The 7 Best Meal Replacement Bars of 2021, According to a Dietitian

Tasty and nutritious, these bars will keep you fueled for hours

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When your intentions of eating a healthy, balanced meal fall through, but you still need to eat something, a meal replacement bar is a great option. A meal replacement bar is similar to a protein bar but usually higher in calories, fat, and fiber since it’s intended to replace a meal versus being a snack. Protein bars have about 100 to 300 calories, but meal replacement bars are closer to 200 to 400 calories. 

When possible, try to aim for a balanced meal of fruits and vegetables, protein, and healthy fats instead of relying on meal replacement bars. That’s because bars can’t give you all the essential nutrients your body needs, like omega-3 fatty acids, for example, which are obtained from salmon, tuna, and some nuts and seeds.

You also won’t reap the benefits of the potent antioxidants found in different colored vegetables if you only eat bars. But, life happens, so we understand the need to reach for these bars when you can’t get a balanced meal on the table. There is an overwhelming number of bars on the market. Lucky for you, we found the best ones.

Here, a breakdown of the best meal replacement bars:

Best Overall: SANS Meal Replacement Protein Bar

Sans Meal Bar

SANS bars take the best overall spot, as they were designed to be a meal replacement bar versus just a protein bar. That’s why they come in at 390 calories, which may seem high for a bar, but is actually within the calorie range you would want for a meal. Each bar also has 15 grams of protein and 7 grams of filling fiber.

While a first glance at the sugar content, 23 grams, may be a shock to the system, take a closer look at the ingredients list, and you’ll see that the only sources of sugar in the PB&J bar are dates and strawberries.

SANS’ motto is “eat real food.” Their name, “SANS” means “without,” after all, and all of their bars are "sans" added sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, and natural flavors. Most of the bars have just eight whole food ingredients like the PB&J bar, for example, which has peanuts, dates, egg whites, strawberries, oats, flaxseed, sea salt, and spinach powder.

If PB&J doesn't suit your fancy, you can choose from a variety of other flavors, including pistachio and fig, peanut butter cacao, peanut butter lovers, or coconut almond butter. 

Best Budget: Kind Protein Bars, Crunchy Peanut Butter

KIND makes various bars, but their Protein Bars are your best bet for a meal replacement bar that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. The crunchy peanut butter flavor has 250 calories, 6 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein with 7 grams of total sugar (5 grams added sugar).

The leading ingredients in KIND Protein Bars are nuts—either peanuts or almonds—which provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats. If you're closely watching your sugar intake, note that these bars do have added sugar from ingredients like glucose syrup and sugar. They are gluten-free but contain soy and milk.

Best Paleo: RXBAR Chocolate Sea Salt Protein Bar

RXBAR, Protein Bar, Chocolate Sea Salt

There are a lot of paleo bars, but none are as high in fiber and protein as these chocolate sea salt RXBARs. You will feel like you’re eating a salted brownie for your meal with this chewy chocolate bar that has 210 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein with 13 grams of naturally-occurring sugar. 

While some RXBARs are made with peanuts, which are not paleo-friendly, the chocolate sea salt is made with almonds, egg whites, cashews, and dates. Not a chocolate lover? They also have mixed berry, maple sea salt, blueberry, and vanilla almond flavors.

RXBAR protein bars are gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO, and contain no added sugars. They are a bit sticky so pack a toothpick or floss if you’re taking this to work or eating on-the-go.

Best for Weight Loss: ALOHA Organic Plant-Based Protein Bars

Unfortunately, most of the “weight loss bars” out there swap sugar for artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols that can cause digestive distress for some people at high intakes. However, if you're watching your carbohydrate intake or have diabetes, this may be a suitable alternative to the other bars containing high amounts of carbohydrates. ALOHA Organic Plant-Based Protein Bars are a delicious and nutritious alternative that packs protein and fiber.

The peanut butter chocolate chip flavor has a whopping 13 grams of fiber per bar, half the recommended daily amount, and 14 grams of protein. Fiber is key for weight loss because it is digested slowly, slows the spike of blood sugar, and keeps you full longer. Similarly, protein suppresses hunger hormones and keeps cravings at bay.

ALOHA has other flavors too, including coconut chocolate almond, chocolate chip cookie dough, and chocolate mint. All products are soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, organic, non-GMO, and never contain sugar alcohols, stevia, or anything artificial. ALOHA bars are also vegan.

Protein sources include peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and a protein blend of brown rice protein and pumpkin seed protein. The calories are on the lower end for a meal replacement bar, ranging from 240 to 260 per bar, so they may be best as a breakfast replacement if that’s usually your smallest meal of the day. Or pair with plain Greek yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, or a cheese stick to boost protein closer to 20 total grams.

Best Tasting: Perfect Bar Original Refrigerated Protein Bar

You’ll really feel like you’re eating dessert for dinner when you take a bite of these dark chocolate chip peanut butter Perfect Bars. These refrigerated bars have a cookie-dough-like texture that almost melts in your mouth. But, they are nutritious too. You won’t even believe that they sneak celery, tomato, kelp, and kale in the form of dried powders into these decadent bars. Don’t worry, all you can taste is peanut butter and chocolate.

Perfect Bars are a great meal replacement because they are on the higher end of calories with 330 calories per bar, 15 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber. They have 12 grams of added sugar, however, it comes from honey and the sugar in the chocolate chips.

Perfect Bars prioritize whole food protein sources like nut butters and egg whites. All bars are organic, non-GMO, and refrigerated. They stay fresh outside the fridge for 2 to 7 days, depending on the product.

Best Organic: Elemental Superfood Seedbar Dark Chocolate + Peanut Butter

Elemental Superfood Seedbars were not organic when they first launched but have recently become USDA certified organic. They are also plant-based, gluten-free, and dairy-free, with organic buckwheat as the first ingredient in all of the bars. Buckwheat boosts the fiber and protein in Elemental bars, while hemp seeds, almond butter, or cashews add healthy fats, depending on which flavor you opt for. Speaking of flavors, choose from dark chocolate and almond butter, blueberry cashew and lemon, or currant cacao and hemp seed, among others.

Elemental bars require refrigeration but can be kept out of the fridge for up to one week. Each bar contains approximately 230 calories, 4 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of protein. They’re on the lower end for fiber and protein, so consider adding a small handful of nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or string cheese alongside to make it more of a meal.

Best Gluten-Free: Over Easy Breakfast Bars

Over Easy Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Bars

In case you can’t tell from the name, Over Easy bars were made to be a breakfast replacement for those days when you need something quick in the morning but don’t want to sacrifice nutrition or taste. They’d work just as well for lunch or dinner, though. The creators of Over Easy noticed that other breakfast bars were sugar-laden or filled with artificial sweeteners, plus didn’t taste good, so they sought to solve all of those problems by bringing a new breakfast bar to town.

Over Easy bars are made with organic, gluten-free oats and are free of wheat, soy, dairy, refined sugars, added flavors, and preservatives. But not only that, they taste good and will keep you full for hours. They are chewy but not sticky.

With flavors like apple cinnamon, banana nut, peanut butter, and vanilla matcha, each bar has about 220 calories, 7 grams of fiber, 9 grams of protein, and 9 grams of sugar. They only have 8 whole food ingredients. The ingredients in the banana nut, for example, are organic oats, almonds, honey, almond butter, tapioca fiber, dried bananas, egg whites, vanilla extract, and salt.

Final Verdict

To ensure you stay satiated between meals, opt for SANS meal replacement bars, which are going to be the most filling by far with 15 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and about 20 grams of unsaturated, healthy fats. The goal is not to skimp on calories in a meal replacement bar, but you also want the right type of calories—ones that come from whole foods and will keep you full. For that, SANS has you covered.

What to Look for in a Meal Replacement Bar

Ingredients:

Look for whole food ingredients like egg whites, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Steer clear of bars filled with added sugars. The fewer the ingredients and the more whole food ingredients, the better.

Calories:

Look for bars with about 200 to 400 calories. Anything lower likely won’t fill you up since this is serving as a meal replacement, not a snack. Also, if choosing a bar in the 200 to 300 calorie range, you may need to add something to it like an apple or ¼ cup of almonds to ensure you stay full until the next meal.

Protein:

Protein needs are based on body weight but most adult men and women need about 55 to 65 grams per day. That’s about 20 grams per meal so any bars in this range are a good option. However, in reality, most meal replacement bars have closer to 10 to 15 grams of protein, which is okay.

Check the ingredients list for the type of protein if you have food allergies or don’t eat animal products, for example. Protein sources can range from nuts and seeds to egg whites to protein powder like whey.

Fiber:

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adult men and women consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, depending on age and sex. If you divide that by three meals per day, that’s about 8 to 10 grams of fiber per meal. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many bars with this much fiber but look for at least 3 to 5 grams per serving. You can pair fruits or vegetables with the bar to boost fiber.

Sugar:

Less is best, but a good guideline is 10 to 15 grams of sugar or less. Another good rule of thumb is if the protein plus the fiber is more than the sugar. Look for bars that are sweetened with natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or dried fruit. Avoid bars with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols like xylitol or erythritol, as these can cause gastrointestinal distress in large amounts. However, if you have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes and enjoy the sweet taste, opt-in for the artificial sweetener-containing bars.

FAQs

How often can I eat a meal replacement bar?

Whole food first is always best because you’ll get the healthiest sources of protein, fiber, and fat. Plus, when you make an actual meal, you can control the portions of each food group to the amount needed to keep you full and fit your health goals. But when that’s not possible, meal replacement bars are a great alternative and can be enjoyed by most people anywhere from a few times a month to a few times a week, depending on their health goals.

Can I eat a protein bar as a meal replacement?

The short answer is yes. Most protein bars will suffice as a meal replacement because they tend to have at least 15 to 20 grams of protein per bar. Because protein suppresses hunger hormones and is digested slowly, you should be full until your next meal. However, most protein bars lack the amount of fiber recommended for a meal. If the bar has less than 3 to 5 grams of fiber, add a piece of fruit or some veggies to up the fiber.

What Experts Say

"Meal replacement bars come in handy when you are in a rush and need some quick nourishment. When choosing a meal replacement bar, I look to see if a whole ingredient is listed as the first ingredient. I also want the product to contain beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, or omega-3s. Finally, I look for a product that has minimal added sugar. When the bar is meant to replace a meal, I want the bar to have at least 200 calories. If the bar is under 300 calories, I like to pair the bar with a healthy side like fruit or nuts." Lacy Ngo, MS, RDN

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

As a Registered Dietitian and weight loss expert, you can trust Lainey Younkin, MS, RD to recommend the healthiest meal replacement bars to you. She prioritizes whole food ingredients, no artificial sweeteners or preservatives, and adequate nutrients to keep you fueled and satisfied throughout the day.

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  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Easy ways to boost fiber in your daily diet. Updated February 2021.

  2. Kaiser Family Foundation. Why older adults should eat more protein (and not overdo protein shakes). January 17, 2019.

  3. USDA. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. December 2020.