Here in Ontario, today marks the official start of another school year. As I mentioned in my last post, this doesn't mean as much to me anymore, but I'm sure a lot of you have either been dreading or looking forward to this day for a while!
Even though I don't have kids of my own, I'm well aware that back to school time means having to scramble each morning to put together a healthy lunch (or two...or three...). A storebought packaged granola bar is a good option to throw into lunchbags as a snack, but if you can pack homemade granola bars with whole grains, natural ingredients and no added sugar instead, that could be an even better idea!
I thought this would be the perfect time to share the latest granola bars to come out of my kitchen. For this particular batch, I went with a base of rolled oats, almonds, millet, mixed seeds, and dried fruit, held together with a mixture of almond butter and mashed banana. I almost left out sweetener completely, since I figured the banana and dried fruit would add plenty of natural sweetness, but I ended up adding just a tablespoon of coconut nectar because its thick and syrupy texture would help bind the ingredients even more.
I thought these granola bars held together well and had just the right amount of sweetness for my tastes. They also had a good textural balance of chewy and crunchy - my favourite parts were the tart dried cherries that I added, and the extra bits of crunchiness from the tiny grains of millet.
I also liked that these granola bars were nice and hearty - one bar filled me up for two or three hours, unlike some of the granola bars you can buy from the grocery store. Or if you're looking for a lighter snack, you could also cut them into smaller squares.
So whether or not you have any lunchbags to pack this week (for yourself or your kids), these granola bars are a great healthy option, and they're pretty easy to make too - you probably have a lot of the ingredients in your pantry already, and if not, they're very adaptable to what you have on hand!
Chewy Almond Butter & Banana Granola Bars
Adapted from Anja's Food 4 Thought, as seen on Eat Good 4 Life
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup mixed dried fruit (I used cranberries, blueberries and cherries)
1 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp dry millet
1/4 cup mixed seeds (I used half pumpkin seeds and half sunflower seeds)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground flax
1/2 cup almond butter (could substitute another nut butter)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp coconut nectar or another liquid sweetener (optional - could leave out)
Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare an 8x8 inch pan by spraying with cooking spray or lining with parchment paper.
Place almonds, dates, and dried fruit in food processor and process until roughly chopped (alternately, you can chop by hand with a knife).
Transfer to a large bowl and add oats, millet, seeds, cinnamon, salt, and flax. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.
Place almond butter and mashed bananas together in a small bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds. Stir or whisk until smooth (you may need to microwave it again for another 15 seconds before it is smooth enough). Stir in the vanilla and coconut nectar.
Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until all the dry ingredients are moist and evenly coated.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and press down firmly with a rubber spatula. Bake for 22-27 minutes, until the edges are browned and the top is firm.
Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Once completely cool, cut into bars.
Makes about 10 bars.