Thinking outside the box: Simple and delicious homemade granola bars
I apologize for the long hiatus from blogging. Since my last post, I’ve completed my thesis, so I now officially have my Master’s degree in Nutritional Science! My thesis project was designing a web-based intuitive eating course, so stay tuned for details on how you can enroll in the class once it launches.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I believe that a diet made up mostly of whole, minimally-processed foods is optimal, so with that in mind, I’ve been trying to slowly decrease the amount of packaged foods I regularly consume. One item I’ve consistently eaten that comes from a package is granola bars. They’re a convenient food to throw in my purse (or, these days, my diaper bag!) and grab when I’m feeling a little hungry between meals. I’ve thought about making my own for a while, but figured it would be too much work, and not worth the effort. Boy, was I wrong! Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with a couple recipes and tweaking them each time until I came up with the PERFECT homemade granola bar! Yes, it’s more effort than simply opening a box, but it’s really pretty easy (takes about 30 minutes to make, and you’ve got at least a week’s worth of granola bars to show for it) and they’re DELICIOUS, so it’s definitely worth the effort! So, after much trial and error, here’s my recipe for the perfect homemade granola bar:
- 2 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
- 1/2 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup dried fruit (I’ve used cranberries, raisins, prunes, cherries, etc), coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp mini chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet)
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Add oats and almonds to a baking sheet (I line mine with aluminum foil to make it easier to transfer it to a bowl afterwards) then bake 5 minutes, stir and bake another 3 to 5 minutes until lightly toasted. Transfer to a large bowl. Add ground flaxseed and mix in with oats and almonds.
- Combine coconut oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until butter melts and the sugar completely dissolves.
- Pour butter mixture into bowl with toasted oats and almonds. Mix well. Let cool about 5 minutes, then add cranberries, and 1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips. Stir to combine. (The chocolate chips will most likely melt a little. This is fine, they turn into glue and help to hold the bars together).
- Transfer oat mixture to an 8- or 9-inch square pan lined with parchment paper, and press mixture into the pan using a rubber spatula. Then take another piece of parchment paper (or the foil you used to toast the almonds and oats), place on top, and push down HARD with your fingers.
- Scatter remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips over pressed granola mixture, then press them into the top using your fingers over a piece of parchment paper (or foil). Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
- Remove block of granola mixture from pan, then peel away from parchment paper. Cut into 12-14 bars. Store in refrigerator (because of flaxseed).
- While these bars should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent spoiling, you may take them out a couple hours before eating in order to enjoy a chewier texture.
I’m telling you, these granola bars are seriously delicious! And, while they do contain a fair amount of sugar, they are also packed with whole grains from the oats, fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids from the flaxseed, and flavonoids from the dark chocolate. And at least you know exactly what’s in them, and that they contain absolutely no preservatives, because you prepared them in your own kitchen. These are also very customizable, and you can really add whatever you want to them. For example, I swapped out some of the oats from the original recipe in order to add in the flaxseed. I’ve also used chopped up prunes instead of cranberries. At some point I’d like to try using yogurt chips in place of chocolate chips. Or maybe some chopped up dried mango instead of the cranberries. The possibilities are endless!
Does this mean I’ll never eat a packaged granola bar again? No, absolutely not. Some weeks I may not have enough time to make a batch of granola bars, and I’ll have to rely on the pre-made ones instead. Will I feel horribly guilty about it? No way! Eating intuitively means living in the gray, rather than prescribing to an all-or-nothing, black-or-white eating philosophy. As much as possible, I try to make choices that honor my health while also providing satisfaction, but when I make choices for convenience or pure pleasure, that’s okay too.