Few topics are fraught with more disagreement than the question of which meal-replacement bar is less gross. Invariably, as soon as somebody recommends one thing, somebody else reacts like death will ensue if you take that recommendation. It's confusing. But as we head back to school, off to jobs, or even out into the wild this fall, we all know we need a form of sustenance that can fit in a laptop case, survive six weeks of neglect, and still prove edible when rediscovered several miles into a day.
Therefore, allow me to save you some time, and a lot of lame advice from grocery store "health food" consultants (...and the random woman who accosts you with a list of her favorite supplements when she spies you standing in front of the "meal bars" and wrongly assumes you're a kindred spirit in the battle against those last five pounds). Here is a list of the top five "foods you can forget in your backpack, find months later, and still eat." Or, more succinctly, "The Top Five Backpack Foods" - not to be confused with backpacking foods.
1. Raw Revolution - The raw food trend seems to produce at least one new meal bar per week, but so far, these are my favorite. Available at Fremont PCC, Healeo on Capitol Hill, and a few other places around town, these cashew-based bars break the typical date-based mold of similar ideas by adding a nut-butter to the date puree, giving it some actual nutritional substance. If you see one, buy it. The pink (chocolate raspberry) and the green (spirulina) packages are the best, and will provide you with enough calories to sail smoothly from lunch to dinner without any dramatic sugar crashing.
2. Sharkies - Sharkies used to be easier to find, but apparently didn't sell all that well as most places have stopped carrying them. Still available at PCC (and REI, on a good day), Sharkies are, I can only assume, the result of cross-breeding between the Swedish Fish and the Gatorade GU... which just goes to show that there is a reason why different items should be kept on different aisles. Sharkies ostensibly rebalance your electrolytes, but more to the point, provide you with an all organic, lower-guilt way to eat Swedish fish. So far, I've found that they don't melt and don't squish. Both highly desirable attributes in backpack food.
3. Kind Bars - you can get these at most grocery stores, and even some Starbucks. Kind Bars provide just enough fruit-and-nut to seem healthy, while still giving a sufficiently hefty dose of sugars to assure a solid 30-40 minute energy spike, even on days when caffeine isn't quite working. In other words: healthy enough for the "health food" section at Fred Meyer and Safeway, but not healthy enough to be carried by Whole Foods (or perhaps, just not expensive enough).
4. Justin's Maple Almond Butter - Justin's makes single-serving packets of almond butter and peanut butter, in plain, honey, chocolate, and maple flavors. This is possibly the single most brilliant invention in the snack world since trail mix. Similar in concept to Go-gurt, almond butter packets seem like an impractical concept until you realize they mean that you can actually fit lunch in your pocket. On days when you have time to slice up an apple and pause for lunch, the plain almond butter packets make an excellent, nutrient-packed apple dip. But on days when you don't have time for such frivolities, the maple almond butter won't stick to the roof of your mouth if you eat it directly out of the pack.
5. Finally, having no health benefits whatsoever, I recommend keeping Stretch Island's Fruitabü on hand. Lower in sugar than M&Ms, and way more fun to eat, these little fruit roll-ups bridge the gap between kid food and... no wait, never mind, they don't bridge a gap. They're just kid food. And, as an excellent source of sunny naïveté on a gray, Seattle day at work, are not so much for curing hunger as for simply curing attitude.