Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to School Treat: Cranberry Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bar

So the day has finally come---yesterday the eldest had his first day of kindergarten! He has been attending preschool a few mornings each week for the last 2 years, but this was a sharp transition to a full day kindergarten at the local elementary with staff & students that neither of us were familiar with.

Of course one of the (many) stresses for me was food. What to pack? How much to pack? How much time will he really have to eat? Will he eat the food I send?

Yesterday I dramatically overpacked his lunch. It was probably like 2 days worth of food. As expected, he didn't finish. Of course when the teacher said he could bring one item out at recess for snack and he chose his water bottle, that didn't really help!

Today's snack time went better but at lunch he decided to start with his apple slices (a notorious time waster) and never even got to his main dish (quesadilla on whole wheat tortilla) or water or anything else. Needless to say the little boy who trudged in the door at 2 pm was tired, overheated and CRANKY!!

I had thought he might need something special today after finishing his first "week" at school and whipped up a batch of these chewy granola bars while Daddy was walking around the corner to pick him up (I love that we live 3 blocks away from school!). While the bars were finishing cooling, first thing up was to get some fluids into him. Then I had him work on eating the rest of his lunch that he hadn't "had time" for. By the time he was finished with all that, his special treat was cooled off and ready to be eaten. By 2:30, I had a completely different son. No longer teary and cranky from hunger and low blood sugar, he was ready to sit down and tell me all about his day!

I will probably be sending these bars most of next week because I know he can eat them fairly quickly. They also pack a great energy punch-- a little high in added sugars than ideal but completely necessary for a little guy who spends his whole recess and lunch running at top speed! Plus the sugar is nicely balanced with the whole grains from the oats and a healthy amount of fat from the coconut oil.

This recipe is a super quick variation of my plain granola recipe and can be adapted for your family's favorites. Just substitute any dried fruit (raisins, chopped apricots, etc) for the craisins. You can omit the chocolate chips altogether or swap them out for peanut butter chips, carob chips, butterscotch, white chocolate, etc. These bars have the look and chewy texture of the store bought ones but without the additives & high fructose corn syrup! Its a win/win for everyone! Plus the whole thing only takes about 15 minutes to do!

Recipe: Cranberry Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars 
(yield ~10 bars)

3 Tbs coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups oats
1/2 cup dried cranberries (craisins)
1/4 cup chocolate chips

1) In a large sauce pan, combine vanilla extract, honey, brown sugar and oil (I used refined but virgin would work well here, just be prepared for a little bit more tropical flavor). Heat until sugar and honey are dissolved completely.
2) Stir in oats until well coated. Turn burner to medium/high. Continue cooking while stirring CONTINUOUSLY for 3-5 minutes-- basically until oats start to emit a nice cookie type of smell and begin to have a slight amount of browning.
3) Turn off heat and stir in craisins. Let mixture cool in pan for 10 minutes.
4) Pour mixture into buttered 8x8 square pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. LIGHTLY mix with spatula (if you get too vigorous, all you'll get is a melted chocolatey gooey mess!)
5) Use your spatula to gently press down the mixture into the pan until its tightly packed and of even depth.

6) Put into refrigerator to cool for 15-20 minutes.
7) Slice down middle of pan. Cut each large rectangle into 5 bars approximately 1 1/2 in x 4 in.
8) Store in air tight container inside fridge for up to 2 weeks.

I'd love to hear what you think-- feel free to comment below!

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