You (probably) already know this, but I’ve got 2 kids – a 9 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. Like all children, they love snacks. I also love snacks. But when you buy a box of granola bars at Costco, you expect it to last for longer than a week. A family-sized box of chip bags for school lunches should make it past a weekend, and the giant value-pack box of fruit snacks should last for longer than the other two put together. Unfortunately, that’s not the world I live in.
To make matters worse, they don’t just eat 5 packs of fruit snacks, 3 granola bars, and 2 chip bags (each!) before sunrise every day when given the chance; they also leave a trail of wrappers through the entirety of our home like some kind of demented Easter bunny. Sometimes they’re out in the open, but more often they’re stuffed between couch cushions, hidden under chairs, wedged under pillows, and stashed in bookshelves. Sometimes they’re uneaten (like the melting ice cream sandwich I found in my purse recently), sometimes half eaten and forgotten (like the stale Christmas cookie I found in the way back of the silverware drawer in May), but most often it’s just the wrappers that make their way into places they don’t belong. Our efforts to get the children to clean up after themselves have been ineffective, and there’s literally nowhere in the house that these little monkeys can’t reach. So, in an effort to stay (a little) sane, we’ve decided to ban individually wrapped snack foods until they learn that we don’t live in a garbage can.
This has had the unintended consequence of making me really sad that I don’t have any snacks for myself, and irritated that the kids are no longer able to get themselves breakfast or a snack after school without adult help to prepare it (you do NOT want Emmett pouring milk into a cereal bowl on his own). So, obviously, I decided I’d just make some granola bars and fruit snacks on my own. How hard can it be?
Granola bars are tricky, because you want them to be (somewhat) healthy for the kids, but they also need to be tasty enough that the kids will actually eat them. Also, you need a granola bar to fill you up so you’re not immediately hungry again when it’s gone. So not an insane amount of sugar, lots of fruits/nuts/oats, and they have to stay together in a bar form. As it turns out, that last bit is the hardest part.
There’s always room for improvement, but I think I came up with something pretty tasty. I recommend not altering the sugar/honey/peanut butter amounts too much because they help it stay together, but if you want to reduce the sugar content you can use no-sugar-added dried fruits. So here’s my recipe for:
(Almost) Perfect Granola Bars
- 2-1/2 c. oats
- 1-1/4 c. chopped nuts (I like 2 parts pecans to 1 part almonds, but use what you like)
- 1/2 c. pepitas (can also use half pepitas and half sunflower seeds)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/4 c. peanut butter
- 1/3 c. packed brown sugar
- 1/4 c. honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 egg whites
- 1 c. chopped dried fruit (I’ve used strawberries, apricots, cranberries, raisins, blueberries, cherries, figs – it’s all good, just try to stick to 3 or fewer fruits)
- Preheat the oven to 400o. Grease a 9″ square pan with cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and grease the parchment paper.
- Combine the oats, nuts, and seeds on a cookie sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant. It should take around 15 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325o. In a bowl big enough to hold everything, melt the butter and peanut butter with the brown sugar. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved, then stir in the honey, vanilla and salt. Whisk in the egg whites until thoroughly combined.
- Add the nuts/oats to the bowl along with the fruit, and make sure everything is covered in the sugar/butter/peanut butter/egg mixture. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.
- Grease another piece of parchment roughly the same size as the pan and place it (grease side down) on top of the mixture. Using your hands or a clean spatula, press the granola mixture down into the pan. This will help it to stay in bar form after it’s baked.
- If your top layer of parchment comes off easily (it should if you greased it well), then remove it prior to baking. If not, no biggie, you can leave it on until toward the end of the cook time.
- Bake until light golden, around 20-30 minutes. Under-baked bars will be tasty but won’t stay together. Over-baked bars will be bitter and gross. Unless you’re feeling confident, err on the side of caution.
- Let cool completely in the pan, then move the pan to the fridge until cold. Lift out and remove the parchment.
- Slice into bars with a sharp knife (a less-than-sharp knife won’t go through the nuts easily, and your bars will crumble). I prefer to cut 9 squares for bigger breakfast bars, but you can get 12 if you cut in the traditional “bar” shape.
- Individually wrap your bars in wax paper (like a little present), or, like me, stack the bars in two or three layers with a sheet of wax paper between each layer to prevent sticking.
- Store in a zip-top bag in your pantry for about a week, or in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. If you under-baked them a smidge and they’re falling apart, they’ll stick together better if you store them in the fridge. The freezer works too if you make a big batch. Let a bar thaw on the counter overnight for a quick breakfast the next morning.
Fruit snacks have proven a bit trickier to master, but I’m getting there. More on that later.