For years I’ve lived on protein and granola bars as a convenient snack, stashing cases of them in my office as a salvation for meetings and they’re fantastic for traveling too when you’re not sure when or what your next meal will be. And while there’s certainly no shortage of options at health food and grocery stores, the downside is that many of them are overly processed, riddled with hidden sugars and taste terrible. I mean, you can wrap drywall in a lemony yogurt coating and it’s still drywall.

A few months ago I took a break from store bought bars for those reasons and recently stumbled across a recipe from Martha Stewart for homemade granola bars that caught my eye as a healthier alternative. I’ve made these bars 3 or 4 times now and I’m hooked – they’re SO tasty! Dense and filling with a slightly chewy texture, they’re perfect for moments when your stomach fights back with hunger pangs. Each serving has close to 500 calories and 12 grams of fat which could be high for some, so you could easily divide into 16 portions instead of the 8 recommended in the original recipe. Check out the nutritional breakout below.

There are a lot of ingredients, but you’ll find everything you need at your local health food store or bulk store. While the original recipe called for macadamia nuts, pecans and dried papaya, they can be a little pricey so I replaced them with less expensive almonds, pumpkin seeds and dried apricots. You can easily swap out the dried fruits and nuts for other favourites like dried cranberries, peanuts or walnuts. Just keep the same quantity of whatever you’re replacing.

Here’s where I started doctoring it up even further. Nuts are already a good source of protein but I thought I would try adding protein powder for an extra boost. This was my first time baking with protein powder and I wasn’t sure how it would fare beyond the usual shake or if it would alter the taste of the finished product, but it turned out to be DELICIOUS. Use your favourite brand of protein powder whether it’s whey, soy or vegan, but I would stick with vanilla or chocolate flavours only to be most compatible. Some protein powders can be chalky with an artificial aftertaste and loaded with mystery ingredients, but one of my new finds is the chocolate whey powder from ISO XP. A Canadian brand from North Bay, Ontario, it became a fast favourite a few months ago because it actually tastes like it’s supposed to (imagine that!) and while it’s sweetened with stevia, it isn’t sweet at all. The chocolate flavour worked really well with the other ingredients in this recipe.

Make a batch or 2 and keep them stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

TIP: If you decide not to include protein powder, only use about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid in the mixture otherwise it will be too wet and won’t bake properly.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (9 ounces) pitted dates
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats, finely ground
  • 4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) toasted almonds, 1/2 finely ground and 1/2 coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces (1/2 cup) toasted pumpkin seeds, 1/2 finely ground and 1/2 coarsely chopped
  • 2 1/4 ounces (1/3 cup) dried apricots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 3/4 ounces (1/3 cup) dried cherries, chopped
  • 2 ounces (1/3 cup) dried blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons oat bran
  • 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons brown-rice syrup or honey
  • 4 scoops protein powder, such as ISO XP Chocolate Explosion Whey Isolate
  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Place the dates in a small saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a simmer over low heat for approximately 5 – 6 minutes. Drain and set aside the cooking liquid. Puree the dates in a food processor with the honey and 7 – 8 tablespoons of the date cooking liquid until smooth
  3. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray
  4. Combine the oats, nuts, apricots, cherries, blueberries, bran, flaxseed, wheat germ, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl
  5. Mix in date and honey puree with a wooden spoon and press into the pan
  6. Bake until firm in the center and the edges are golden, about 20 – 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 8 or 16 bars (see below nutritional information to compare the difference between the two sizes)

 

Nutritional Information (calculated via MyFitnessPal):

Based on 8 bars:

Serving: 1 bar

Calories           236

Fat                     6 g

Carbs               39 g

Protein             11 g

 

Based on 16 bars:

Serving: 1 bar

Calories           472

Fat                    12 g

Carbs               78 g

Protein            22 g

 

 

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