Nutty, Fruity and Yummy!
OK. I'm lazy. I admit it. If there's an easy way to do things, I'm all over it. That's why I'm so drawn to nutrition bars. OK. I'm always late, too. That's another reason I love bars. They're easy, and you can eat them while you're running out the door, getting ready for work, driving to work, during work. Whenever, wherever.
Of course, with ease comes a price. The healthy bars can be pricey: $2 to $4 a bar, depending where you buy them, which isn't bad for a once-in-a-while treat. But when you eat them daily (Sometimes several times a day. I told you, I'm always late), that can really add up. Plus, you have to be careful that you're eating the right bars. You grab the wrong nutrition bar and you might as well be eating a candy bar. Some bars actually have more sugar than the treats you find in the candy aisle! Not good. By healthy bars, I mean bars with no high fructose corn syrup (I know. The corn people say it's fine, but I try to have my family avoid it anyway). We're really trying to limit our processed food, so I look for bars with only a handful of ingredients, around 5 or 6, and with words my 8-year-old can pronounce.
That's why I was so excited when I stumbled upon recipes for DIY nutrition bars! Yay! Not only are they less expensive to make, you can put in the exact ingredients you like. Win-win! The DIY "Lara" like bars are date-based and one of my favorites. You can find the recipe here at the Wanna be chef. They're just dates, nuts and dark chocolate. If you're kids like peanuts, throw them in there. But if someone has a peanut allergy, leave them out. You can use almonds or brazil nuts or any other nut instead. The DIY "Clif" bars are just as easy to experiment with. The combinations really are endless. Both brands have flavors like apple pie, lemon, oatmeal cookie, cherry pie, German chocolate. Check out the different flavors available online or the next time you're at the grocery store, and experiment.
What I've learned:
I've been making the DIY Lara bars for a few months now, and I really like them. After doing some price-checking, I've found that the bulk bin at Giant seems to be the best buy for the dates and the bulk nuts. You can also find the dates in bags alongside the raisins and figs. Those are a little more pricey per pound, but you can usually find them 2 for $5 on sale somewhere. The bulk nuts are also usually cheaper than the canned. Take a look at the "price per pound" on the shelf label. That's usually the best way to see if you're getting the best deal. As far as chocolate goes, the darker the better, and the healthier, you can use a bar or chips. I like the 60 percent dark Ghirardelli chips. They're easy to work with and are delish!
As far as mixing goes, a food processor, a magic bullet or a really good blender are a must when working with the dates. They can be very sticky and big. If you're using a blender or magic bullet, make sure you work in small batches, and always remember to take the pits out! They will not grind up, trust me. I usually blend the dates first. They'll form a big sticky ball of date paste. Remove it from the canister and then do the nuts and chocolate together. Then you can mix the dates and the nut/chocolate combo together by hand in a big bowl and press it into a foil-lined cake pan. The mixture will be kind of dry and a bit crumbly, but you'll see that it will start to hold together. If it seems way too dry, you can add a tablespoon of water before you press it into a 9 x 13 pan. Then just pop it in the freezer for 20 minutes and once it's set, you can slice it into bars. Lara bars are on the smallish side -- about 2 X 3 inches, but you can make them any size you like. I typically cut my slab into 16 nice size bars and wrap them in wax paper and pop them in the freezer.
I tried the Clif bars for the first time for this story. They were easy enough, and you don't need a food processor for this at all. I used a food processor and I think that was a mistake. If you've ever eaten a Clif bar you know that they're a bit on the chunky side. So by hand is probably the way to go if you want that consistency. The food processor made them more fudge-like, which wasn't bad. It just depends on your preference. I followed the recipe exactly except for the wheat flour. I'm trying to cut down on wheat, so I used rice crispees instead. Instead of cocoa powder, you can use the healthy raw cacao or even a chocolate protein powder. That's the great thing about making them yourself. You can change things up to fit your needs. These taste really close to the Clif chocolate brownie bars and they were a big hit with my taste-testers, a.k.a. the newsroom.
I also made a KIND bar. I love these! We didn't have time to include it in the TV story, which is a shame because these were really good. KIND bars are usually just nuts, seeds and dried fruit, kind of like a trail mix bar. These were also super-easy to make. Just take your favorite nuts, throw in some dried fruit and seeds and mix them up with honey. You can chop the nuts if you like or leave them whole. I left mine whole like they do in the original KIND bar. Unlike the other bars, which go in the freezer, you bake these for 15 minutes. They'll be gooey, but once they cool they hold together and you can cut them into bars with a large, sharp knife. Once again, you can either wrap them up in wax paper so you can grab them and go or store them in an airtight container.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to run! Time for work. Luckily, I have plenty of bars in the freezer to grab :)
Here are some links to other DIY bar flavors: