Here’s a confession: I’m a stay-at-home dad in my 40s, and I have trouble figuring out what to have for lunch on a regular basis. It wasn’t always like this. There was a long stretch—years, probably—where I had a very basic ham-and-cheese sandwich pretty much every day except on special occasions, and I didn’t get tired of it. And sometimes when we have supper leftovers that my kids aren’t fond of, I’ll dig into those for lunch because finishing off the old food in the fridge is my duty as a dad. But lately I find that quite often lunchtime rolls around and, for whatever reason, I just don’t have anything at hand that sounds good. So when I got offered a sample of Huel, I figured it was worth a try.
What Is Huel?
As you can see from the bag in the photo, Huel markets itself as a “nutritionally complete food.” Basically, it’s a drink made from various plant products—oats, peas, tapioca, coconut, and brown rice—along with some vitamins and minerals to give you a good dose of all the stuff you’re supposed to be putting into your body. Each serving has 20 grams of protein and it’s vegan, soy-free, and non-GMO. There’s also a gluten-free option in the powder form. (You can see more details about what’s inside here.)
Huel comes in ready-to-drink bottles, or in powdered form so you can mix it yourself. Huel also has its own branded shaker bottles and they sent me a sample, though you can use your own shaker or a blender.
Huel for the Family
I was sent some bottles of the vanilla and berry flavors, as well as the powder in chocolate and unflavored. Over the next couple weeks, three of us (my wife, my middle school daughter, and I) tried it out as meal substitutes. Huel provides a guide for how much to drink and when, depending on whether you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight—in one example, the person had as much as 4 servings a day (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack) before having a non-Huel evening meal and snack. They recommend introducing Huel gradually instead of jumping to multiple servings a day, though, so that your body can adjust to it. In our cases, our primary goal was to see whether Huel could save us some time, money, or mental energy.
All three of us have time constraints for lunch, especially my wife and my daughter. They both prefer to pack lunches when possible—my kid because she’s just not a fan of school lunches, and my wife because she doesn’t want to keep spending money going out to eat. One of the biggest barriers for packing a lunch, though, is time. Figuring out what to pack in the morning and taking the time to prep it just isn’t always possible (especially when my daughter oversleeps and has 20 minutes to get ready for school). Grabbing a bottle of Huel is definitely a lot easier.
For me, lunchtime is a bit more flexible because I’m at home and I don’t have to fix anything until it’s time to eat. But during the school day is when I try to get everything done: laundry, grocery shopping, writing about board games. I often eat lunch late, simply because I lost track of the time and only realized it was past noon because I started getting hungry. And then I find myself wishing I could just keep working while I eat. Huel lets me do that, whether I use the bottle or the powder—I can just fix myself a drink and then have it while I continue with my errands.
The bottles (sold in cases of 24) come to about $3.71 per meal, and the powdered form is $1.75 a meal. Either way, that’s a lot less than what my wife spends on a typical lunch if she isn’t able to pack a lunch. I suppose we could spend a little less if she packed a lunch, but it depends on the meal, and there’s always the added time cost. I rarely go out for lunch, but since I’m at home, I’ve used more of the powdered Huel, and I think $1.75 a day is pretty good. My daughter’s other go-to packed lunch is a can of soup, which range from $1 to $2.50 depending on the type and whether I happened to get them on sale, plus whatever additional snacks she takes.
So the biggest cost savings are for my wife’s lunches, since her alternative is generally to buy lunch at a nearby restaurant. For myself and my daughter, it’s probably pretty close to our alternatives.
Saving Mental Energy
This one’s the biggest benefit for me. I still have the option of fixing a sandwich or heating up some supper leftovers, but if I’m in a hurry, or we’re saving leftovers for tonight’s supper, or whatever, I’ve really appreciated being able to just fall back on having a bottle of Huel so that I don’t have to think about it. I feel like I spend a lot of my time and mental energy figuring out what to eat, both for myself and for prepping suppers for the family, so any meal that I don’t have to think about is sort of a relief.
My wife also appreciates being able to pack a lunch without spending a lot of thought on it—and then it also saves her the daily “where do I want to eat today?” dilemma. There are only so many places near her office, and she’s been to all of them so many times that sometimes nothing sounds really appealing. And as for my daughter, well, let’s just say making decisions in the morning right after she gets up isn’t always her strong suit. Having Huel as an option helps reduce the staring at the open pantry trying to figure out what’s for lunch … so she can spend that mental energy deciding what’s for breakfast instead.
Saving the Environment
Part of Huel’s marketing includes the fact that the typical Western diet is problematic in many ways: eating meat, of course, has a huge impact on the environment. There’s also the problem of food waste. Huel is plant-based, and it has a shelf life of 12 months, so it’s less wasted food. Of course, if you get the ready-to-drink version, then you’re adding plastic bottles, which has its own set of issues, so the powdered form seems like the best option if you want the most food with the least amount of packaging.
How Does Huel Taste?
Okay, so Huel is saving me time, money, and mental energy. That’s nice. I’m sure you’re asking: but how does it taste? It’s not worth the savings if it’s disgusting, right?
Well, the short answer is: it’s not bad. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s delicious. The flavored versions are sweetened with sucralose rather than sugar, and I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it because I generally dislike the taste of any sort of artificial sweetener. While I can taste the sucralose, it was not as strong as it is in sodas, and I found I don’t mind it much. The unflavored powder does not have any sucralose in it and has a sort of cereal taste when it’s plain—the idea is that you can combine it with other things or use the flavor boost packets (see below), but if you really can’t stand sucralose then that’s an option that would let you use other sweeteners of your choice.
The bottled versions are definitely blended better—no matter how well you shake the powder in water, it’s always a little more grainy than the ready-to-drink form. It didn’t bother me much, but my daughter wasn’t a big fan of the texture. We did find that the little mesh disk in the Huel shaker bottle did a better job of breaking up the powder than my wife’s store-bought shaker bottle (which has a little metal whisk ball); she mentioned that with her shaker bottle she often ended up with some powder caked onto the lid. The downside to the Huel shaker bottle is that the lid for the spout is just on a flexible piece of plastic, and so the lid gets in your way (or drips on you) when you’re trying to drink from the spout.
Huel also has flavor boost packets available in eight different flavors. We ordered a sample pack of all eight flavors, and have tried out a few of them. Interestingly, the instructions recommend adding it to a full serving of vanilla Huel, or else a half serving of unflavored Huel. All three of us tried out some of the flavor packets—I tried using some unflavored powder, and my daughter and wife both mixed it into a bottle of vanilla. I wasn’t too impressed—I could smell the apple cinnamon pretty strongly after shaking it up, but I couldn’t really taste much. My daughter said the same thing about the caramel mixed into vanilla—that it tasted different, but not really much like caramel. My wife said the mocha flavor worked pretty well in her vanilla Huel, though. I’m not sure if I’ll just need to double up on the packets if I want to make them work.
Final Thoughts on Huel
We liked our initial trial with Huel enough that we’ve ordered more for ourselves twice so far. The powder has lasted longer since my wife and daughter are usually using the bottles, so we bought a couple cases of the bottled version. (You save a little if you set up a subscription.) I imagine my daughter will drink a little less during the summer when she’s home from school, but my wife and I will probably continue having them for lunches pretty often.
I’ll note that both of us found that a bottle of Huel isn’t quite enough for a full lunch. My wife has been supplementing a bottle of Huel with a salad for lunch, and I’ll usually have an afternoon snack of some sort if I had a serving of Huel for lunch. That seems in keeping with some of the recommended usages, but it’s something to keep in mind for calculating how much you’ll need to buy if you want to use Huel for other meals or between-meal snacks.
While I don’t think either of us is planning to move to Huel for more than lunch (since breakfast usually isn’t a problem for any of us), I’ve definitely appreciated replacing one meal a day with Huel. The way I see it, even though it doesn’t feel like eating a “real” lunch, it’s probably still more nutritious than a lot of the stuff I eat when I’ve skipped lunch and am looking for a quick boost.
If you’re looking for a simplified solution for meals, visit the Huel website to find out more!
Disclosure: I received samples of Huel for review purposes. Opinions are my own.