Part of the reason I rely on quick and easy dinner recipes is because too much of my kitchen time is spent baking! In all seriousness, with a family of eternally hungry boys (not to mention my own penchant for nibbling), it’s helpful to have wholesome snacks, grab-and-go breakfast items, and plenty of extras for packed lunches.
As a result, I’m always turning the ingredients I have on hand into nourishing snacks with the hope that they will be greeted with yums and requests for more. With teenagers, I often find that a little something special on top (i.e., a few chocolate chips or a chocolate drizzle), goes a long way in getting them to accept a healthy alternative to the typical stash of Oreos, chips, etc. These fruit and nut bars are a perfect example. I mean, ask a 13-year-old boy if he’d like a fruit and nut bar? Or ask that same boy if he’d like a chewy granola bar with a white chocolate drizzle??
With only two tablespoons of sweetener–and a natural one at that–these bars are a healthy way to satisfy a snack craving and can most definitely pass for breakfast. My kids do love the optional chocolate drizzle, but even with that hint of decadence, these bars are a far better option than so many of the snack options they might choose instead.
So what would you do? Chocolate or no chocolate? : )
- 1 cup mashed overripe banana (240 grams/8 ounces without the peel)
- 2 tablespoons honey (42 grams/1.5 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup diced dried apricot (I also like a mix of dried apricots and dried cranberries)
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans (and/or walnuts*)
- 2 cups (175 grams/6 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
- Optional add-ins/topping: 2 tablespoons shredded coconut (I use unsweetened; sweetened is fine, too); 1/3 cup white, semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease. (Lining the pan will make the bars very easy to remove and cut once cooked.)
- In a mixing bowl, mash together the banana, honey, vanilla and salt. Stir in the dried fruit, nuts and shredded coconut, if using. (If you prefer to add the chips whole as opposed to melting and drizzling over top, stir them in now, too.) Lastly, add the oats and stir to evenly distribute.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, and gently press down over the entire surface. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the edges are very lightly golden. Remove the baking dish from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
- *Topping option 1:* Immediately upon removing the bars from the oven, sprinkle the chips evenly over the surface, place the baking dish back in the warm oven for a minute, and then remove the pan and spread the melted chips in an even layer with a knife or spatula. *Option 2:* If using the chocolate chips for a drizzle topping, once the bars are cool, heat the chips in the microwave in 20 second increments, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. Transfer to a small zip-top bag and snip a very small piece from one of the bottom corners. Drizzle the chocolate over top and allow to harden before cutting...or enjoy while still gooey and a little messy!
- The bars may be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for several days. To preserve freshness, I prefer storing in the refrigerator where they will keep for at least a week. The bars may also be tightly wrapped and frozen.
- *When using nuts in baked goods, I like the pieces to be chopped fairly small for even flavor and just a hint of crunch throughout. I also find that my kids don't mind the nuts if they don't detect big chunks of them. Lastly, walnuts tend to have a fairly strong flavor, so when cooking for kids, you might find that pecans are more readily accepted.