5 Healthy Meal Replacement Drinks

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
woman drinking a sports drink

Sometimes you just don't have time to prepare food or hit a restaurant for you next meal, or you don't want the extra calories eating a full meal may entail. If you've recently had surgery or are recovering from an illness, regular foods might not be feasible for you, so healthy meal replacement shakes can definitely help.

1. Orgain Nutrition Shakes

Not only do Orgain organic nutrition shakes make a well-balanced meal replacement, these shakes taste great and are made from all organic ingredients. You'll be able to choose from creamy chocolate fudge, sweet vanilla bean, iced café mocha, and strawberry based on your flavor preference. Orgain shakes are gluten-free, soy-free, and non-GMO.

Nutrition Content

In an 11-ounce Orgain nutrition shake, you'll be getting 250 calories, 7 grams of fat, 32 grams of total carbs, 2 grams of fiber, 16 grams of protein, 12 grams of sugar, 260 milligrams of sodium, and 20 essential vitamins and minerals. Grass-fed milk protein is on the ingredient list.

When to Use It

Orgain nutrition shakes are best for anybody trying to get in some extra nutrients for weight loss, weight gain, pre- or post-workout nourishment, or post-surgery recovery. Use it as a meal replacement when you're trying to shed pounds or as a between-meal supplement when you need a few extra nutrient-dense calories. You can drink it daily, if desired.

Pros and Cons

When choosing Orgain nutrition shakes, you'll be getting a ton of nutrients packed into one drink, and the shakes are ready-to-drink (no mixing required). Orgain even makes a vegan nutrition shake option, and it is available in powder form if you prefer. It's healthy and has a variety of uses (weight loss, weight gain, etc.). However, drinking it daily can get expensive, costing just over $17 for a 4-pack of shakes, or $25 for 12 11-ounce drinks.

Reviews

Orgain shakes receive a 4.2 out of 5 star rating from Amazon.com customer reviewers, and they are on Amazon.com's best seller's list. Many satisfied customers say they love the taste, convenience, and peace of mind knowing all ingredients are organic. Some say Orgain shakes make an excellent early morning snack or meal.

2. Vega One

Sports protein

Vega One all-in-one drinks are some of the most nutritious meal replacement shakes you'll find. They're rich in protein but lower in calories and contain no added sugar. Vega One is gluten-free and non-GMO. It comes in a variety of flavors like chocolate, vanilla, berry, and mocha. The best part is Vega One can be part of a vegan meal plan as it's made from 100 percent plant-based ingredients.

Nutrition Content

One scoop of Vega One protein powder contains just 150 calories, 5 grams of fat, 170 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of total carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, 20 grams of protein, and 17 essential vitamins and minerals. The best part is Vega One shakes even contain essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and probiotics. You'll also get greens and other veggies in your shake when choosing Vega One.

When to Use It

Because Vega One is entirely plant-based and extremely nutritious, use this type of meal replacement if you're a vegan dieter or simply want a shake that's packed with nutritional benefits. Vega One shake are lower in calories, so try using two scoops instead of one or blending Vega One powder into a fruit smoothie to get slightly more calories when using it for a meal replacement drink. Alternatively, sip on Vega One between meals or after workouts.

Pros and Cons

The main drawback when choosing Vega One is it's pricey. You'll pay about $50 for 20 servings of protein powder. However, you'll be getting so many essential nutrients packed into your drink that for many people, it's worth the extra cost, especially those following plant-based diets. The added omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics is another perk you might not see in other meal replacement drinks.

Reviews

Many Vega One customers are pleased with the product. Vitacost.com reviewers give Vega One a 4.7 out of 5 star rating, saying the product is high-quality, tastes great, and even helps lower cholesterol.

3. Pediasure

Pediasure is a meal replacement shake designed just for kids. And while Pediasure offers a variety of kid-friendly nutritious products, Pediasure Grow and Gain is a popular one, especially among children who need an extra boost of calories to grow and develop at a healthy pace. Flavors are available in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, banana, and berry.

Nutrition Content

In each ready-made Pediasure Grow and Gain shake (an 8-ounce bottle), your child will be getting 240 calories, 9 grams of fat, 90 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of total carbs, less than 1 gram of fiber, 7 grams of protein, 12 grams of sugar, and 26 essential vitamins and minerals. Milk and soy protein are on the ingredient list.

When to Use It

Pediasure is designed for children who may not be consuming enough total calories or essential nutrients needed to grow and develop at a healthy rate. The shakes can be used as meal replacements for kids having difficulty eating solid food (post-surgery or those with swallowing disorders, for example), but the shakes are mainly intended to use as a supplement to add extra calories and nutrition.

Pros and Cons

If you need something you know is safe for children failing to thrive, Pediasure has you covered. The product is gluten-free and suitable for kids with lactose intolerance. However, it does contain milk and soy products, so isn't suitable for some children with allergies. Many common retail chains carry Pediasure Grow and Gain (like Walmart), and you'll pay about $11 for a pack of 6 8-ounce bottles. While this price isn't cheap, it's less expensive than some other meal replacement products.

Reviews

Pediasure is often recommended by doctors and nurses for underweight kids. Cincinnati Children's Hospital recommends supplements like Pediasure for underweight children who can benefit from extra calories and nutrition.

4. Soylent

Soylent nutrition shakes are true meal replacement drinks, as they are higher in calories than other shakes. Soylent drinks come in original, chocolate, and nectar flavors, and breakfast Soylent drinks containing caffeine come in coffee, vanilla, and chai flavors. These shakes make a perfect breakfast or lunch, containing 20 percent of your body's daily nutrition needs.

Nutrition Content

Each 14-ounce bottle of Soylent contains 400 calories, 21 grams of fat, 300 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of total carbs, 3 grams of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, 20 grams of protein, and 25 essential vitamins and minerals. Soy protein is the protein source in Soylent drinks.

When to Use It

If you're struggling to eat solid food, don't have time to grab breakfast or lunch, or want a simplified way to track calories for weight loss, Soylent should be a good option for you. By replacing one or two meals with Soylent shakes, it's easy to stick to a reduced-calorie meal plan shed pounds. You can also use this shake between meals as a way to pack on pounds.

Pros and Cons

If you're trying to steer clear of soy, Soylent isn't your best option for a meal replacement drink. Likewise, if you're looking for a between-meal snack, it may be too high in calories (unless weight gain is your goal). You'll pay a pretty penny ($39 for 12 14-ounce bottles). However, Soylent drinks are packed with essential nutrients and by providing 400 calories per bottle, this drink is a true meal replacement.

Reviews

The café flavor (containing caffeine) of Soylent is the Amazon.com #1 best seller in the instant breakfast drink category, which tells you it's a popular one. Reviewers of the product say it's satiating and energizing, especially when used as an early morning breakfast.

5. Optimum Nutrition

Fitness shake

Bodybuildling.com ranks Optimum Nutrition as having some of the best meal replacement shakes on the market. In fact, Optimum has protein powders (in different flavors) that rank as #1, #2 and #5 on bodybuilding.com's top 10 list. Some flavors offered by Optimum Nutrition include whey and oats, Greek yogurt, chocolate glazed doughnut, blueberry muffin, and vanilla almond pastry.

Nutrition Content

One scoop of Optimum Nutrition whey and oats protein powder contains 190 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 280 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of total carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, 27 grams of protein, calcium, iron, and potassium. As then name implies, whey protein is the protein source in this shake.

When to Use It

Because of a higher protein and lower carb/sugar content, Optimum Nutrition shakes work well for athletes trying to build muscle but stay lean such as bodybuilders. Drink Optimum shakes between meals and as post-workout, muscle-building nourishment. You can even consume Optimum drinks as a meal replacement when trying to shed pounds.

Pros and Cons

A drawback of Optimum shakes is you have to mix powder with water or milk yourself as this drink isn't ready made. With many high-quality supplements, Optimum products don't come cheap ($22 for 14 servings). However, Optimum protein drinks help you meet daily nutritional needs, offering a large quantity of high-quality protein without the extra calories and sugar you might find in other meal replacement shakes.

Reviews

Optimum Nutrition whey and oats protein powder received an 8.4 out of 10 rating by bodybuilding.com reviewers. Customers claim the product tastes great, keeps you full for long time periods, and works well as a breakfast drink.

Choosing Meal Replacement Drinks

Taste, ingredients, total calories, protein, and sugar content are the main things to keep in mind when choosing meal replacement drinks. Aim to pick a shake with no more than 12 grams of sugar per serving as this is the amount present in low-fat milk. Pick a shake that's within your preferred calorie (and price) range for meal replacements, between-meal snacks, or pre- or post-workout nourishment. Meal replacement shakes are generally okay to consume daily (when combined with other healthy foods) as long as you're meeting all of your body's nutritional needs.

5 Healthy Meal Replacement Drinks