If you’re reading this, I assume you know Soylent is a meal replacement drink created by one of the most absurd tech dudebros I could imagine. Despite its origins and questionable quality control, I know people who use it. What you might not realize is that Soylent is just another in a long line of meal supplement/replacement drinks, and there are a bunch of options if you’re looking for something like this.
These drinks are typically marketed for one of three purposes: weight loss, geriatric or medical care, and health or muscle building. Soylent puts a funny spin on it by suggesting that drinking one’s meals is more efficient. The use case I hear of most often from friends is medical or mental health related: it’s very hard to eat consistently when you’re stressed, sick, depressed, deal with sensory processing issues, or on ADD meds.
Certain brands are very easy to find in stores. Carnation Instant Breakfast and Slim Fast products come as a powder you mix with milk. Others, like Ensure, are typically sold as premixed drinks. The health-oriented ones tend to be packaged as things like “protein powder” that comes in a can or pouches. You can also find pre-mixed protein smoothies that have similar uses (my favorites are the ones from Columbia Gorge Organics).
Nutritionally, any one of these can meet your caloric needs for the day if you drink the right amount of it (disclaimer: I’m not a certified nutritionist or medical professional). In the slightly longer term, a lot of these drinks are pretty high in sugar and other nutritional qualities vary. None are medically recommended for long-term use without other foods (there are other specialized drinks used in hospitals and nursing care). Also, the relatively lax regulation of nutritional supplements in the US means there’s a risk of things like heavy metal contaminants in those muscle-building powders. Even Slim Fast tells you to drink two shakes a day and have a regular meal for dinner.
So back to the use case that’s most common for people I know. If you just need something to keep you operational when you can’t deal with actual food or cooking, I’d probably go with one of the drink powders you can find in health food stores, or Slim Fast/Ensure if you need something that’s really easy to find. Protein drinks come in a bunch of flavors with gluten and dairy-free varieties. Just keep in mind that three 200-calorie drinks will put you well below the level of nutrition you need in a day (Soylent gets theirs up to 500 calories a serving by adding a lot of oil). Also, anything that says one serving hits 100% of all your vitamin needs shouldn’t be consumed for every meal–you can actually overdose on certain vitamins.
Other low-stress food choices you might consider include frozen dinners (I don’t have a microwave so my fallbacks tend to be veggie burgers and Gardein Fishless Filets), trail mix (bulk bins usually have the cheapest options), oatmeal (you can just soak rolled oats in milk for 5 minutes, and Pacific Foods makes a pre-cooked oatmeal you can eat right out of the packet), and using a blender to make your own smoothies with things like frozen fruit and nut butters.
Just a note about using those drink powders: it’s a lot easier to mix them if you get a drink shaker bottle that’s designed to break up the clumps.
Here’s what my basic smoothie recipe looks like: 1 cup almond milk, about half a cup of frozen fruit (Trader Joe’s has a bunch of affordable options–right now I’m really into mango), a spoonful of peanut butter or protein powder, maybe another spoonful of agave syrup. Add water if it seems a little thick. If you want it more slushy, add ice cubes, or frozen pineapple works too. You can also try orange juice and bananas in there, or avocado or coconut oil if you need to get more calories. Blend and drink. If you multiply this, the extra will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
One more thing: do what you need to make things palatable so you can keep yourself fed, whether that’s always picking the chocolate drink option, or making your meal as smooth and bland as possible. The most important thing is that you feed yourself, anything else is extra.
P.S. – The Fat Nutritionist has a blog post I relate to: “I Ate Frozen Food for Four Months so I Could Do Trauma Therapy” and her whole site is a great resource.