There is nothing easier than grabbing a granola bar when rushing out the door in the morning. And what could be more convenient than throwing a bar into your bag for a quick afternoon snack?

Yup, granola bars are all the rage. Head to any supermarket or health food store and you will encounter at least 30-40 brands.

But the sad truth about most bars is that they tend to have their fare share of questionable ingredients. Even the healthier sounding brands can be riddled with many unhealthy additives including food dyes, preservatives  and fillers. Check out our Fiber One blog as an example. In addition, many contain the likes of canola oil, cornstarch and soy, which unless organic, are most likely derived from GMO’s. No thanks.

Not only that, most breakfast/cereal/granola bars contain at least 11-12 grams of sugar. That’s 3 teaspoons.

Sugar has many disguises, and sneaks into the ingredient list via cane sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, honey, and/or fructose. If you have been following us for any length of time, you know that minimizing your sugar intake as much as possible has far reaching health benefits not only for your waistline but your brain, your heart, and your immune system, just to name a few. So be on the lookout for these added forms of sugar mentioned above. If you see sugar grams high on the nutrition label, but no added sugar in the ingredient list, the sweetness is likely coming from some dried fruit. This is fine but we do recommend moderation with dried fruits for those who have blood sugar issues or may be stuck at a weight plateau.

There are a few good brands which are pretty decent, among them Kits Organic (which are relatively new), LARA Bars and RX Bars. But they can get pricey if you are eating them often or giving them to the kids.

So what are self-proclaimed health nuts to do? Make up our own of course!

Homemade bars are truly the best as you can use quality ingredients and control the sugar at the same time. We were able to develop a recipe where we got the added sweetener down to just 2 tablespoons for the whole shebang. We made this for a cooking class and the feedback was amazing. When my son Will came home from college, I had him do a taste test (FYI he is very picky about his granola bars). Not only did he love them, but he suggested a few delicious variations that we could make over his break. This past Tuesday, we got to work and made 4 batches.

Ours delivers on taste and just the right amount of sweetness with anywhere between 2-6 grams of sugar per bar (depending on whether you add a bit of dried fruit or dark chocolate), plus lots of good healthy fats and some protein.

Here is the original recipe we used in our cooking class, plus how we tweaked them to create our own flavor combinations. Feel free to be creative and make up your own.

granola bars - cuttingOriginal Walnut Sesame Bars
Makes 8 hearty size bars (or 12-16 small bars)

Dry Ingredients (use scant measurements):
1 & 1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts or other nuts, crushed
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut

Wet
2 generous tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons water (let sit for 5 minutes to form gel)
1/2 heaping cup almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add all the dry ingredients to a large bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients (if they are VERY thick, heat gently over stove to thin out a bit). This will make it easier to mix and add to the dry ingredients since it’s really sticky. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix A LOT. Keep mixing until the wet binding ingredients are as well distributed as possible. Put some muscle into it! You may need to use your hands.

Scoop the mixture into a shallow 8×8 inch pan and press it down with your hands. Try to make it even all around. Place pan in freezer to let the bars chill/set. After about 30 minutes (or you can wait until the next day – whatever works), cut them into 8-12 pieces, then wrap them up in foil and store back in the fridge (or in the freezer) for easy grabbing and go-ing. They will NOT get frozen even when in the freezer, but retain a great texture.

VARIATIONS
Really, the sky’s the limit here with what you can create. Some other great options would be to play around with things like ginger and orange rind. Use hemp seeds to replace the sesame seeds. Oh boy I sense another batch or two coming soon!

Chocolate Almond Coconut: Replace the walnuts with almonds and replace the tablespoon of flax seeds in the dry ingredients with more coconut. Melt two tablespoons dark chocolate chips and drizzle on top.

Macadamia Sunflower: Replace the walnuts with macadamia nuts and the sesame seeds with sunflower seeds.

Cranberry Cashew: Use cashew butter instead of almond butter, and add 1/4 cup dried cranberries to the dry ingredients.

Let us know. What are your favorite bars? Have you ever experimented with making your own?

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