Now that school is back in swing, I am getting into the habit of making daily lunches for my kids. Like many parents, I struggle with the balance of healthy food vs. fun/yummy stuff they will actually eat! My kids would be thrilled to find their lunch boxes filled with fruit ropes and yogurt tubes every day, but I am determined to get some fruit, fiber, protein and the occasional vegetable in there as well.
Which is why I was so excited to discover these granola bars from my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen. I know, you’re saying “Make my own granola bars from scratch? Are you crazy??” But honestly, these are super easy to throw together — and a great kid cooking project, to boot. Oh, and they’re delicious. I like to say I make them for the kids, but I have to confess that more than a few have disappeared during naptime with a cup of coffee.
You can find the whole recipe here, complete with beautiful food blogger photos that I can’t begin to compete with. But I’ll give you the quick narration of my latest cooking project with S, my 4-year old, along with any tips we have found.
We started by assembling all the stuff we wanted to include in our granola bars. The great thing about these is that you can put almost anything you (read: your kids) like. For this batch, we included pecans, walnuts, unsweetened coconut, dried blueberries, dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and golden raisins. You can skip the nuts if you/your school is no nut, you can add more fruit (I’ve done dried figs and dates before), or less fruit if you like to keep it simple.
The recipe calls for 1/3 cup of oat flour, so we just pulsed a 1/3 cup of oats in the mini-prep – always a fun activity!
Then we combined all the dry ingredients – oats, oat flour, and all our fruits and nuts.
Dumping blueberries into the big bowl…
Then the cherries. Get out of there, cherries!
Then we combined all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. You can use honey, maple syrup or corn syrup for the sweetener; we used honey this time – have used maple syrup before, and I can’t really tell the difference. Note: the recipe does call for a couple tablespoons of light corn syrup to use as a binding agent (so the granola bars stick together better); don’t worry: this isn’t the same thing as the Evil Ingredient high fructose corn syrup.
Then we added in some peanut butter (clearly we’re NOT a no nut household, and we all love the taste of it; but this is optional, and you can use other nut butters if you prefer) and mixed everything together.
We had already lined an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper. Mom emptied the stirred-up ingredients in, and then S used another piece of parchment paper to press the granola “dough” down into the pan. Pressing the dough down firmly helps the bars to hold together better.
Then into the oven for 35 minutes or so, until golden brown around the edges. I have had problems in the past with the bars being a little crumbly when I cut them, so I let them cool a bit then pop the pan in the fridge for another 30-45 minutes. After that, I lift them out on the parchment paper, cut into squares and wrap in plastic wrap. I’ll often store them in the fridge, but that’s to keep them firm (I like my bars more chewy than crumbly) – not because they’re perishable.
(Note: I also may have more crumbly bars because I probably put too much “dry stuff” in our bars. I get so excited – cherries! and blueberries! and pumpkin seeds! and coconut! and pecans! etc… that I exceed the 3 cups of recommended fruit/nuts in the recipe. So if you have issues like me, add a little more oil or syrup to help balance the ratio.)
Enjoy with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee, depending on your age.
What are your favorite yummy / healthy lunchbox treats?