Recipe Round-up: Granola Bars

So a few years ago, I discovered Nature Valley Oats ‘N’ Honey granola bars. I absolutely fell in love with this crunchy little packages of heavenly joy. I told myself they were healthy for me and that having a pack a day was totally fine. This went on for quite some time and I even got creative with it. I would crunch them up into makeshift granola for my yogurt and make mini parfaits. There’s no way this couldn’t be healthy, right?

Wrong! Have you looked at the nutritional labels on some of the bars on the market? Have you seen what the ingredients are? As I’ve learned through my clean eating research, you shouldn’t eat anything that has an ingredient that you couldn’t buy as a standalone. While the Oats ‘n Honey aren’t that bad, it does raise some questions. Like why are there 160mg of sodium or 12g of sugar in one serving? Or what “natural flavor” really is? I share some other granola bars that have more ingredients than this.

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I haven’t touched one of these granola bars in almost 3 months – go me! But I knew this was going to end soon. I have been taste-testing at my office for possible products and I had an enormously large amount of granola and protein bars that have been piling up. I purposely waited until the end of the taste-testing time frame to try out the granola bars. I even planned so that this would occur during my “cheat” days, so I could taste each one, guilt-free.

But about a week before the taste-testing, I had a brilliant thought (yes I get those every once in awhile). Why not try my hand at making my own granola bars and testing them against the store-bought ones? I could find 2-3 recipes that were close to what I would be taste-testing, but mine would be cleaner versions. I could then see which ones tasted the best – the professionals or mine.

After much perusing, I narrowed it down to 3 recipes that I would try.  Each of these was modified just a bit to meet the ingredients that I had on hand or what taste I was going for.

Nut-Free Oatmeal Bars

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar 
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or dried fruit, or both (I used dried cranberries and raisins)
  • 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ; I substituted wheat bran
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt 
  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup soy butter, sun butter, or coconut spread
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract 

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Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a small skillet, heat a little bit of coconut oil and lightly toast wheat bran.
  3. In a large bowl, mix oats, flour, brown sugar, chocolate chips or fruit, wheat bran, and salt until blended.
  4. Stir in oil, honey, butter, egg, and vanilla. Make sure it’s thoroughly combined.
  5. Spoon mixture into the baking pan and pat mixture.
  6. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden around the edges. If you want crispier bars, bake 25-30 minutes.
  7. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Once cool, cut into bars.

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Feedback

These bars turned out rather delicious. I did opt for the crispier version, so they have been falling apart rather easily. Next time I would definitely follow the recipe and only bake about 18 minutes. On the bright side, these will make a great clean granola!

 

Nut-Free Larabars

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or mixture of both)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Two big pinches salt
  • 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 ½ tablespoons water

Instructions:

  1. Toss seeds with olive oil and salt; mix together thoroughly. Toast the seeds in toaster oven, a pan on the stove (on low heat), or in the oven on 350 degrees F until slightly brown.
  2. Combine toasted seeds, dates and water in a food processor and puree until mixture starts to stick together. Continue to add a little bit of water to help mixture come together. I wound up using close to 4 tablespoons.
  3. Using your hands, squeeze the date mixture together into one big ball. Mash it down on a sheet of wax paper and form a rectangle shape. To help, I placed mine in a rectangular Tupperware container. Use a knife to make sure the edges are straight.
  4. Store in fridge for 2-3 hours. Remove and slice into 8 even squares. For best results, make sure to store in the fridge.

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Feedback:

These oddly taste like they have nuts in them! I’m not sure how, since it’s only dates and sunflower seeds. I will be the first to admit that they aren’t as smooth tasting as Larabars. Larabars have a very smooth texture with a multitude of flavors. There aren’t large chunks of ingredients or flavors – everything is distributed evenly. My bars didn’t turn out this way. You can see the bits of sunflower seeds and you get a distinct nutty seed flavor. I have looked at some other homemade Larabar recipes and I plan to try some more in the future! On this account, the store-bought brand won.

 

Before I share this final recipe, I want to go back to what I was talking about earlier – nutrition labels. As you can see, this item’s nutritional facts are lower than the Oats ‘n Honey, but this is also only for 1 bar. If you double everything, you would be back around where the Oats ‘n Honey are! Let’s also look at the ingredient. The ingredients list starts off nicely – whole grain oats – but then jumps to corn syrup, chocolate, and sugar. While the ingredients are things we can buy at the grocery store, healthy items shouldn’t have corn syrup and sugar within the first five ingredients!

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Now, let’s try our homemade version of Chocolate & Cherry snack bars.

Chocolate Cherry Almond Snack Bars

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup honey or brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup almond meal
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon almond butter
  • 2 cups almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

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Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Mix the honey, vanilla, almond meal, salt, and almond butter together until combined.
  3. Fold in the almonds, cherries, and chocolate chips until combined.
  4. Pour mixture into coated baking pan and press very firmly into an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Pour mixture into coated baking pan and press very firmly into an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pan for 1 hour.
  7. Then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 1 more hour. This helps all of the ingredients to meld together into actual bars.
  8. Remove bars from the pan and cut into bars.
  9. Individually wrap each bar in plastic wrap or parchment paper. You can store at room temperature for 1 week or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Note: If making your own almond meal, you can do so easily by grinding slivered almonds in the food processor until a powder forms.

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Feedback:

These bars were delicious. I did notice that at room temperature, they did get a bit gooey. This was something I read on the recipe beforehand, but then forgot. Lesson learned – never forget what you read! I taste-tested this next to the store-bought brand and honestly preferred my version. It had more texture and taste to it, and wasn’t overrun with chocolate. I had several people blind taste-test this and they too found the homemade version to be more flavorful.

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Which will you choose?

 

 

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