Skip the junk and try homemade energy bars
When looking for a quick, easy snack on-the-go, many of us turn to energy bars.
I did so throughout my twenties. I was a busy graduate student working multiple jobs—including fitness instructor and personal trainer—and found that an assortment of energy bars stuffed into my backpack was just the thing: a convenient, lightweight, and (seemingly) healthy way to refuel on my busiest days.
But it wasn’t long until my quick and light solution started weighing me down.
When I read the fine print on the packaging, everything was illuminated.
The “energy” bars I was counting on to power me through my days were chock full of junk ingredients: synthetic flavorings, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, sugar alcohols and chemical colorants.
Further, many contained low-grade “proteins” that barely qualified as proteins at all, such as soy protein isolate (a soy waste-product), hydrolyzed gelatin, and hydrolyzed animal collagen. Yuck!
Rather than throw in the towel, I simply threw out the packaged bars and started making my own.
That was more than 15 years ago and I have been making homemade energy bars of all varieties ever since. Making energy bars from scratch is simple as can be, and it all starts with real food: whole grains, nuts, seeds, natural nut and seeds butters, fresh and dried fruits, and even vegetables. In addition, homemade bars cost a fraction of the price of ready-made bars.
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Making (and eating!) power bars is now a family ritual with my husband and 7-year-old son, Nick. And I've brought on multiple new recruits to my running club by sharing a batch of homemade bars! Try these recipes below to make your own!
Crispy kale bars (makes 10 bars)
Recipe excerpted from "Power Hungry" by Camilla V. Saulsbury
Nutrients per bar: Calories 205, Fat 8.5 g, (Saturated 1.4 g), Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 102 mg, Carbs 29.3 g (Fiber 2.5 g, Sugars 15.8 g), Protein 5.8 g
Crispy kale leaves
- 1 large bunch kale, tough stems and center ribs removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
- 1/3 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds) or sunflower seeds
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal (e.g., puffed wheat, quinoa, or rice)
- 1/3 cup goji berries, dried cherries, or dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
- 1/3 cup natural, unsweetened nut or seed butter (e.g., almond, cashew, or sunflower)
- 1/4 cup natural cane sugar or packed organic light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup DIY Glucose Syrup (see page 30), organic light corn syrup, or brown rice syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Copious amounts of kale were sacrificed in my pursuit of a kale energy bar. On my umpteenth attempt at puréeing the leaves into gooey-green glue, inspiration struck: why not incorporate the kale in crispy kale-chip form? It only took one batch to know I had a winner. The trick to getting great bars is to make sure that the kale is super-crisp, which is a cinch so long as you dry the leaves thoroughly— I’m talking layers of clean dish towels or many turns in the salad spinner, a mere minute or two of effort, before baking. If water remains on the leaves, the kale will steam, not crisp. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of steamed kale bars doesn’t do it for me. But crispy, toasted seed-enhanced bars? Yes and yes!
1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
3. To prepare the kale: Thoroughly wash the kale under cold water and then remove all of the excess moisture by blotting the leaves between several layers of paper towels or spinning multiple times in a salad spinner. Transfer the kale to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle the leaves with the oil, tossing to coat the leaves.
4. Bake the kale in the preheated oven for 12-17 minutes until the leaves appear paper-thin and crisp, but not browned (watch closely). Using the parchment liner, transfer the kale to a rack and cool completely, about 10 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, spread the oats, pepitas, and sesame seeds on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 5 to 8 minutes, shaking halfway through, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in cereal and berries. Crumble the cooled kale leaves into the bowl; gently stir to combine.
6. Combine the nut or seed butter, sugar, syrup, and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in the almond extract.
7. Immediately pour the syrup mixture over the oats mixture, mixing with a spatula until coated.
8. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Place a large piece of parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap (coated with nonstick cooking spray) atop the bar mixture and use it to spread, flatten, and very firmly compact the mixture evenly in the pan. Refrigerate at least 1 hour until firmly set.
9. Using the liner, lift the mixture from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 10 bars.
- For best results, do not use peanut butter; it will overwhelm the other flavors in the bars.
- The ratio of dry and liquid sweeteners here is essential for binding the bars—experiment at your own risk!
- The crispy kale leaves can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cool completely and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Bar variation: Crispy spinach and apricot bars
Prepare as directed, but use 6 cups of packed baby spinach leaves in place of the kale and an equal amount of chopped dried apricots in place of the dried berries. Omit the almond extract and add
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest instead.
Tightly wrap the bars individually in plastic wrap.
Room temp: 2 days
Fridge: 1 week
Freezer: 3 months in airtight container; thaw 1/2 hour
Camilla V. Saulbury is a wife, mother,cookbook author, recipe developer, fitness instructor and trainer, and an avid endurance race competitor.Her new book, "Power Hungry® The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook" comes out in September 2013 from Lake Isle Press.