My family loves granola bars. They’re tasty, portable, non-messy (usually)… but in most cases, they’re really not that healthy. I recently looked at the nutritional value of a granola bar from a well-known oatmeal company and was unpleasantly surprised to find merely 1 gram of fiber and 1 gram of protein. Granted, I know they are granola bars, not fiber bars nor protein bars, but c’mon! Granola bars were designed for the sole purpose of filling up your belly with something delicious and nutritious that will hold you over until the next meal… or in some cases, being the meal itself.
Or at least that’s the purpose in my book.
Fiber and protein are two factors to consider in the “filling up” category and since those numbers were well below where they should be, I set out to find a better bar. We switched fom Quaker to Nature Valley, and then switched again to Kashi. They’re known for producing all-natural and non-articifical products centered around whole grains. When I find a good deal on Kashi granola bars (like $.74 box last week), I stock up!
However, while in the process of finding a better granola bar, our stockpile dwindled a bit and I tinkered with many homemade versions. I thought it would be easy – dump & mix & voila! Instant success! I quickly realized though that creating a delicious, well-formed and nutritious granola bar is a science, if not an art.
Sure, the basics are easy: oats, fruit/nuts and glue. It gets tricky though when you consider the numerous different types of glue (honey, maple syrup, butter, oil, brown sugar, coconut oil, peanut butter…) and the ratio of your glue to the oats, and then your oats to your fruits/nuts. Too many oats and it has no taste. Too much fruit/nuts and it’ll crumble in your hands. Too much glue and your bar folds like a wet noodle. And then to top it all off, all the flavors have to balance so that it tastes good!
Overhelmed? Don’t be. I’ve already been there and done that for you!
After much experimenting and taste testing (thanks Jessica & Desiree!), I’ve finally come up with a formula that works AND tastes good (because I’ve definitely made some that haven’t, lol). These bars are also rich in fiber and protein to hold the littles (and their mommies) over until the next meal (or through a shopping trip).
Below is my recipe and one batch makes 16 bars, but customization is the name of the game! Add more, less, none or all of whatever you’d like or have on hand. If you want to modify the recipe, read the notes at the bottom first!
Homemade Granola Bars
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried prunes
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds (ground or whole)
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 2/3 cup oats
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
1. Line a 8×8 or 9×9 glass pan with two large pieces of parchment paper that overhang the edges. You want to create “handles” on each edge to help life the granola out of the pan once it’s cooled. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Chop any big pieces of fruit into smaller pieces. Everything should be about the size of a dried cranberry. You don’t want to take one bite and get a mouthful of fig. (Trust me on this one.)
3. Once everything is chopped, put everything except the oats and milk into a big bowl. Mix the fruit and nuts thoroughly, breaking up any pieces of fruit that are stuck together. Add the oats and again mix thoroughly. Add the milk and stir until everything all (or nearly all) the ingredients are moist.
4. Carefully pour (or scoop) your mixture into your glass pan. Using either greased hands or another piece of parchment paper, press the mixture very firmly into the bottom of the pan, ensuring that it’s level across the pan and into corners.
(In order to press it firmly enough, I had to put the pan on the floor and use my full body weight. This may sound silly, but it was effective!)
5. Once the mixture is pressed firmly and evenly, bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes. You want the edges to be slightly brown, so check every few minutes or so after you hit 20.
*** If you would like to modify the recipe, here’s where the artsy science stuff comes into play. No matter what combination of fruits and nuts you want to use (apples, raisins, chocolate chips, walnuts, macadamia… whatever), you need about 5 cups total for the above measurements of oats and milk to work. If you want less or more bars, here’s the math:
(total cups of fruits & nuts) / 3 = (cups of oats)
(cups of oats) / 2 = (cups of milk)
So say you want to put this in a 9×13 pan. You’d essentially need to double the recipe: 10 cups of fruits & nuts, 3 1/3 cups of oats and just over 1 1/2 cups of milk. If you only have 4 cups of fruit and nuts, use the formula above to get the right amount of oats and milk.
Disclaimer: Experience from failed attempts leads me to believe that your measurements can be slightly off. Not by a ton, but a little spillage of cranberries or picked out chocolate chips won’t ruin the batch.
My apologies for the techy math stuff. I figure if you’re willing to try to make a granola bar, you’re willing to be a little risky and pull out a calculator.