When I had to adopt a restricted diet last year, I also got a crash course in planning ahead for snacks. Grabbing an impromptu bite to eat became a lot more complicated, and even store-bought energy bars were off-limits due to various food allergies and intolerances. I quickly developed the habit of always — always! — carrying something edible and energy-boosting in my bag. Packed with fruit and seeds, these oat bars are like a thick, cakey granola bar, and so much more exciting than a bag of GORP.
Although these bars won't satisfy everyone's dietary restrictions, they are free of dairy, refined sugar, tree nuts, and gluten. You can also think of this recipe as a template and adapt it to your own preferences.
In my version, I use a combination of certified gluten-free oats, naturally sweet raisins and dried apricots, and roasted pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Holding the mixture together is coconut oil, peanut butter, brown rice syrup, flax seeds, and apples. Many similar recipes use bananas as a binder, but I'm allergic to them and have found that ground flax seeds and applesauce make a good and nutritious substitute. The bars are just lightly sweet, and despite not having any dairy, they're nice and buttery from the coconut oil and peanut butter. (Substitute another nut or seed butter if you can't have peanuts.)
Sometimes it takes a crisis to jumpstart your cooking, and in this case I'm glad I was given the incentive to make my own healthier snacks. They're loads more satisfying than most foods you'd buy on the road, anyway!
Cakey, Oaty Energy Bars Packed with Fruits & Seeds
Makes 12 bars
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 1/4 cups apple sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free oats if necessary)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 8"x8" baking pan with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the melted coconut oil, peanut butter, and brown rice syrup and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Add the ground flax seeds, apple sauce, and vanilla, and whisk to combine.
In a large bowl, combine the oats with the dried fruit, seeds, cinnamon, and salt. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
Transfer the mixture to the baking pan, pressing with your hands to create an even surface.
Bake until golden, about 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Lift out and cut into 12 pieces.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Wrap individual bars tightly for transporting.
(Images: Emily Ho)