Frozen Meals and Protein Bars: Recommendations for those who live fast
Depending on your job or lifestyle you may find it difficult to grab what is considered a healthy meal or snack during the day. At night, you may also be too exhausted, be it mentally or physically to prepare and cook up a “fresh” meal…join the club!
Life happens and we need easy food alternatives to accommodate a fast pass modern lifestyle with limited options. I have experimented with dozens of frozen meals and hundreds of protein bars throughout the years. I have narrowed down a handful of each (in no particular order) I would recommend. Each will have a short description of why I recommend them in accordance with a flavor, pricing, and availability.
Both of the following have 10+ different selections/flavors/options in their respective brand name. I recommend them to my clients, and are the only two frozen meal brands I eat.
Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers/Simply Cafe: - They are a staple recommendation for me. Sold almost everywhere, and typically around $3.00. The sodium can be a bit high (like in many frozens) but the calories are low and so is the fat content. The ratios of Fat to Carbohydrate to Protein are typically ideal in all of these.
If you are on a diet that is low fat, low calories, or macronutrient proportion (40% carb,40% protein,20% fat) these will be ideal for you. The calories are low enough where it could be a snack rather than a meal depending upon your size and particular goals. Most of the meals are in the ball park of 290 calories.
They have a very standard American menu approach, with a few Asian meals sprinkled in. These are very easy to make and eat as most of them require 3 minutes or so to cook, but they are in a prepared bowl where the items are separated during the cooking process and then combined in the larger bowl for your eating.
Typically, one of the two are located in every major grocery store chain. The Café Steamers are in a beige box while the Simple Café are in white. Some of my favorites are; Asian Stir Fry, Grilled Chicken Marinara with Parmesan, Crustless Chicken Pot Pie, and Beef Merlot.
Saffron Road - These are not as calorie friendly, but still many under 400. They tend to be closer to the $4.50-$6.50 price range, because they use more premium ingredients. In addition, majority of their meals are gluten free and all of their meat is hormone free. Most of the dishes use rice or rice noodles.
They have an Asian/Far Eastern-centric base with a few more traditional Latin dishes sprinkled in. They are not easy cooking friendly as the Healthy Choice Meals. You do have to typically stir the food halfway through the microwave process and they take longer to make (4-6 minutes total).They are in most major grocery stores as of this point (Kroger, Publix, etc) but you will find them more often than not in the organic frozen sections. Some of my favorites are; Chicken Enchiladas Poblano, Lamb Saag, Chicken Tiki Masala, Chicken Vindaloo, Sesame Ginger Salmon, Chicken Pad Thai.
I have tried every protein bar under the sun. The questions I try to solve when using or recommending a protein bar are; Are the ingredients satisfactory? Are the calories to cost ratio worthwhile? Do the flavors/taste allow me to look forward to eating it?
There are some great protein bars that are too expensive for the calories they provide, some whose taste is either too fake or too bland, and others whose ingredients are filled with chemicals and sub-par oils.
I am not listing the ONLY protein bars I eat, but rather the handful I recommend from a trial standpoint. You may only like one of these, but my goal is to list a variety of protein bars from a textural, flavor, and composition standpoint so that you can hopefully find one becomes your go to.
3. Power Crunch
4. RX Bar
The Oatmega bars are made with premium ingredients. They have a variety of flavors such as mint chocolate chip, vanilla almond, and chocolate coconut. They can be found at most major grocery stores, Walmart, Target, and of course Amazon. I enjoy the texture of the oats and can’t say they remind me of any other protein bar. They are slightly chewy, do not taste “fake” yet feel dense and filling for only 190 calories. They use grass fed whey protein. There is literally no better protein on the planet from a biological value standpoint. For the sake of time, I will delve into protein differences and how the body absorbs/uses them down the road shortly in another post. They use gluten free oats, tapioca syrup, cocoa, fish oil, rice flour, among other healthy ingredients.
Cliff Nut Butters are delicious. Cliff has a variety of bars and most notably their original bar and cliff high protein builder bars. They can be found at most major grocery stores and even smaller chains and bodegas. Their nut butter series has less sugars, less calories, less ingredients and yet somehow tastes better. They are not what I consider a high protein bar, but there is typically 6-10 grams per bar along with healthy fats and enough calories for the price point ($1.50 average). For those who aren’t so consumed with having high protein but rather healthy ingredients and ample amount of calories as a good hold over snack between meals this is ideal. They have a handful of great flavors like banana, blueberry, maple, etc. They use all organic ingredients the first being either almond butter or peanut butter.
Power Crunch are relatively new and not sold everywhere. You can get them at some grocery store chains, and any major health and vitamin store. These bars taste just like the wafers you had as a child. They are something to look forward to (provided you like wafers) and very different tasting from the last two bars. There is a bit of a candy-esque sweetener taste to them but it’s actually not from sugar. The milk protein isolates combined with the oils (palm oil and palm kernel oil) makes for a rich flavor. I enjoy this as a switch up to my normal bars, and for those of you on lower carbohydrate diets this one works. Power Crunch typically has somewhere from 10-14g of fat and the same for protein. However, the sugars are in the single digits and the total carbs are normally closer to 9 than to 15.
RX Bars may be the cleanest of all the bars. By far the least ingredients, and for the price point ($2.00) they do provide enough protein and overall calories. They have picked up a lot of steam in the market place and at least a few flavors of RX bars are found everywhere from the airport to the local corner store. RX bars are not just a simple high protein bar, but rather a great healthy snack to hold you off in between meals. Dates, peanuts, and egg whites make up majority of every bar. Then depending upon the flavor (they have well over a dozen) the next ingredients could be berries, or chocolate, etc. They are calorically in the ball park of 210 per bar, and a standard bar could look like this; 11g of Fat, 22 Carbs (13 sugars from dates), and 12g of Protein. I enjoy the chewy and natural flavor and texture of these bars. I find almost everyone I have recommended these to enjoy are least a few of the flavors.