Article: Eat healthy inexpensive snacks by making some sweet iBars

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My secret recipe is out… iBars for everyone – to enjoy or give as gifts!

Avoiding all of the preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, processed grains and refined sweeteners can be quite a challenge when shopping for “energy” or snack bars.  If you are lucky enough to find a bar made with whole food ingredients, it can be expensive and pack 200+ kcals each, when you might only want something half that size. Never fear, The Nutrition Professor is here!  I will help you make your own bars, so that you can save money, and get exactly what you want: personalized flavor combinations, size and packaging! You can even give them as gifts this holiday season!!!

While this recipe has become a weekly staple in our house, and I have also had many requests to share it!  I served these sweet little iBars at our end of the season nail party for my daughter’s soccer team, and owe this recipe to two of our coaches, whose kids couldn’t get enough of them! I have also been bringing one on my long run each week and my running buddy was quite excited to learn of my plans to include the recipe in my article this month. My husband loves them anytime and the kids either bring one to school or eat one with an apple as an after school snack.  Instead of making bars, very small cookie cutters could be used or the “dough” could be pressed into silicone molds. They would make the perfect contribution for a cookie exchange or holiday gift for your neighbors or coworkers.

My commitment to using whole food ingredients is unwavering, and this recipe certainly qualifies. The all-star cast of ingredients is nearly off the chart when it comes to anti-oxidant levels, thanks to the combination of nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dried fruit, which also provides fiber, protein, unrefined carbohydrate, omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, magnesium, and zinc, while the cocoa powder offers amazing phytonutrients, without the artery clogging fat. Since the recipe is not heated, the flax seeds retain the highest level of health-promoting compounds.

The Nutrition Professor’s iBars
Yield: 36 tasty little bars

Ingredients
¾ cup unsalted nuts (my favorite is a combination of walnuts and roasted almonds)
16 oz dates, pitted and chopped (Carefully pit these – as one stray pit can ruin the whole batch, and maybe even your food processor!)
2 cups rolled oats (if you need this recipe to be gluten-free, simply use certified gluten-free oats)
2 TBSP flax seeds (grind in coffee/spice grinder)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
1½ TBSP cacao powder (unsweetened cocoa powder)
optional – 6 TBSP chocolate chips, dairy-free (we often use Kirkland brand semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Procedure
Pulse the nuts, oats and flax in the food processor until finely chopped, add the cocoa powder, vanilla and cinnamon and pulse 2-3 times. Then, with the machine running, add the dates, a few at a time, through the chute in the lid. When a little more than half of the dates have been added, begin alternating with a few tablespoons of chocolate chips (if using). Once all ingredients are well incorporated, the thick mixture might slow down the food processor and need to be transferred to a medium sized stainless steel bowl for final mixing by hand.

Line an 8″ x 8″ baking dish with 2 layers of plastic wrap that drape over the edges and then put bar mixture in center. Cover with an additional piece of plastic wrap, to avoid sticky fingers, and press down on mixture until the thickness is uniform. Refrigerate for a few hours and then the plastic wrap will allow for easy removal to a cutting board. Make 36 bars by cutting into six rows  across and six rows down. I wrap the little bars individually and then store them in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator, where they would last for weeks at a time if everyone didn’t eat them so often!

You can skip the chocolate chips, if you would like, and consider adding lemon zest &/or extract if you enjoy lemon bars. Perhaps use my chai spice mix (http://www.thenutritionprofessor.com/) or your favorite garam masala, even a sprinkle or two of chipotle chili powder might be fun!

Nutrition info: per bar (without chocolate chips): 70 kcals,13 g carbohydrates,1.7 g fiber, 1.4 g protein, 1.9 g fat, 0 g cholesterol; (with chocolate chips): 82 kcals, 14.6 g carbohydrates,1.7 g fiber, 1.4 g protein, 2.6 g fat, 0 g cholesterol

Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified health fitness specialist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, does corporate wellness work, as well as professional speaking engagements and teaches hands-on cooking/nutrition classes.

Read my article as published in the Lodi News Sentinel.

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