After-school snack time couldn’t be easier with these homemade, chewy granola bars. Beyond the quick and easy preparation, I love that this recipe calls for basic pantry staples and offers a lot of ingredient flexibility.
Instead of chocolate chips, try peanut butter or butterscotch chips. Walnuts, pecans, cashews or peanuts could replace the almonds. And, raisins, dried blueberries, currants or chopped dried apricots or dates would be a great substitute for dried cranberries.
One ingredient I wouldn’t change are the oats. As a whole grain, oats offer impressive levels of thiamin (a B vitamin that helps produce energy from carbohydrates), iron (an essential mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body), and selenium (a mineral and antioxidant that protects cells from damage which can lead to chronic disease, such as cancer and heart disease). But this whole grain’s true claim to nutrition fame is its fiber content, particularly, soluble fiber, which is credited with helping lower blood cholesterol levels.
Oats are a whole grain, meaning the bran and germ are still intact. Oats do have an inedible outer layer called the hull, which must be removed before the grain can be eaten. When purchasing oats, several options exist.
- Whole groat oats – oat kernels with the outer, inedible hulls removed. Groats take the longest time to cook.
- Steel-cut oats – unrolled, whole groats that have been cut into a few pieces with metal blades. Sometimes called Irish oatmeal, steel-cut oats take longer to cook than rolled oats and have a chewier texture.
- Scottish oats – whole oat groats, stone-ground into bits of varying sizes. Oatmeal made with Scottish oats tends to be creamier, compared to steel-cut oats.
- Old-fashioned or rolled oats (featured in today’s recipe) – oat groats are steamed and pressed flat with rollers to shorten cooking time.
- Quick-cooking oats – rolled oats cut into smaller pieces and rolled thinner. They cook faster than old-fashioned oats.
- Instant oats – made like quick oats but roasted at higher temperatures and rolled very thin. Preparation couldn’t be easier, as instant oats are just mixed with hot water. However instant oatmeal is often packaged with added sugar and salt.
Old-fashioned oats, quick oats, and instant oats are all whole-grain products and contain all three parts of the grain. The amount of rolling, steaming and cutting each undergoes affects only the texture and cooking times.
Darlene Zimmerman is a registered dietitian in Henry Ford Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute. For questions about today’s recipe, call 313-972-1920.
Chewy Granola Bars
Makes: 20 bars / Prep time: 10 minutes / Total time: 40 minutes
Vegetable oil cooking spray
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ¾ cup crispy rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)
¾ cup miniature chocolate chips
½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup dried cranberries
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 can (14-ounce) fat-free sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a 13-by-9-inch oven-safe pan with parchment paper, leaving an inch overhang on both sides to form lifting handles. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray.
In a large bowl toss rolled oats, rice cereal, chocolate chips, almonds, cranberries, cinnamon and salt. Add sweetened condensed milk and gently stir to incorporate. Spread into prepared pan, pressing to an even layer.
Bake until edges are golden brown; about 20 to 30 minutes (less time for chewier bars and more time for crunchier bars).
Remove from oven. Cool and cut into bars..
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com and tested by Darlene Zimmerman, MS, RD, for Heart Smart®.
169 calories (21% from fat), 4 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat, 0 grams trans fat), 30 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 57 mg sodium, 3 mg cholesterol, 67 mg calcium, 2 grams fiber. Food exchanges: 2 starch, ½ fat.
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