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Emily Tries & Fails (& Then Actually Succeeds?) In Making Kids “Bars” & Then Shows You All The Blurry & Messy Photos Of The Process Because, Well, That’s Where We Are These Days

This post was supposed to be titled “I Made Three Different Snacks That My Kids Love & Now I Won Life & Never Have To Buy Packaged Snacks Again.” Or my version of that anyway. I had two weeks to do it, but somehow only got to one snack, and failed at even properly making it or shooting it for the blog. I would say I have no idea where the hours, days, or weeks have gone, but I do:

It’s working, writing, listening to Brian try to homeschool, then putting my headphones on so I can’t hear (only to feel guilty about that), then cooking, DOING SO MANY DISHES, spending hours cleaning each day, trying to shoot fun content together (which really is fun), relieving Brian so he doesn’t purposefully poison himself just for a chance to lay in bed sans children, then of course playing with them (A LOT tbh – which is I love), and so many hours spent cooking of the actual meals that my intended snacks got neglected.

Also, I’ve been practicing my run-on sentences and not giving enough editing time for people to even fix it. The only real free time I have is after the kids go to bed, IF I don’t pass out with them which I usually do, and taking photos or videos in the dark isn’t pretty (which you’ll see proof of below). So . . . that’s where we are right now. Just doing our best and taking blurry photos of failed snack bars that I didn’t even invent, and calling it a blog post. Welcome to 2020 🙂

There is a theme song the kids sing all day long, morning til night, in a whiney voice with no rhythm or cadence. It goes like this: “Can I have a bar? Can I have a snack? May I please have a snack? Mama, can I have a snack? Can I have a snack, please? Not that snack, I want a bar. Can I have a bar? Not that bar, the sweet and salty bar? Can I have a snack? Not a cutie, I want a bar, can I have a bar?” Just all day every single day. For those of you who don’t have kids, “bars” are granola bars and packaged snacks are really all they want, which is understandable and yet highly annoying (and expensive). We are obviously not anti-bar up here, just sick of A.) buying the garbage ones that are basically candy bars and full of processed everything, or B.) buying the really healthy but expensive ones that they go through so fast. Of course, after buying all the most expensive organic ingredients myself, I now fully understand why they are so expensive, HA. But I still attempted my own bars (based on a recipe, duh).

That’s not my annoyed face, I promise – I actually think I was trying to look sweet, like a proverbial “oops” on my face. I’ve been flying through the recipes in Sarah Adler’s books (mostly for my meals) and while I’m sure there are a ton of good cookbooks out there, I love hers because they do feel simple, easy, healthy, full of fresh ingredients, light and delicious – but complicated enough that I feel like I’m being challenged and learning something new. Now that I think of it, most of the recipes are dairy-free and gluten-free, so if you are into that (Brian and I are) they are good ones.

I put the kids down, opened up my laptop to watch Little Fires Everywhere (guys, it’s SO GOOD), poured a large glass of wine, and attempted my first “bar.” You basically just take a ton of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits and throw it in a bowl with coconut flakes, honey, and vanilla. Mix together and spread on a parchment-lined pan, then put in the freezer. Should be easy.

photo by carina skrobecki for simply real health

That photo above? Yea, that’s how the bars were supposed to look, in the book, but mine was a big sticky mess that I couldn’t peel off my fingers and definitely couldn’t be cut up into any sort of adorable “bar.”

We ate it with a spoon and it was DELICIOUS, but now what? And why didn’t they work? The only reason I could come up with was that I didn’t have unsweetened coconut flakes, only sweetened, and maybe that added sugar threw off the balance and made them stickier? I have no idea, I’m no scientist. It basically seemed like the MOST expensive ice cream topper ever. We sprinkled it over the kid’s yogurt and they loved it – It’s just sugary nuts and seeds (and the added vanilla and sea salt make it taste really good).

Eating over yogurt was a success

Then Brian had the idea to make them into balls and bake them. Maybe some heat would make them more solid? I turned the oven up to 400 (don’t know why, “far too high” Brian said later) and I used an ice cream scoop to plop them messily onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. I left them in for way too long, brought them out and they were STILL super crumbly and sticky, and now burnt. I gave up without even thinking.

PLOT TWIST – After they had cooled they hardened (duh), and while they were “burnt” as Charlie aptly put it, I had real hope for batch #2. I set the oven to 325 this time and left it in for just 15 minutes – just enough to warm and toast to a golden brown.

After I brought them out, and let round #2 cool off they were delicious. A success even! After an hour of hardening, I could put them in a bag and they became “the bar” that weekend for all of us. I found myself eating them and they felt relatively guilt-free.

Print

Vanilla Apricot Granola Bars

This recipe is adapted from Simply Real Health : )

Scale

Ingredients

2 cups cashews

1 cup walnuts

1 cup dried apricots

1 cup large coconut flakes

½ cup pumpkin seeds

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup honey

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

  1. Melt honey (either in your microwave or on the stove).
  2. Chop the cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and apricots (corse chop is ok – just imagine what texture you’d like in your “bar”).
  3. Add all of the ingredients to a mixing bowl and mix well with a silicone spatula.
  4. Add mixture to a medium sized parchment lined square baking dish and press down evenly with the back of the spatula.
  5. Freeze for at least 1 hour, then remove to cut into bars. Store in the fridge until ready to eat.
  6. OPTION TO BAKE BARS – This is why I put my own twist on the bars. Preheat your oven to 325˚.
  7. Instead of cutting into bars, use an ice cream scoop to create “balls” and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes, then let cool.
  9. Store in an air tight container, like tupperware or ziplock – moisture is the enemy 🙂 

I actually really enjoyed trying something new that was easy, despite the emotional journey that these granola bars sent me on. My kids and I are going to make another batch because now that I know how to make them. And we’ll do the other two snacks – “pink hummus” that Birdie is dying to try, and some chocolate energy balls which I imagine will be a hit. Literally anything to shake up life, do something together and eat SO MANY SNACKS.

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Elizabeth
1 year ago

You’re dead-on about the sugar in the coconut! When sugar dissolves, it contributes moisture to the mixture. If you try again, maybe cut the honey in half?

Lisa
1 year ago

I hear you about the bars: either junk or $$. I’m that parent (preCovid) in grocery that is loudly explaining No Our Family Doesn’t Eat That when my son veers down the cereal/bar aisle. (It’s like the more horrible strange things in it the cuter the cartoon characters are on the box)
Anyway, a long winded post to say MAKE trail mix together. Not sticky, easily combining sweet and salty, and customizable for each kid. We typically pack up a little screw top container together with some (mostly unsalted) nuts, dried fruit, etc.
We actually got really into this about Easter when we filled his plastic Easter eggs with nutty trail mix and then I hid them quickly around the house/yard. You have two so they could hide them around the house.
I really can’t imagine trying to do all you are doing! Im trying to keep our meals one pot to reduce dishes, so simple inspiration meal reminders are appreciated.

Suzanne
1 year ago
Reply to  Lisa

Make your own trail mix is perfect! You can set up a trail mix bar, and everyone can customize their own. There are so many choices of what to put in.

Andrea
1 year ago

Emily, I always appreciate your honest and funny content! It is helping me get through these tough weeks.

For the days you don’t have time to bake your own snacks, I recommend checking out Out of this Galaxy Bakery, a small business with a specialty in healthy and downright delicious granola bites. Plus they are supporting Make-A-Wish and Friends of Kids with Cancer! https://www.outofthisgalaxybakery.com/shop

Rox
1 year ago

You can give each of the kids a brown paper lunch bag and put out all the possible snacks for one day. Let them choose one of each item ( cutie, carrots in baggy, raisins, granola balls, nuts, apple slices, energy balls…whatever). Maybe sneak in a special treat that they don’t know about just for fun.
Once they have filled their bag for the day let them have their snacks whenever they ask. Once the bags are empty they are done with snacks for today. They may eat them all at once but will soon learn to spread them out.
It may take some time but maybe they will stop singing that song.
Gives them some ownership of their choices.
Good luck!

Rusty
1 year ago
Reply to  Rox

Love this suggestion. Empowers the kids to make thrir own choices, teaches management of resources and gives the “gromups” some oxygen space.

Jessie
1 year ago
Reply to  Rox

Ha – I think I need to do this with myself to stop me from grazing at the pantry whenever my motivation to work flags 🙂

Kara
1 year ago
Reply to  Rox

Hi! I highly recommend following @kids.eat.in.color on Instagram. She’s a dietitian who specializes in kid eating. I am also an RD and think she’s spot on.

She talks about this tactic (and how it may backfire) in this post: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-IlN4bAAeA/

I highly recommend putting your kids on a snack schedule. You can teach your kids ownership by having them help you plan the snacks they get on that schedule. They also have ownership in deciding how much of the snack they want to eat when it’s snack time.

isabelle
1 year ago
Reply to  Kara

Agreed. This is true for adults too. When you operate from a mindset of (manufactured) scarcity, you will think of NOTHING but the thing you “can’t” have. Putting someone on a rationed meal plan is not empowering. What will happen when they are with a grandparent or at a playdate and the adult in charge doesn’t know the “rules?” They will likely gorge themselves because they CAN. Your kids won’t always be under your control, and introducing intuitive eating early on in their lives provides a solid foundation. Truly “empowered” eaters can identify what their body needs but that’s hard (impossible) for most kids AND most adults. The snack schedule seems like a good solution for little kids who can’t create structure and boundaries on their own. And don’t force them to eat if they’re not hungry – no “clean plate club” or “there are starving kids in ____.” Other obvious tactics are avoiding diet talk and not tying food consumption to exercise – “I did Pilates today so I EARNED this cookie” – you don’t earn sustenance, and feeding your body (or mind!) should never be a source of guilt. You can have a treat or a second helping… Read more »

Tarynkay
1 year ago
Reply to  Kara

This worked for us. It has been a great solution to the never-ending-boredom-inspired snack demands. I actually set “kitchen hours” and posted them on the fridge. There was a lot of whining for about 2 days and then they adjusted. Bonus is that they are now actually hungry at meal times so they correspondingly a lot less picky.

We have a set morning snack time and a set afternoon snack time. And then breakfast, lunch and dinner of course. If they are hungry at other times, they can have raw vegetables (usually celery or carrots) which they can get themselves. Go to snacks: fruit, peanuts, pretzels dipped in peanut butter, popcorn (we pop it on the stovetop in a regular pot.)

Kiana
1 year ago
Reply to  Rox

I think that most of the time my kids ask for snacks it’s because they’re bored or thirsty not hungry. I have two scheduled snack times a day (scheduled sounds a bit strict which it’s not). The first one is mid morning around ten thirty or eleven and they normally have goldfish crackers plus half an apple each. Then there’s a snack around 3 or 4 which is a yogurt smoothie or fruit and a babybell cheese. That’s it. Of course, my kids are small (7 and 4) so maybe this won’t work for older kids but hopefully this will work out for someone and you won’t hear whining throughout the day. They know when snack time is.

Btw, your bars look delicious Emily. Bravo for trying something new!

Jessica
1 year ago

Isn’t it amazing how much harder everything is now?!

And there’s something about food tasks that is extra exhausting… Maybe for me it’s because it’s so much more complicated to acquire and yet it’s one of those few things you really can’t do without!

Rusty
1 year ago

Did you let them cool completely before you took them apart and out of the tray??
Also, Chia is a seed packed full of protein, that can be used as a binding agent. Maybe one or two tablespoons of Chia would get them to set more firmly??
I love your endearing honesty about what it’s really like right now. We really are all in this together and your sharing of how imperfect things are serves to make you even more relatable, while helping us to cope better too.
Thank you for keeping it real. xx

Courtney
1 year ago

I feel you on the snacks … one thing that’s helped us is having designated snack time. If it’s not snack time or lunch time, you’re NOT ALLOWED to ask for food! One snack my kids always love is energy balls … I use this recipe but swap out raisins for the chocolate chips to kid myself that it’s healthier http://smashedpeasandcarrots.com/no-bake-energy-bites-recipe/ (it also requires unsweetened coconut, which I can never find, but oh well).

Carolyn
1 year ago

Lol this post struck such a cord with me! I have a 3.5 year old and a freshly turned 6 year old and if you could see my phone you’d find a billion tabs open ranging from blog posts about healthy store bought kid “bars” (also what my kids call them)….to google results from my searches for where to buy such bars which are hard to find and expensive here in Canada…to recipes for GF, DF homemade “bars”. The snack question is on repeat here as well…and I have the same struggle with the store-bought options being pricey for what you get and how long they last us! I know there a a billion of recipes out there but for what it’s worth, these are two I printed out and have had sitting in my kitchen for the last month waiting for me to find some “free time” to make lol.

https://savoryspin.com/easy-blender-ready-blueberry-bars-gluten-free-%E2%80%A2-refined-sugar-free/
https://ohsheglows.com/2014/01/08/soft-chewy-sugar-free-baked-granola-bars/

Both use dates which our grocery stores here have ….might be easier to find than unsweetened coconut?

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