Whether you've resolved to hit the gym more or your busy afternoons require a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, energy bars are a full of foods that provide slow-burning fuel, such as dates and sunflower seeds, that will keep you going through a 12-mile run or that 3 p.m. slump. The problem? Commercial versions are overpackaged and full of sugar, and the tab for keeping my college-age runner supplied with brand-name individually wrapped energy bars would rival his tuition.
I actually found it pretty easy to re-create some of our favorite bars at home, using nothing more than a food processor. Tasty enough to challenge the likes of Clif and Larabars, these energy bar recipes can be whipped up in practically no time for a fraction of the price.
These tasty bars are similar to Lärabars, but contain no added sweetener and are gluten free.
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon almond meal OR 1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
- 1 1/2 cups pitted dates OR 1 1/4 cups chopped dates or raisins
- 1 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
- Zest of 1 organic lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
If using chopped dates, cover them with warm water, let them soak for about 5 minutes, and drain. If using sliced or slivered almonds, put them in your food processor and whir them into meal.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of almond meal evenly over the bottom of an 8-inch-square baking pan.
Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and whir until well mixed.
Press into prepared pan.
Chill for a couple of hours until firm, then cut into 12 squares, and wrap each in wax paper or store in an airtight container.
These will keep at room temperature for a month…if you can resist them for that long.
Makes 12 bars.
Variations: Don't like lemon? You can substitute any nut, seed, or dried fruit in this recipe and change the seasonings to reproduce just about any bar out there. Here are a few tasty alternatives.
Cherry Pie Bars: Substitute 1 cup of dried cherries or cranberries for the coconut.
Apple Pie Bars: Substitute 1 cup of diced, dried apples for the coconut, omit the lemon zest and juice, and add 1 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon.
Chocolate-Cashew Cookie Bars: Use 2 cups of cashews instead of the almonds and coconut, omit the lemon zest and juice, and add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Add ¼ cup of mini semisweet chocolate chips once everything else is well blended.
PB & J Bars: Use peanuts (or shelled sunflower seeds) instead of almonds, substitute 1 cup of dried cherries or cranberries for the coconut, and omit the lemon zest and juice.
The only cooking involved is heating the wet ingredients to make them smoother and easier to blend with the dry ingredients. The end result is similar to Clif Bars.
- 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal, uncooked
- 1/4 cup flaxseed meal
- 1 cup total dried fruit (coarsely chopped), chopped nuts, and/or semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup natural nut or seed butter (peanut, sunflower, cashew, almond, tahini)
- 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Put the nut or seed butter and the syrup in a saucepan and heat slowly, stirring until the mixture is hot and well blended; then add the vanilla.
Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients, and stir until well mixed (you may need to use your hand).
Pack firmly into a greased 9-x-9-inch baking pan.
Chill for a couple of hours until firm, then cut into 12 squares, and wrap each bar in wax paper.
Stored in an airtight container, these will keep at room temperature for a month.
The cooked beans in this recipe add lots of protein and fiber without overpowering the banana and chocolate flavors. If you buy canned beans, there is no cooking involved. Just buy Eden Organic brand, which uses cans that aren't lined with the toxic chemical bisphenol A.
- 1 1/2 cups cups cooked black beans, drained and rinsed (one 15-ounce can)
- 3/4 cup dried banana slices
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup (packed) raisins or dried cranberries
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
- 1/4 cup oatmeal whirred in the blender until very fine
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/2 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips (optional) 2 tablespoons almond mealfine
Whir the beans, banana, cocoa powder, raisins, vanilla, and syrup in a food processor until very smooth.
Add the oatmeal and flaxseed (and chocolate chips if using).
Pulse until mixture is well blended and forms a dough.
Sprinkle almond meal over the bottom of a 9-x-9-inch cake pan.
Press the mixture firmly into the prepared pan.
Chill for a couple hours until firm then cut into 12 squares.
Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate in a closed container for up to four days, or freeze for up to a month.
Makes 12 bars
Variations: Add 2 tablespoons of dry instant coffee for chocolate-mocha bars, or add ½ teaspoon ground hot pepper to give bars a Mexican kick. These are also tasty with pureed overripe banana (or pumpkin puree, prune puree, or even apple butter) instead of the dry bananas; you just need to replace the brown rice syrup with a dry sweetener, such as raw sugar or powdered stevia, to add sweetness while keeping the dough dry enough to form into bars.
Think Outside the Bar
While bars suit the packaging needs of commercial manufacturers, there's no reason you have to get your energy boosts in slabs. Make "energy balls" from any of these recipes by sprinkling almond or other nut meal (or even shredded coconut or unsweetened cocoa powder) on a plate, dropping spoonfuls of dough onto it, and rolling them around with your fingers to shape and coat them. Balls one-inch or smaller are perfect for popping into your mouth whole and make a great substitute for candy if the kids (and that includes your inner one) clamor for it.
Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.
For more snack ideas from the Nickel Pincher, check out her column on Simple, Satisfying Savory Snacks.