The Healthiest Meal Replacement
Updated: Oct 30, 2020
Q: I need a recommendation for a healthy meal replacement - something that will do for breakfast on the run for the high schoolers and for lunch for me - something that can be tucked in a jacket pocket and eaten on the stairs between classes or meetings. The biggest problem with stuff like dried fruit is it takes too long to eat! And since it's got to do for a complete meal, wouldn't it get unbalanced after a while? What's your take?
When I was in graduate school, I was a single parent of my 10-year old daughter, had a full-time school schedule and a full-time internship. Time was a scarce commodity. By planning ahead, my daughter and I were able to always have healthful food and meals. We never had to compromise.
Let me address your specific comments...
I need a recommendation for a healthful meal replacement.... What's your take?
My first recommendation is that I don't recommend meal replacements. They never provide the same amount of nutrition as a real meal.
In addition, if I were to lay out all of my guidelines for healthful nutrition & food and we turned them all upside down and used the upside-down guidelines to invent a food, we would have a meal replacement. Whether it’s a powder, drink or bar, they all embody the exact opposite of what I recommend. They are all usually very high in calorie density, usually fairly high in added sugars, often high in fats (often the unhealthful fats), low in fibers, low in satiety and low in overall nutritional quality.
…something that will do for breakfast on the run for the high schoolers and for lunch for me
I really recommend that people take the few minutes to sit down and enjoy a meal if they are going to have one, especially together with family or friends, if possible. By doing so, we also teach children, whether they are young or of high school age, the importance of taking the time and eating real food and meals and not highly processed "replacements." After all, there is no replacement for our health.
There are many healthful meals you can make in just minutes, so I don’t recommend that someone nottake the time. In addition, the few minutes it takes to prepare the meal will offer numerous health benefits.
… something that can be tucked in a jacket pocket and eaten on the stairs between classes or meetings. The biggest problem with stuff like dried fruit is it takes too long to eat!
In our fast-paced crazy world, it is understandable that people want these kinds of magic bullets. They just don’t exist.
Remember, eating and the process of chewing our food is part of digestion and good health. Chewing helps break food down, releases certain enzymes, increases satiety and also helps exercise our facial muscles. It is beneficial to take the time to eat and to eat food that requires time and chewing.
… and since it's got to do for a complete meal, wouldn't it get unbalanced after a while?
If you are worried about eating meals that are complete and balanced, the last think you should be thinking of is a meal replacement. However, when you eat a diet based predominately on intact minimally processed plant foods, then all the foods and meals are complete and balanced. (The concepts of incomplete and unbalanced are really based on myths or diets based on refined and highly processed foods.)
Having said all that, if I were on the run and wanted to grab something quickly, I would either grab a piece of fruit or two or grab some leftovers of some healthful food. This is why I always keep healthful food around and with me wherever I am. Whenever I cook anything, I always make lots of extra and keep some in the refrigerator and some in the freezer.
I have to help plan for my success and not my failure. I can't think of anything more important.
Jeff Novick, MS, RDN
*Originally published Tuesday, August 28, 2012