These healthy cocoa nib granola bars are nutrient packed to keep the kids full and focused, are fast to make, and taste like a chocolate chip granola bar!
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Active kids and a brand new protein packed granola bar!
My youngest came home from a gymnastics meet not long ago telling me about this chocolate chip granola bar that her teammate was munching on after the competition. She was so intrigued, and wondered if we could get some! I pulled up some nutrition facts on various popular granola bar brands, and asked her if she thought these ingredients would help an athlete recover from the kind of practice and meets that she puts in. Corn syrup and/or sugar, soybean oil, rice and oats were really the only “real” ingredients, along with some preservatives in most of the brands we checked out. Zero protein source to help her muscles recover, rancid oil that would increase inflammation in her already worked-out body, and junky sweeteners…I know of exactly zero children that need a blood sugar spike like that. We decided together that those store bought bars are not exactly the “recipe for recovery” for any growing kid, let alone an active athlete.
So let’s make some!
I have plenty of granola bar recipes between the blog and my cookbook, but I have never done a “chocolate chip” granola bar. I had 2 main goals for this recipe.
- First…it needed to be fast and easy to make. I know, I know…maybe my priorities are a little flip flopped. But if it is fussy to make, even I’m not going to make it on the regular. I am just as normal of a mom as it gets, with a busy work schedule, kid schedule, and everything in between. As much as I love the kitchen, I don’t have time for time consuming recipes every week.
- And secondly, it needed to have a fantastic macro-nutrient balance. Protein, fats, and carbs…growing kids need them all. We don’t want a carb-heavy granola bar. I wanted something not only great to pack for a hungry gymnast after a meet, but something to pack in a lunchbox that would help the kids focus at school too!
Cocoa nibs versus chocolate chips
Cocoa nibs are little shaved pieces of the actual cocoa bean that chocolate is made of. They are high in antioxidants and minerals, but because they don’t have the sugar added like a piece of chocolate does, they are bitter. Incredibly, when you mix cocoa nibs into a recipe with a natural sweetener like honey and the coconut sugar, they taste just like chocolate! I have nothing against chocolate chips here and there. If you want to use a mini chocolate chip, go for it! But give the little nibs a try, especially if the kids are going to eat these regularly! I have taste-tested these granola bars on more than just my “real food kids” and they have passed with flying colors!
Where is the protein coming from?
The biggest challenge in re-creating a “typical” chocolate chip granola bar is finding the protein source. Those store-bought bars are all rice and oat. There is nothing wrong with whole grain oats! But I wanted to add protein without compromising the flavor and texture. My newest baking protein source in the last year are these hemp hearts that I get at Costco. A whopping 10 grams of protein in just 3 tablespoons is an incredibly easy way to get some protein into something like a granola bar! I also added almond flour which makes the texture great. If you are at a nut free school, simply swap the almond flour ground up seeds of any kind – I would stick with sunflower seeds if you don’t want to change the color too much. Pumpkin seeds are great too, but they are green and might turn some kids off.
The Method :: The granola bar mixture
Earlier I told you that one of my goals in this granola bar recipe was to have an easy, fuss free, fast prep. If it is a drag to make, I know that I am not going to be motivated to make it on the regular! For these granola bars, you will simply mix up the dry ingredients in a bowl, and then stir in the melted liquid ingredients. It takes minutes!
The Method :: Granola bar molds or baking pans
I am pretty obsessed with my granola bar molds. I have had them for over a year, and I find myself making granola bars way more often because of how easy and *perfect* the shape comes out! I have both large granola bar molds, and recently got these minis because I think they make the perfect little snack bite for younger kids in lunchboxes! You can see the size of the mini’s in the picture below. Sometimes when I pack a larger one in my youngest’s lunch, she gets too full to eat the other items in the box because my granola bars are so packed and filling! To get the granola into the molds, just press the mixture in with a spoon. If you don’t have molds, you can use a parchment lined baking square. You’ll lift the square out of the pan when it cools and cut the bars into the shape you want.
So…did the swap make the cut?!
See the smile on that face?! She has been pretty pumped to have these granola bars for a snack in her lunchbox, and told me she can’t wait to pack it for her next meet! If you have kids that are used to regular, store-bought granola bars, you may want to bump up the honey or coconut sugar a little bit. As is, they taste like a treat to my kids, but they don’t get a lot of sugary foods.
Let’s talk about the size of this recipe!
This recipe makes…a lot of granola bars! I purposely did this because I was finding that with recipes like my Paleo Granola Bars, I was doubling them anyway so that I didn’t have to make them as often. You can certainly halve the recipe if you don’t want as many, but they do keep in the pantry for months, or you can freeze them if you like. This recipe makes 2 pans of my mini granola bar molds, and 2 pans of my large granola bar molds!
Healthy Cocoa Nib Granola Bars :: Nutrient packed and gluten & dairy free!
- Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. If you plan to use granola bar molds, place them on a baking sheet. If you are going to use a baking pan, you can line two 8×8 or 9×9 baking pans with unbleached parchment paper so the paper hangs off the sides (This helps pull them out of the pan to cut them easier later).
- Put the oats, shredded coconut, hemp hearts, almond flour, cocoa nibs, sea salt, and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl and stir to combine.
- Melt the coconut oil in a small sauce pan until it is liquid, and then add the honey and coconut sugar to melt. Add the vanilla extract and then mix the melted liquid ingredients completely into the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.
- Press the granola bar mixture into your granola bar molds, or into your baking pan. I use the back of a spoon to press them into a granola bar mold. When I make granola bars in a baking pan, I use the bottom of a measuring cup to press the mixture in.
- Let the granola bars COOL COMPLETELY before taking them out. You'll be able to pop the granola bars out of the molds. If you are using a baking pan, pull the parchment paper up to take the granola bars out of the pan, and then cut them with a long sharp knife.
- I use these hemp hearts from Costco, but there are other brands, and you can price compare what works best for you!
- If you can’t have coconut, or don’t like the taste, you can swap the coconut shreds for more oats, and the coconut oil for butter if you can have dairy, or avocado oil. I don’t taste the coconut in these bars, but I know some might!
- If you are at a nut free school, swap the almond flour ground up seeds of any kind – I would stick with sunflower seeds if you don’t want to change the color too much. Pumpkin seeds are great too, but they are green and might turn some kids off.