Something happens to me at 3 o’clock every day during work. I get a ravenous craving for something at once sweet, salty and crunchy. In my past life (aka, before I cared about the connection of food and health), I would have raided my cupboards for salty pretzels, those soft-baked Chips Ahoy cookies, and oh, maybe even peanut M&M’s. Mmm… But by now, I’ve learned to satisfy the craving with a handful of roasted nuts and dried fruit, or garlicky hummus with carrots and Mary’s Gone Crackers.
This craving can probably be attributed to the natural energy dip near the end of the workday, when we’re already drained but our brains need to keep going. But even more than that, crunchy food cravings are apparently indicators of stress – something I accumulate lots of by 3pm.
Ever since moving back in with Rene, I’ve developed a pretty serious 3pm dependency on Nature Valley’s crunchy peanut butter granola bars (it’s his snack of choice and despite my perpetual pleading, he has no plans to resolve his sugar addiction). Now I don’t mean to poo-poo Nature Valley – their bars are by no means the worst on the market. But they do contain soy lecithin – a chemical emulsifier many people are allergic to – and lots of white sugar, which is what makes them so cloyingly sweet and addictive. So, I challenged myself to recreate my new favorite treat with less sugar and cleaner ingredients.
Thanks to existing recipes from Minimalist Baker and Half-Baked Harvest, and two of my own recipe tests, I landed on this recipe. It features rolled oats (a great source of protein and fiber), all-natural peanut butter, virgin coconut oil, honey as the only sweetener, and my favorite French sea salt on top. These peanut butter granola bars stay fresh for at least 7 days and make an excellent snack on-the-go (and not just at 3pm, obviously). It’s safe to say that these days I’m never without one in my purse.Print
A healthier version of one of my favorite store-bought snacks, Nature Valley peanut butter granola bars. All you need are 6 ingredients you probably already have on-hand. If you have leftover tahini on hand, you may use that instead of the peanut butter.
- 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil, plus more for greasing
- ¼ cup honey
- 3 tablespoons all-natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy) OR tahini
- 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal (aka ground flaxseeds) OR chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, divided
- Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line an 8×8” ceramic baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a few inches of overhang, and lightly grease the paper with coconut oil. Set aside.
- If your coconut oil is solid, scoop some into a small pot and melt it over low heat. Measure out two tablespoons of melted oil and return to the small pot. To the 2 tablespoons of oil, add the honey, peanut butter, flaxseed meal, vanilla, and a pinch of sea salt. Briefly heat over a low flame while stirring, just until the mixture is combined and pourable, 30-60 seconds. Set aside.
- In a food processor, place ½ cup of the oats and process on high speed until finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining 1 ½ cups rolled oats. Add the coconut oil mixture (briefly warm it again if it is no longer pourable) and stir the mixture together until thoroughly combined.
- Transfer to the prepared baking dish and spread to cover the bottom. Lightly grease the bottom of another 8×8” baking dish (or a loaf pan, or anything else with a flat bottom) and press on the mixture to flatten it out. Sprinkle lightly with coarse sea salt. Bake for 20 minutes, until lightly golden.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once no longer warm to the touch, lift the bars out of the baking dish using the parchment paper overhang. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 bars or 16 small squares. Store in a dark, cool place in an airtight container for 7-10 days.
Please note this recipe was developed using a ceramic baking dish. If you plan to use a metal dish/pan, the bars may take less than 20 minutes since metal heats up faster than ceramic. If the bars are over-baked, they may crumble upon slicing.
- Serving Size: 2 bars
- Calories: 366
- Fiber: 5.4 g
- Protein: 8.8 g