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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

No-Bake Chewy Chocolate Granola Bars (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free, Refined Sugar-Free)

I used to be an extreme snacker, most notably when I was in grade school. After daydreaming about lunch, I'd daydream about after school snacks... Cheetos, Chex Mix, Pringles, and even granola bars, except they were the unhealthy kind loaded with refined sugar and other disgusting ingredients (just check out this ingredient list of the granola bars I scarfed down as a kid and maybe you did, too... yikes). Many brands blow my mind with their deceptive claims. They advertise that their ingredients are "all-natural" but that means absolutely nothing when there is no standard for the claim "all-natural" in any industry. Nature Valley granola bars are packed with j-u-n-k, too. They should be re-named junk bars... *ba-dum-ch* lol. But seriously, there is nothing healthy about them. Just take a look at one of Nature Valley's granola bar ingredient lists. And I'm sorry, but Luna Bars are not much better.

I am not as much of a snacker these days because I make sure I eat three substantial meals a day to keep me satiated and energized for several hours until my next meal. That really helps me to avoid snacking. And not just that, but digestion requires a lot of energy, and the less energy our bodies have to use on digestion, the more it opens up energy for other necessary body processes. We take some strain off of the digestive system when we leave several hours in between each meal and that's a gift we can all afford to give our bodies. The foreign ingredients prevalent in the Standard American Diet (SAD) that our bodies are forced to process everyday is incredibly taxing on the body. If we cannot translate the ingredients, neither can our bodies. The way we feel and look truly depends on how we fuel our bodies (and our mind and spirit, too). But that's not to say I don't love snacking from time to time because oh, I do. Who doesn't?!

It is always possible to find a delicious and nutritious anything, including snacks. I feel like the word "snack" has become synonymous with "unhealthy" but that doesn't have to be the case at all. I had been wanting to create a recipe for healthy homemade granola bars for awhile now and finally got around to doing so after foraging through my pantry for a snack one day only to be left down and out because there were none.

These no-bake granola bars are nothing short of amazing! Everyone who has tried them loves them. They are chewy with a bit of crunch, a tad sweet and delightfully chocolate-y. Let me add that they are super simple to make and are perfect as a holiday gift, to take to work, on vacation, to school, or as an after school snack. ;-) Even better, all of the ingredients are truly good for you. Make your own granola bars so that you have all of the control over your own health!

Top left: Dry ingredients. Top right: All ingredients mixed together.
Bottom left: 8x8 baking dish. Bottom middle: 9x9 baking dish. Bottom right: Granola bars in 9x9 dish.

No-Bake Chewy Chocolate Granola Bars
YIELD: 10 bars if using 8x8 baking dish; 14 bars if using 9x9 baking dish

• 1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
• 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
• 1/2 pre-sliced almonds
• 1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
• 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs or vegan mini chocolate chips
• 2 Tbs unsweetened shredded coconut
• 1/4 tsp cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
• 1/2 cup (about 8) pitted medjool dates *if they're not very soft and sticky, place them in a bowl covered with warm water for 10 minutes to soften
• 1/3 cup + 2 Tbs raw coconut nectar
• 2 Tbs organic creamy peanut butter or almond butter
• 2 tsp unrefined coconut oil
• 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Line an 8x8 (for 10 larger bars) or 9x9 baking dish (for 14 smaller bars) with parchment paper. *I have tried both sizes & liked both equally.
2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut nectar, peanut butter and coconut oil and mix well. Stir frequently. Once melted, take off of the burner and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs or mini chocolate chips, shredded coconut, cinnamon, and sea salt and mix well.
4. In a food processor (if you don't have a food processor, you can just manually cut up the dates into small pieces), add the dates and process until they form a ball. Add to the large mixing bowl of dry ingredients. Break up the ball of dates and disperse throughout the mixture. Then, slowly pour in the melted ingredients while stirring everything together.
5. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and smooth it out evenly using a spatula. Make sure to press it in firmly so that it all sticks together.
6. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes. Remove from the freezer and cut 5 (if using 8x8 baking dish) or 7 rows crosswise (if using 9x9 baking dish). Then, cut again once straight down the middle.
*Store in the freezer in an airtight container or in baggies with small pieces of parchment paper separating each bar. You can enjoy them straight from the freezer... that's my favorite way to eat them! :-) The longer they're out of the fridge or freezer, the softer and stickier they'll get. They'll still taste great either way but if you can, try to keep them cool.

"The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?'" Jeremy Bentham


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