The 7 Best Meal Replacement Bars | Guide to Eating Healthy on the Go - Greenbelly Meals

The 7 Best Meal Replacement Bars - A Complete Guide


best meal replacement bars

Meal replacement bars are a full step above nutrition and energy bar and should be held to a higher standard. Meal bars are designed to function as a meal rather than just a snack to fill in the cracks. They can be great high-calorie performance fuel, lightweight trail food or an easy meal when you’re tight on time. 


Why Meal Replacement Bars?


1. Fast. A meal replacement bar is a well-balanced, immediate meal you can eat while you’re still movin’ and groovin’ on the trail. They’re carefully crafted to fill in as a healthy, full-meal alternative, and there’s no stopping or cooking required. The bars are ready-to-eat whenever hunger strikes.

2. Easy. With a meal replacement bar there’s no clean-up! There’ll be enough of that on the trail already, so it’s nice to have an alternate, satisfying food option that doesn’t take much work. Or planning. Just be sure to pack out your wrappers so they can be properly (and responsibly!) recycled or disposed of.

3. Compact. One of the great things about meal replacement bars is you can pack a whole bunch of them and they hardly weigh a thing or take up much room in your pack. They’re often no bigger than the size of your hand and they come in airtight packaging that’s durable and keeps them well protected.

4. Filling. Where granola bars, protein bars, and even ramen noodles make for great lightweight snacks or meal starters, they don’t contain enough calories or nutritional value alone to be a complete meal like a meal replacement bar is.

texture of best meal replacement bars


Considerations


✅ CALORIES: AT LEAST 300

Hiking’s not the time to skimp on calories or pick food that falls under the “weight loss” category. Your body’s going to require extra calories to burn and hearty meals to keep it full and its energy levels up. Everyone has different nutritional needs. But, the best bars that cut it as a “meal” should provide at least 300 calories. Preferably more... especially for active lifestyles. 


✅ WEIGHT:
AT LEAST 3 OZ

Leave those small bars for snacking. Compared to granola or protein bars, meal replacement bars should be noticeably heavier and more substantial in size due to all the additional, nutrient-dense foods they're packed with. Again, let's forget about 1-2-oz bars because they just ain’t gonna cut it.


✅ INGREDIENTS:
MINIMALLY PROCESSED

Dry, moist, sweet, salty—taste preference is up to you. Many prioritize Gluten-Free, Organic, Nut-Free, Soy-Free and Non-GMO labels as well. Personally, I keep my food as natural and minimally processed as possible. A quick glance at a label can tell if a bar is “clean” or not.

To stay minimally processed, bars should be made with only ingredients you can pronounce and free of highly processed ingredients (i.e. artificial colors, sweeteners, etc). They should also be clear of food additives like maltodextrin, for example, which is a common ingredient found in packaged foods.

ingredient label of best meal replacement bar


✅ PACKAGING: 
RECYCLABLE WHEN POSSIBLE

It’s no secret you should always take out of the forest whatever you bring in (Leave No Trace Principles and all that.) But if you want to take your green efforts one environmentally-friendly step further, then investing in meal replacement bars with recyclable packaging is a good place to start.
Not all plastic packaging is created the same. You can tell if your bar’s plastic is recyclable by checking the back label for a symbol like 3 arrows forming a triangle (♻️), or a note about being compostable.


✅ PROTEIN:
 LIST OF CLEAN SOURCES

Protein is an essential macronutrient to any well-rounded meal. It keeps you full and helps build strong bones and muscles. Like with protein bars, different kinds of protein are used in different kinds of meal replacement bars.

Here’s a look at the most common sources:

  • Whey – Stemming from milk, whey is a complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids. It can aid in muscle recovery and growth, especially during endurance activities.
  • Soy – A staple in plant-based diets, soy comes in many forms from powder to tofu, edamame to tempeh. A ½ cup can give anywhere from 7-10 grams of protein, along with high levels of both iron and calcium (important if following a non-dairy diet!)
  • Pea – Pea protein has gained some popularity over the years, probably because you can get over 25% of your daily fiber and around 9 grams of protein in a single cup.
  • Brown Rice – This protein is a great option for people with food allergies because brown rice is hypoallergenic by nature. It’s also loaded with antioxidants.
  • Quinoa – Like oats, quinoa is a grain that’s often ground into flour and used to make baked goods. It’s a complete source of protein with around 9 grams per cup.
  • Oats – Just ½ a cup can give you over 6g/protein. It’s not a complete protein, but oats keep you full and are high quality and clean.
  • Seeds, nuts, and nut butter – An excellent source of healthy fat and fiber, foods like peanuts, almonds, chia seeds, and nut butter can have more than 2g/protein in a single tablespoon.

best meal replacement bars eaten in snow


ProBar Meal

probar original blend meal replacement bars

✅ Weight: 3 oz

✅ Calories: 360 

✅ Minimally Processed

Probars are usually pretty moist and on the sweeter side. They also have whole chunks of fruits and nuts, as well as a decent amount of nutrition and food. Each bar is high in fiber with ingredients like chia and flaxseed and includes 9 grams of protein. The original blend has a good balance of salty/sweet (just like you might get in a typical trail mix). The bar’s texture is a little bit chewy, a little bit crunchy. 

See ProBar


Kate’s Real Food

kate's real food grizzly meal replacement bars

❌ Weight: 2.2 oz

❌ Calories: 260

✅ Minimally Processed

A good meal bar by definition. It provides a decent amount of food and nutrition using healthy ingredients. Definitely on the sweet side. The bar comes with a hearty helping of organic oats, dark chocolate, peanut butter, fiber-packed raisins, and brown rice crisps which give it a dense, moist, chewy texture. Each bar is gluten-free, and each package contains two 130-calorie servings. 

See Kate's Real Food


Clif Bar

clif meal replacement bars

❌ Weight: 2.4 oz

❌ Calories: 250 

✅ Minimally Processed

A health food titan. Clif Bar has a ton of flavor options, is sold everywhere, and is relatively inexpensive. It really doesn't cut it as a meal for me though. Some complain about their mealy texture and bland flavor. The bars are made with ingredients like organic rolled oats, rice flour, soy protein, and some variation of fruit or chocolate. They’re chewy, not overly sweet, and taste kind of like a healthy version of an oatmeal cookie.

See Clif Bar


MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal

met-rx meal replacement bars

✅ Weight: 3.5 oz

✅ Calories: 410 

❌ Minimally Processed

With a whopping 32 grams of protein, these are marketed as weight lifting meals bars for bulking up. You may need a scientist to pronounce some of the ingredients though.

See MET-Rx


Greenbelly Meals Meal2Go

greenbelly meal replacement bars

✅ Weight: 5.5 oz

✅ Calories: 645 

✅ Minimally Processed

A true meal. Has a well-balanced nutritional profile providing 33% of your daily value for 6 core nutrients. Two bars per zip-sealed pack make it the perfect ready-to-eat backpacking meal. Each package contains a hearty 17 grams of protein, and the bars are thick and dense, made with nourishing ingredients like brown rice flour, gluten-free oats, fruits, and nuts. The bars are lightweight, yet sure to keep you full and energized for hours. 

See Greenbelly


GoMacro Macrobar


gomacro protein pleasure meal replacement bars

❌ Weight: 2.4 oz

❌ Calories: 290 

✅ Minimally Processed

This one checks all of the ingredient and dietary boxes—organic, clean protein source (brown rice and pea), Gluten Free, Non-GMO and Vegan. They have a mealy texture and are filling, with ingredients like peanuts, peanut butter, dates, and fair-trade chocolate chips. Also not too sweet. Each bar is certified R.A.W., and the mother-daughter company uses 100% renewable energy to make the bars, along with labels that are manufactured out of 100% post-consumer waste. 

See GoMacro


Bobo's Stuff’d Oat Bar

bobo's stuffed meal replacement bars

❌ Weight: 2.5 oz

✅ Calories: 310

✅ Minimally Processed

This bar is a treat for anybody who loves nut butter, as there’s a hearty helping stuffed in its center that’s baked around an outer shell made of ingredients like organic oats, coconut oil, coconut, and peanuts. The bars aren’t very sweet and they have a dry, crunchy, crumbly texture. Even though the Stuff’d bar is smaller in size compared to other Bobo’s offerings, it packs more calories and is still a hearty and filling option.

See Bobo's


Types of Bars: Extruded vs. Cold-Pressed 


There are two ways to make meal bars. Some are cold-pressed, others are made using a process called extrusion. Which process is used will affect how the bar taste and its overall texture. Let's look at each process independently.


EXTRUDED: 
"MEALY" TEXTURE- Ingredients usually put in a blender and injected out.

Extruded bars are made from dried ingredients that have been ground together to create a mixture. The mixture is then put through a mechanical process that includes forcing and pressing slabs full of the mixture through a machine that makes it into the desired texture, size, and shape. The cooking of the mixture is done through using large external heaters. This is a common process used in the creation of a number of packaged foods, and its method results in a very consistent, mealy texture.


PRESSED:
 "CHUNKY" TEXTURE - Ingredients mixed together and then rolled out. 

When making pressed bars, the ingredients are first mixed and then pressed into the bar shape by a machine or roller. From there they may go on to be either baked or refrigerated. The theory behind pressed bars is that the ingredients withhold their highest level of nutritional value (and wholesome taste) because they remain in their most natural state.


Do-It-Yourself Meal Replacement Bars


With the right ingredients, you can whip up a batch of customized meal replacement bars right at home. They’re fairly easy to make and often only require some blending, mixing, melting, spreading, and baking (… or refrigerating, depending on the recipe.)

diy meal replacement bar

Ingredients: Many meal replacement bars include common household ingredients like: oats, nuts, seeds, nut butter, maple syrup or honey, coconut or olive oil, eggs and spices. You can customize recipes however you want by swapping out ingredients or adding other items like coconut flakes, chocolate chips, or dried fruit.

Gear: To get started on making a batch, all you need is a mixing bowl, a small pot, parchment or wax paper, a blender, a pan or baking dish, a spatula, an oven (or a fridge if it’s a no-bake bar), and, of course… the right recipe! Here’s two to get you started.

Recipes: Super Seed Chocolate Protein Bars (Vegan, Gluten-free and Nut-free option) or High-Calorie Meal Bars (Variety of flavor options) 



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By Katie Licavoli: Katie Licavoli is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast who specializes in articles, blog posts, gear reviews, and site content about living the Good Life spent exploring The Great Outdoors. Her favorite days are ones in nature, and her favorite views are any with mountains.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

Affiliate disclosure: We aim to provide honest information to our readers. We do not do sponsored or paid posts. In exchange for referring sales, we may receive a small commission through affiliate links. This post may contain affiliate links. This comes at no extra cost to you.



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