Ahh…the granola bar. A lunchbox staple since the beginning of time. Okay, maybe not. But definitely since the 80s when I was in school. They’re self-contained, quick, kid-friendly, and nowadays, available in a million nut-free versions that are safe for school. Sadly though, it can be tricky to find ones that are nut-free AND vegan. (And that don’t contain copious amounts of sugar – but that’s another story.)
My kids are hit and miss on granola bars (much like me). They like the idea of them, but have never really been sold on any particular commercial brand. Grade 4 has found some that she likes (but not loves). Kindergarten, not so much. If they came out with a broccoli flavoured one, she might be more excited. But the standard options out there aren’t really her thing.
So I set about creating a homemade version that was just as interesting as the packaged ones, but had less (or no) refined sugar, and incorporated real ingredients. And of course they had to meet all our lunchbox requirements (vegan, nut-free).
What my kids love most about these granola bars is that they taste amazing. What I love is how flexible the recipe is. Right now we are hooked on a dark chocolate cherry version, but you could easily swap out the cherries for any other dried fruit and skip the cocoa powder too. Mixed berry. Apple cinnamon. Tropical Fruit Medley. The combinations are endless.
These granola bars harness the natural sweetness of medjool dates to give them the stickiness and sweetness we all expect from a granola bar. And because dates are all natural, there’s no refined sugar or other processed stuff used as a sweetener. On that note…this recipe does call for the use of a nut-free substitute butter. I use wow butter, but sun butter, pea butter, etc also work well. We are fortunate that our school board allows them to be served at school (I always clearly label their wrapper with the ‘made with wow butter’ stickers that come with the jar). Since starting this blog though, I’ve heard from many parents who have kids in school boards that (very understandably) don’t. If you aren’t able to send a nut-free butter to school, simply swap it out for an equal amount of tahini.
I classify this as a no-bake recipe, because the bars themselves don’t have to cook. But I do find that the flavour is enhanced if you toast the rolled oats first. So there is a teeny, tiny bit of oven work involved. I use rolled oats in baking a lot, so I tend to toast up a big batch of them on any given weekend and store them in a glass mason jar for the week, so they are always ready to go. Also, if you’re looking for a gluten free option, simply swap the regular rolled oats for certified gluten free ones.
I hope you like these as much as we do!
No-Bake Chocolate Cherry Granola Bars
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
400g pitted medjool dates
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 tsp salt
1 heaped tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 wow butter, sunbutter or tahini
1/2 cup total dried cherries and cranberries
Preheat oven to 350F.
On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spread oats out in an even, single layer. Bake for 10 minutes until oats are lightly toasted. Set aside to cool. (This step can be done in advance.)
in a food processor, process dates until they form a ball (like a dough). Transfer to large bowl and add in cooled oats, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, salt, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla and dried fruit. Using your hands, mix well.
Melt wow butter in microwave until liquid (about 25 seconds or so). Pour over mixture and (again, using your hands), mix thoroughly. If the mixture is a bit too stiff, dry, add hot water, 2 tbsp at a time, to loosen it a bit.
Press into an 8×8 parchment lined baking dish until it fills all four corners of the pan and is packed solid. refrigerate for at least 1 hour to set; cut into bars and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 10 days.