use wholesome ingredients and consider which nutrient ratio and packaging work best for you.