Since my kids were little, one of their favorite lunchbox treats has been a chewy peanut butter chocolate chip granola bar. What’s not to like?
With their convenient portable packaging and ever-growing assortment of flavors, there’s truly something for everyone in the world of granola bars. From crunchy to chewy, salty to sweet, fruity to nutty, chocolate-dipped to high protein, the choices are staggering.
Because I enjoy the challenge, I frequently create homemade renditions of the store-bought snacks we all enjoy. I don’t necessarily aim to completely replace these treats, yet supplementing them with homemade options does offer the advantage of better ingredient control. Do-it-yourself versions are often tastier and sometimes more economical, too.
I have several recipes for baked granola bars that we’ve enjoyed over the years, but an easy, no-bake option held a certain appeal. As I attempted to replicate those chewy lunchbox treats, flavor and texture were the easy aspects to master. The biggest challenge was creating a bar that held firmly together without the benefit of cooking.
It turns out that one simple ingredient swap was the key to success. But first, I will say that I made these bars for quite some time using honey as the sweetener, and they were always well received. Honey’s inherent stickiness binds the ingredients fairly well, so if you’d like to use what you may have on hand, it’s a fine option.
However, for superior binding properties and homemade bars that better mimic store-bought versions, brown rice syrup is the magic ingredient.
Brown rice syrup is thicker than honey and functions like sweet, edible glue. That said, it actually tastes slightly less sweet than honey—which I think works quite well in this recipe. Many grocery stores carry brown rice syrup in their natural foods or organic aisle; Lundberg is the brand I typically use and frequently notice.
Beyond their lunchbox and after-school snack appeal, these easy bars satisfy my nightly dessert craving with the benefit of whole grain oats and protein-rich peanut butter. They’re my younger son’s favorite fuel prior to his swim team practices, too.
Chewy granola bars seem to have wide appeal, as I’m often asked if I have a recipe for them. After emailing the following version to many readers, I figured it was time to share it here.
For a flavor variation, you could toast the oats in a 350-degree oven for 15-ish minutes or until slightly golden brown prior to mixing with the other ingredients. Of course, that would make the recipe title inaccurate…and they are delicious without this optional step. 😀
Yield: 16 squares
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter*
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey or brown rice syrup**
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (135 grams) rolled oats
- 3 tablespoons mini chocolate chips*** (plus a few extra to sprinkle on top, if desired)
- 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds (I like salted for a mild salty-sweet combination)
- Optional: 2-3 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment or wax paper. (The mixture will not fully cover the bottom of a 9-inch square pan. In a pinch, use a 9-inch round pan. If doubling the recipe, use a 9×13-inch pan.)
Warm the peanut butter and honey in the microwave just long enough to easily stir them together into a smooth mixture, about 20 seconds or so when the ingredients start at room temperature. Add the vanilla, and then stir in the oats, mini chips, sunflower seeds, and optional coconut, making sure to completely incorporate all of the ingredients.
Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the prepared pan. (I like to use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to really press down on the mixture. To avoid sticking, lightly grease the cup or press over a piece of parchment or wax paper.) This will ensure even bars that hold together well. If using, lightly sprinkle additional chips on top of the bars, gently pressing down on them so they adhere.
Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to set before cutting into squares. For easy cutting, use the paper liner to lift the bars out of the pan and rock a long, sharp knife in a straight line across the bars. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the bars will keep for at least 2 weeks. When using honey instead of brown rice syrup, the bars will be slightly softer when stored at room temperature.
- *Natural peanut butter may be used although it creates a slightly firmer batter; when using unsalted natural peanut butter, add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.
- **The primary benefit of using brown rice syrup when making granola bars is that it is stickier than honey and will create bars that are firmer and hold together better. The mixture will be slightly harder to mix when using brown rice syrup but it will come together. I find it helpful to work quickly and use a clean hand to mix the ingredients. Some may also prefer brown rice syrup for it’s slightly less sweet taste compared to honey.
- *** When stirred into the warm peanut butter-oat mixture, the chocolate chips tend to melt– and that’s okay. I have waited until the mixture cools slightly before adding the chips, but it’s harder to fully incorporate them as the mixture cools and becomes firmer. Sometimes, I skip stirring the chips into the oat mixture altogether and simply press 2 to 3 tablespoons onto the top.
On occasion, I receive a request for a detailed nutritional profile on a recipe. Though I generally try to mention when specific ingredients are a particularly good source of protein, fiber, Omega-3s, and so on, I have not made a practice of providing a complete breakdown for several reasons. For example, I often offer options within a recipe, and serving sizes can vary. Also, products can vary widely from brand to brand when it comes to ingredients like sodium and added sugar. Nutritional calculators exist, but I can’t guarantee their accuracy and don’t want to provide unreliable information.
When people are seeking specific numbers, I typically refer them to the best resource I have found to date. It’s called Calorie Count and can be found through this link: http://www.caloriecount.com/cc/recipe_analysis.php. This site allows a user to copy and paste all of the recipe ingredients at once instead of searching through a large database for individual ingredients. Ingredients can be modified by brand, and the recipe can be broken down based on desired number of servings. When “analyze recipe” is clicked, all of the pertinent details appear. Recipes can also be saved on the site….and it’s free!
As an illustration, I inserted the ingredients for the preceding chewy granola bar recipe into the recipe analyzer, and it yielded the following stats. So whether you’re being mindful of added sugar, monitoring your carbs, trying to ramp up protein intake, or simply curious about the overall nutritional profile of a recipe that you cook on a regular basis, this might be a helpful tool.
Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories from Fat 48
Total Fat 5.3g
Saturated Fat 1.4g
Trans Fat 0.0g
Total Carbohydrates 12.5g
Dietary Fiber 1.4g
Vitamin A 0% • Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1% • Iron 6%
Very low in cholesterol
Low in sodium
High in manganese
Very high in vitamin B6
Contains alcohol *
*This refers to the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.