Peanut Butter Energy Bars


Six years ago, my friend Carrie Johnson asked me to meet her for coffee to discuss a program she had been researching.  Carrie was seeking input and, as a runner who volunteered in the community, she figured I might have an opinion or two.

A few weeks prior to our meeting, Carrie and her husband ran a local 5k with their two daughters—then ages 9 and 7. Noting the enormous sense of pride her girls felt after setting a goal and completing the race–and wanting to build on that in some way–Carrie went home and Googled “girls, running and self-esteem.”  What she uncovered not only changed her career path; it has positively impacted the health and self-esteem of 4,500 young girls throughout all of the Lancaster County school districts, in both elementary and middle schools, in the last five years.

The results of that one thoughtfully worded Google search combined with Carrie and her team’s tireless work brought Girls on the Run to Lancaster.  On Saturday, May 17th, 955 girls and their running buddies will lace up their sneakers for the organization’s 5th annual 5k. The race is the culmination of an after-school program aimed at helping girls discover the confidence they need in critical pre-teen years and beyond.  Participants meet twice a week for 10 weeks and are led by volunteer coaches who facilitate a non-competitive running program and curriculum-based activities. The goals are simple:  higher self esteem, improved body image and a healthier attitude towards physical activity.

I had the privilege of serving as the first board president.  I have also been a running buddy for many of the previous 5Ks. I’ve run with girls who ran the whole race, some who walked a good bit, and one who skipped in order to get the job done. No matter how they got there, the feeling of accomplishment when every one of those girls crossed the finish line was palpable. They had set a goal and conquered it. In doing so, they learned a valuable life lesson about the power of setting goals, working hard, and putting one foot in front of the other, whether it be a hop, skip, jump…or even a run.

If you live in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area and would like to run the 5K on Saturday, May 17, you can click HERE to register.

We think of “carb loading” before a workout and refilling with protein after. These tasty bars, which are somewhere between a cookie and a chewy granola bar, satisfy both requirements.

The following recipe is a slight variation on a treat one Girls on the Run Coach has long made for her houseful of boys as well as her son’s cross country team.  These bars have also become a favorite of many of her friends and fellow coaches. She typically prepares a double batch but, when making for the team, quadruples the double batch…and they are gone in seconds!

Peanut Butter Energy Bars
These whole-grain, high-protein bars are a tasty mix of chewy and crunchy. To ensure enough wet ingredients to coat the dry ingredients, be sure not to over-scoop the cereal and oats.

Yields 16 bars
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  1. 2 cups flake cereal (I use Corn Flakes which makes these a lower-sugar, gluten-free option; the original recipe calls for Start Smart or Honey Bunches of Oats)
  2. 2 cups quick-cooking oats (old-fashioned oats may be substituted)
  3. 1/2 cup chopped peanuts (I like salted for the salty-sweet combination; unsalted may be used)
  4. 1/2 cup chocolate chips, raisins or chocolate covered raisins
  5. 1/2 cup honey (the original recipe uses corn syrup which may be used instead)
  6. 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  7. 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  8. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  9. Optional: 2-3 tablespoons shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened, according to preference)
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the cereal, oats and chopped peanuts. If using raisins, add them now. If using either of the chocolate options, wait until later. Set aside.
  2. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish. For easy removal of the bars, I like to also line the pan with parchment paper, allowing the paper to overhang on two of the sides.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed pot that is large enough to hold the cereal mixture, combine the honey, brown sugar and peanut butter. Over medium heat, slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring regularly. (It will look foamy when it boils.) When the mixture boils, promptly remove it from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.
  4. Immediately pour the cereal mixture into the hot honey mixture, folding the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients to fully coat. At this point, stir in half of the chocolate pieces. These will get a little gooey from the residual heat. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan, and evenly distribute. A piece of parchment or wax paper makes it easy to press the mixture into an even layer without sticking to a spatula or your hands. Then sprinkle the remaining chocolate pieces and optional coconut over the top, pressing on them lightly to make sure they stick.
  5. Allow the bars to completely cool before cutting. If using parchment paper, lift the bars out of the pan for easier cutting. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days–or as long as they last!
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen
Crossing the finish line with my running buddy…a proud moment!

Crossing the finish line with my running buddy…a proud moment!

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  1. Mary Lou Keller

    I really need to try this recipe! And kudos on your involvement with such a wonderful organization as Girls on the Run Ann! There is a chapter here in Cincinnati area and they get a lot of young girls to participate. How I wish there had been something like this when I was that age.
    I hope you have great weather for the event Saturday.

    1. Ann

      It is truly an amazing organization, and we are lucky to have it here in Lancaster. Thanks for taking the time to read about it, Mary Lou, and for your thoughtful comment!

    1. Ann

      Hi Darlene,
      I haven’t used agave in this recipe but am almost certain it would turn out well. I would stick with a low-sugar cereal option (like the corn flakes I used) since I think agave tastes slightly sweeter than other sweeteners. I’m sure the swimmers will love them!

  2. Meghan Helzlsouer

    Every recipe I have made of yours has been wonderful, and this is no exception. Thanks for giving me a great snack idea for my kids (and me!) As a fairly new runner who has participated in several 5Ks and is training for a 10K, I am intrigued by the Girls on the Run program. I applaud you for your involvement.

    1. Ann

      Thanks so much for your very thoughtful feedback, Meghan. It’s so nice to hear when people make and enjoy the recipes. It truly makes all the work worthwhile!
      Congratulations on your running accomplishments to date, and good luck with the 10K!

  3. Sarah

    I had a chance to make your peanut butter bars last evening and they are just divine. My husband and I are both very much enjoying them at work today. I appreciate that the recipe uses pantry staples that I always have on hand and doesn’t necessitate a grocery run, which is so key for me these days (most of my food prep happens late at night once my son has gone to bed)!

  4. Lucy

    These were very delicious and easy and I loved that no baking was required. I passed the recipe along to a neighbor who sampled them and wanted to make them herself. She enjoyed them and thought they would be a hit with her grandchildren…and they were! I enjoy your Fountain Avenue Kitchen column VERY much!

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