No-bake granola bars


Guys. I have tried and tried to make actually good, lower sugar, school-safe granola bars. I succeeded with these bars, but they're a bit more effort than I'm willing to expend when I suddenly realize on a week night that we don't have anything for snack or lunch boxes the next day. These granola cups are super easy, but we're entering that sweltering season where turning on the oven is basically just opening the gates of hell.


Instead we have these no-bake granola bars that are super quick and easy (and cool) to prepare, are lower in sugar than store bought bars, are free of dairy, nuts, gluten, and eggs AND are absolutely freaking delicious.


I've tried a couple of no-bake granola bar recipes via Pinterest that left me wanting. Some recommended using quick oats, which got lost in the honey and nut butter mixture. Some also suggested rice cereals that lost their crunch when mixed with the other ingredients.

Many of them also call for dates, which I tried in these bars too. Here's the thing: If you use enough dates, they do help the bars stick together when they heat up. But, your bars taste primarily like dates, which I didn't want for this recipe. So, just beware that these bars are ever-so-slightly crumbly when they heat up.


A couple of notes:
- The texture of these bars can change based on a few factors: First, nut butters separate, especially in the heat, so the thoroughness of your mixing can change the texture of these bars. Try your best to mix vigorously so that your nut butter isn't too thin or too thick.
- You should be able to form the mixture into a ball that stays together and doesn't stick to your fingers. If the mixture is too crumbly, add one Tbsp of nut butter at a time and mix again to see if the grains come together. If the mixture is too sticky, try adding 1 Tbsp of oats at a time until you have a better consistency.
- Give the dry ingredients a good stir before adding in the wet ingredients. The mixing of the wet and dry ingredients can require some elbow grease, but is easier if you've already distributed the grains and cinnamon.
- To make these bars school safe, use sunflower seed butter. If you don't have nut or peanut restrictions, peanut and almond butter are perfectly great substitutes.
- If you can't find or don't want to use the chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, any old chocolate chips or carob chips (we're particularly fond of these non-dairy chocolate chips), will do.  
- Millet is a slightly more exotic ingredient, but it's available at Whole Foods or health stores and really helps these bars to have some crunch. Millet is also gluten free and has a ton of health benefits.


Actually good, no-bake granola bars

1¾ cups rolled oats (not quick oats or steel cut)
½ cup millet
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup sunflower seed butter
¼ cup honey
½ cup chocolate covered sunflower seeds or chocolate chips
Optional: a pinch of salt

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and give them a stir.

Add the sunflower seed butter and the honey and stir to combine. You can zap these ingredients in the microwave to loosen them up a bit first, but I find that a little elbow grease and some wet hands do the trick.

Add the chocolate covered sunflower seeds or chocolate chips and stir again just until they’re incorporated.

Dump the mixture out into a parchment-lined brownie pan (I like 8x8 best for the size of the bars it produces, but 9x9 or larger will also work with thinner results).

Freeze for 20 minutes. Remove the bars and cut them into 16-24 portions. Store in the fridge.

Yield: 16-24 bars


Chai spiced sweet potato and orange oatmeal


We're back from a very impromptu trip to Disney during which we ate primarily ice cream, sausages, and french fries. It was really nice to worry mostly about having fun for a few days, but our diets definitely took a hit. To reverse course, we're pushing the veggies, even at breakfast. 

This puree is delicious with oatmeal, yogurt, or on its own. Though the chai mixture contains a lot of different spices, the end result is very mild. And yes, I realize that "Chai" actually means tea, but I think Starbucks has conditioned us all to use "Chai" as shorthand for versions of this spice combo.


I boiled the sweet potatoes here, but feel free to use the microwave, steamer, or oven if that suits you better. I find boiling to be the fastest and easiest method.


Though it's more work, use whole oranges instead of orange juice since the juice doesn't have nearly as much fiber as the actual fruit.


Chai spiced sweet potato and orange oatmeal

Chai spice mixture:
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
¼ tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp salt

For the puree:
1 lb sweet potatoes (1 x-large or two small), peeled and cubed
2-3 large oranges, peeled
water (as needed)
1-1½  tsp chai spice mix

Cube potatoes and place in a medium saucepan. Add water until just covered or until the potatoes just start to float.

Bring to a boil over high flame. Once boiling, turn the flame down to medium. You want a strong simmer, but not a boil. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender, but not falling apart.

Drain and add to the blender. Peel and add oranges and 1 tsp of chai spice mixture. Blend until combined, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed. Hold off on adding water until the oranges are fully broken down because you won't likely need more liquid. If the mixture is too dry, add 1 Tbsp of water at a time until you've reached your desired consistency.

Yield: 2.5-3 cups or 22-25 oz


To eat with oatmeal:
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 cup water
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup chai spiced sweet potato and orange puree
2 Tbsp toasted coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp juice-sweetened dried cranberries
1 Tbsp maple syrup (optional)

 Yield: One serving


Healthy hot chocolate blender pancakes

The toddler absolutely stuck his finger into this pancake right before this photo.

The toddler absolutely stuck his finger into this pancake right before this photo.

There were 500 reasons why I loved living in Manhattan, but the city in winter was not one of them. Pushing a stroller through mountains of dirty snow and then the huge puddles on every corner once they melted, was torture. And not for nothing, but New Yorkers stop picking up after their dogs when it snows. Like, do you think the snow renders your dog's poop harmless? Because the only thing grosser than frozen dog poop is melted dog poop. But I digress.

So now we're cozy in our house in the suburbs while arctic winds and snow howl outside (and the only frozen poop belongs to OUR dog).

And while we've amended our diets for the inevitable post-holidays detox, it's not as easy for M to swear off sweets (nor do we expect him to), so we're toning them down and transitioning away from indulgence and toward moderation.

Enter, hot chocolate pancakes. The name is enticing and fits with the frigidity of our current climate. BUT! The ingredients are more wholesome than the name implies.


One thing I like about this recipe is that, unlike other recipes that use banana as a natural sweetener, they don't actually taste like banana. I mean, I love bananas, but I don't always want my baked goods to taste like them.


I also think that the mixture of malt powder and cocoa powders tastes more like hot chocolate than cocoa powder alone. *If you don't have malt powder, use 2 Tbsp of cocoa powder total and add 1-2 Tbsp of maple syrup to the batter.

And while we're at it, let's talk about "blender pancakes" as a concept. As an admittedly lazy cook and housekeeper, I'm skeptical of getting out the blender when it's not strictly necessary. Maybe I'm scarred from not having a dishwasher for most of my adult life, but it seems so much more complicated to clean the blender than to wash out a bowl and spoon.

Anyway, the blender is totally justified here because the oats get chopped up nicely and incorporated more easily. Without blending, you'd either have chunky pancakes or you'd have to wash a food processor and a bowl and spoon. In conclusion, thank god for dishwashers.


Hot Chocolate pancakes

1 large banana
1 cup quick oats
2 eggs
¼ cup milk (dairy, almond, soy, coconut, rice- anything will work)
1 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp malt powder (*See note above if omitting malt powder)
1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth, scraping the sides if necessary.

Heat a frying pan with the butter or oil of your choice over medium low heat. Pour out about 1/2 cup of batter (we're looking for about 4-inches in diameter) into the hot pan and let cook until 1 or 2 bubbles form on the raw side. (You won't get lots of bubbles as you would with regular pancakes.) 

Once a bubble or two form, carefully flip the pancakes over and cook for 4-5 minutes on the other side, until a crust forms and the pancake feels firm to the touch. 

Serve warm with berries, syrup, powdered sugar, nut butter, or honey.

Yield: 5-6 medium pancakes


Apples and honey breakfast cookies


Oh apple season, how I love you. However, baking with you in your natural state sometimes leads to a soggy mess. So, dried apples it is. I like the Trader Joe's version the best because they're dry (obviously), but not so dry that they're hard to eat. Though I still have to cut them up for M because he shoves so many of the whole ones into his mouth that he chokes. When will he learn??


Anyway, these cookies are ever-so-slightly sweet thanks more to the dried apples and golden raisins than the honey, though the honey is necessary for binding everything together. These cookies are sort of like if granola, oatmeal, and a cinnamon raisin cookie had a baby, but with less refined sugar than most granola or cookies and more portability than oatmeal.


This is also a great place to sub in some store-bought sunflower seed butter to make these lunchbox appropriate. Pretty sure the rest of the ingredients would mask the sometimes glue-y taste of store-bought versions. Using gluten-free oats also makes these safe for kids with gluten allergies. And I haven't tried these with egg substitutes, but I'm assuming that two or three flax eggs would also work to bind these together. If using a flax egg, directly reduce the amount of flax seed meal that goes into the batter, but keep the baking powder the same. I would also use a full cup of honey as an increased binder. But note that I'm speculating here as I haven't tried these changes myself. I'll update the post if I do!


Apples and honey breakfast cookies

8 oz natural peanut, almond, or sunflower seed butter
¾ cup honey
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup flax seed meal
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ cups dried apples, chopped (plus 12 whole ones for decorating the tops of the cookies)
½ cup golden raisins
Olive or coconut oil

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the peanut butter, honey, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Mix well.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until all have been incorporated into the wet ingredients and no streaks remain.

Wet hands and form the dough into 12 large balls and gently press down onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. The dough will be sticky and crumble-y, which is why wet hands are helpful. Don’t worry if the dough feels like it will imminently fall apart. As long as it mostly sticks together, they’ll bake and cool into a solid cookie.

Press a round dried apple onto the top of each cookie and spray or brush with coconut or olive oil.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the sides just begin to brown. 

Let cool completely before removing from cookie sheet. (The cooling also helps bind the crumbly cookie together.)

Yield: 12 very large cookies


Banana bread doughnuts

I've been thinking a lot about feelings lately as M, in typical toddler fashion, has all of the feelings, all of the time. Well, not all of the time. But while it makes life harder for me when he has A DAY, I want him to know that feelings are fine and that "managing" them doesn't mean suppressing them. That reminder is for me more than him because he wants to fly his feelings flag high. Unfortunately, my first instinct is to talk him out of it in an effort to make him "feel better," but which is probably more like "feel nothing negative."

I've read a few articles lately about parenting boys like this one, which was a good reminder of things I already think about and do (and wrote about here). Most writings about raising feminist sons (or just sons who aren't jerks) mention encouraging their emotional vocabulary, but don't give a lot of specific data or instructions. However, this article gives both and made me think about how I talk with M about everything, not just his feelings.

Tiny tooth marks in the doughnut on the bottom right corner.

Tiny tooth marks in the doughnut on the bottom right corner.

Since reading this article, I've tried to be more curious with M, particularly when we're cooking together. He takes his little step stool and stands next to me at our (tiny) counter. I give him jobs and we make a huge mess and in the mean time, I have the opportunity to ask him a million questions about what he's doing, choices he's making, and what he feels while we work on this whole project. Baking is also a great way to teach patience because we can't eat the finished product right away.

M made (and tasted) every batch of these banana bread donuts with me. He loved them all, but I liked my final batch with a little more coconut sugar and a second egg, the best. This is truly a one bowl recipe: We mixed the wet ingredients first and added the dry ingredients directly to the wet batter and they've turned out really well each time (with minimal dish doing at the end). This recipe could easily be made as mini muffins, regular muffins, or a loaf of banana bread. But I quite like them as doughnuts because they bake very evenly and very quickly.

Banana bread donuts

Adapted from America's Test Kitchen

3 medium bananas, smashed
¾ cup coconut sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup full fat plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup quick oats
2 Tbsp flax seed meal
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400. Smash the bananas in a large bowl and thoroughly mix in the rest of the wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the same bowl containing the wet mixture and mix until just combined and no dry flour can be seen. Spoon the batter into greased dougnut pan and bake for 12-13 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly pushed. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack to let cool completely.

Yield: 14-16 doughnuts