Building a Better Snack: Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Snack Bars

by Gena on April 10, 2012

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Thank you for your kind thoughts on my post on oils in plant based diet, and making healthier pasta dishes with my Mom! If you’re interested in some of the controversy over oils in plant based diets (a little? a lot? none at all?) it’s worth scrolling through the comments.

A lot of you also commented to say that it’s nice that my Mom and I have such a good rapport when it comes to talking about healthy eating. The truth is that my Mom and I have a healthy rapport when it comes to talking about most anything—we have great communication—but our dialogs about food have also developed through trial and error. Mom has always told me when and if I was being to forceful with my opinions or statements about food; “this doesn’t help me to change,” she’d say. And I, in turn, realize that patience is key. I also realize that, when it comes to humane and healthy eating, it’s a lot more effective to inspire change, rather than force it upon someone.

So, how do we inspire change in others’ eating habits?

  1. By setting an example. You don’t have to rattle off facts and figures about the associations between plant-based diets and disease. You can if you think it’ll help, but a lot of people can hear these statistics without feeling any emotional impact. What they will notice is if you seem to be a whole, happy, and energetic embodiment of the happiness and nourishment that the lifestyle is supposed to provide.
  2. By sharing delicious food. Hardly anyone, in my experience, is capable of overhauling his or her diet solely for health reasons. There has to be some guarantee that eating healthily will also afford pleasure and joy; food feeds the spirit and the body both. So cook some wonderful food for your loved ones as a means of advocating for veganism.
  3. By remembering to be gentle. Because food nourishes both body and spirit, dietary change is hard, and giving up beloved foods—even when it’s necessary—can be painful. Be sympathetic, and remember that, to quote my friend Colleen, “before you were vegan [or before you ate a healthy, conscious diet], you weren’t.” Be compassionate, and encourage baby steps.

On saturday, my Mom asked me what I thought of her new snack bars from Kashi.

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I asked to take a peek at the ingredient label. From an energy standpoint, the macronutrients looked pretty good, and I was really on board with only 5 grams of sugar:

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But then I took a peek at the ingredients in the bar:

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Rolled whole grain blend, peanuts, brown rice syrup, soy protein isolate, soy grits, evaporated cane juice crystals, natural peanut butter, chicory root fiber, evaporated cane juice syrup, corn flour, rice starch, honey, expeller pressed canola oil, vegetable glycerin, oat fiber, evaporated salt, natural flavors, kashi seven whole grains + sesame flour, molasses, soy lecithin, peanut flour, almond flour, whey protein isolate. (And that’s actually a slightly abridged version.)

Whey protein (a milk derivative), numerous processed soy byproducts, several common allergens, no Omega-3 fatty acids, and tons of Omega-6 fatty acids, to say nothing of the fact that there are 33 ingredients in just one of these tiny bars?

To make a long story short? We can do better.

I told Mom that, while these bars are way better than many out there, I’d be happy to do a taste testing with her for some healthier bar options. We settled on Larabars, 18 Rabbits, Bobo’s Oat Bars, and the new Larabar “Uberbars.”

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In the end, her faves were Larabars (hip hip hooray!) and the 18 Rabbits bars (higher in sugar than her Kashi bars, but far more wholesome). She actually spat out the Larabar Uberbar, and I have to say, I didn’t blame her: have you tried them? So different from regular Larabars! And she really loved the idea of an oat bar, which was what she originally wanted, but found the Bobo’s bar a little crumbly.

This week, in honor of my Mom, I’m bringing you two slightly more wholesome, healthified vegan snack bars. Today, I’ll share the kind of oat bar my Mom wanted in the first place: moist, dense, chewy. Later this week, I’ll share a crisper, crunchier bar—more like the 18 Rabbits bar she liked. With both recipes, I hope to show you that making homemade energy bars is super fun, super easy, and super wise if you want some control over the quality of your food, and the length of its ingredient list. Both recipes are 100% kid friendly and (Gena’s) mom-approved.

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My favorite surprise about these bars? The fact that I snuck chickpeas into the mix—an idea I got from my friend Matts sister, Christine Frazier, who has some fabulous ideas on making vegan energy bars! Check them out. I also added chia seeds for healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of nuts and seeds for texture and crunch, and I used date paste as my sweetener, so these are all fruit sweetened. (You can definitely use agave or maple syrup instead.) The bars are dense, filling, and really chewy and delicious.

One of my favorite features is that they’d work just as well for breakfast as for a snack; for that reason, I suggest in the recipe that they make 8 breakfast portions, or 16 snack portions (or you can make it something in between).

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Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Snack Bars (vegan, gluten free with appropriate choice of grains, soy free)

Serves 8-10 as breakfast bars; 14-16 as snack bars

1 3/4 cups quick oats (GF if desired)
1/3 cup oat flour (GF if desired)
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp flax meal +  6 tbsp warm water
1/2 cup almond butter or peanut butter
1/2 – 2/3 cup date paste, agave, or maple syrup
1 cup cooked chickpeas

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Mix the flax meal with the warm water and set aside to “gel.”

3) Mix oats, oat flour, raisins, pumpkin seeds, chopped walnuts, chia seeds, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.

4) In a blender or food processor, mix the flax + water, almond butter, date paste (or agave / syrup), and chickpeas.

5) Mix wet ingredients into dry. Pour into a rectangular baking dish and bake until golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool, and cut into bar shapes.

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I hope the picture shows you how dense and moist these are! They pack a ton of nutrient density into a small shape, and they’re fantastic on the go.

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One important chef’s note: I found that 1/2 cup sweetener was just right for me: it made the bars sweet, but not sugary, which I don’t like in a snack. 2/3 will be more appropriate if you want a sweeter bar—a good idea if you want this to be workout fuel. Simple sugars are our first energy source!

I can’t wait to make these for my Mom when I get back to NYC. And in some exciting news, Mom has allowed me to conduct a fun culinary experiment with her as my partner: for 3 days in May, when I’m on break, my mom will allow me to cook all of her food—3 whole days of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks! I want her to see how inspiring vegan food is. I think it’ll be super fun, and am already open to suggestions for what to make!!

Have a great night, guys.

xo

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

wendy@healthygirlskitchen April 10, 2012 at 8:14 pm

looking forward to hearing about that fun experiment. wish I was your mom!

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Stacy S April 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Those look awesome, I will be making those this weekend. I always have Larabars in my purse for a snack emergency and I like 18 Rabbits which I discovered at (of all places) Laguardia Airport before boarding a food-free flight but agree they have too much sugar for my liking. My kids love a raw, oat and nut freezer bar I make but I have a feeling this will be a hit! Yay!

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Andri April 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Stacy!

Can you share your raw recipe pretty please?

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Bronwyn April 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Wow, those sound delicious. And look so good too. I’ll be trying these soon!

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Hannah April 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm

I’m loving these posts you are writing about your mom and her changing health habits – it is very inspiring. I agree with inspiring change rather than forcing it – I’ve seen the changes in my mom, too, who is making more veggie-centric meals. Forgive me if this is too personal to ask, but does your mom ever make passing comments about veganism + your eating disorder history? I feel like the relationship between mothers and daughters can be difficult in the teen/young years, and with the addition of an ED, it does strain things, even sometimes when the ED is in the past.

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Robyn :) April 10, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I tried Kashi bars once and whatever flavor I had was disgusting. It tasted like cardboard.

I love Larabars. Have not seen the Uberbars.

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Good Girl Gone Green April 10, 2012 at 8:44 pm

These look awesome!! For the oat flour, can I just grind up oats to make it?

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Alexa April 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Yes! Thats what I do anyways :) in a coffee grinder works best

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bitt April 10, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I didn’t like the looks of the uberlara bar either, why did they make their bars less healthy? influence of the general mills sell out I guess.

I am curious what people will say for you. I have to serve my mom 3 meals a day for awhile too coming up soon, and I don’t really want animal products in the house nor do I allow gluten. So I have to figure out what vegan/GF foods will appeal to her. She’s not big on veggies or beans, likes dairy and fish, and loves sugar. This will be a challenge. Sounds a little like what’s going on with your mom, so any tips are welcome!

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Monique April 10, 2012 at 9:07 pm

This is EXACTLY the sort of recipe I’ve been hunting for!

I moved home this summer after four years at college (and three years of veganism). I was anxious to overhaul my parents omnivorous and rather unhealthy diet. Years of talking about it had done little to inspire such changes. But four months of grocery shopping for and with them, cooking delicious vegan foods and informally chatting about its benefits turned them both into committed vegetarians. I no longer live with them, but I love how excited THEY are to now share vegetarian food with people on THEIR lives. I’m living proof that your methods work!

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Eileen April 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm

These sound like a much better idea than store-bought bars! I might sub in chopped dried apricots or cranberries for the raisins, just to change it up. I definitely need some real food for snacktime. :)

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Jacquie April 10, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Delicious!

I love your experiment in May too. I want to cook with you :)

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Jenelle April 10, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I just made these! I was about to assemble oatmeal packets for my breakfasts this week & this recipe popped up. I had to work with what I had so I used currants instead of raisins, sunflower seeds instead of pumpkin seeds & had to add a couple tablespoons of fresh tahini when I couldn’t quite fill 1/2 cup of peanut butter. Can’t wait for them to come out of the oven! Thank you.

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janet @ the taste space April 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Looks like a great grab-and-go treat, Gena. I can’t wait to hear how your Mom likes her May meal intervention. :)

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Averie @ Averie Cooks April 10, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Interesting about the chickpea addition in these… I make vegan energy bars but use banana along with just about all those other ingredients you used, flax, oats, raisins, etc. I’m so curious how the chickpeas work and taste in yours!

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Lou April 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm

This recipe looks incredible… I’m going to make it TODAY (trying to get my partner onto some more nutritious snacks…. um NOT M&Ms!) Love this little series you are doing, Gena, it’s lovely to see you helping out your Mama too :)

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Alex @ Raw Recovery April 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm

These look delicious! I want to make them ASAP with the jumbo raisin medley I got from Trader Joe’s.

I do love Larabars but they get costly and stuck in my teeth :)

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Mom April 10, 2012 at 11:51 pm

I love how you uninformed 20 something’s are more informed than anyone else.

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Ela April 11, 2012 at 12:06 am

Love that you used chickpeas in there! And generally, I love the whole talk about your rapport with your mom, your taste-testing, energy bar recipes I’m always a sucker for…. Had a bad day, and you made me smile here–thank you!
love
Ela

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Emma April 11, 2012 at 12:21 am

Love hearing about how you’re helping your Mum to change her eating ways. I come from a pretty healthy eating family but there’s still a lot of misinformation floating around about plant-based diets so it’s really helpful to see how you go about things.
I rarely buy snack bars anymore- having moved away from the processed type, most whole ingredients bars seem super expensive, albeit delicious. Love the classic oatmeal raisin combo so I bet these bars are fabulous.

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Stephanie April 11, 2012 at 12:27 am

I know this isn’t related to your post but I have been wondering…are you still with M? Wasn’t sure if I missed that you are no longer with him or if you just have chosen not to include him in your posts anymore?

Love all your posts by the way. Plus, I have been leaning into eating less meat because of you! Eggs and salmon are the biggest challenges for me to give up, but I didn’t eat the ham at Easter and rarely have been eating chicken or turkey. Just thought you might want to hear.

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Laura C April 11, 2012 at 1:28 am

Yum! We make no-bake energy bars here regularly. For the two of us it’s oats – nut butter – pumpkin seeds – honey. For my own I like almond butter- molasses- pumpkin seeds- dried cherries- etc. The other day I stirred up puffed millet, peanut butter, and honey and froze- a rice-crispy-like treat- and I’m sure a healthier version would be equally delicious :)

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Cat April 11, 2012 at 6:28 am

Those look good… Do you have a way to calculate and show us the nutritional values for the recipe? And where does one find date paste?

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Gena April 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Recipe for date paste is linked to! And as for nutritional facts, you can use a site like calorieking.com and enter in the info for each ingredient, and divide by servings.

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Anne P April 11, 2012 at 7:31 am

Awesome post! The recipe sounds amazing (and mayyyyy have inspired me to get my butt back in the kitchen…) and I can’t wait to hear more about the experiment with your mom. What a great idea!

xo

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Karen April 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

LOVE the idea of adding chickpeas! So proud of your mom – as inspiring as you, Gena!

xo

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Sara April 11, 2012 at 7:57 am

I love your comments about inspiring change in others! My fiance is concerned about his health, but he is not yet willing to limit animal products:) I do it for health reasons (cholesterol) and since he doesn’t have that problem he doesn’t see the need so much. However, he is becoming much more plant strong just by adding more and more when we eat together. I was so proud of him the other night…he went to the store by himself to get items for dinner…he brought back ingredients for homemade guacamole, a small piece of salmon for us to share (I do still eat limited fish), fresh veggies, and sweet potato. It was totally a meal that encompased how I eat. He enjoyed it as much as me!!! And the irony….we didn’t even it all the fish…a little satisfied us both completely and the dogs finished it off! So he is learning:)

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N.B. April 11, 2012 at 8:25 am

Hi Gena, in the past when I’d had discussions with vegans/vegetarians, I found them to be quite judgemental of my omni diet and too in-ya-face about a vegan lifestyle. I didn’t feel inspired at all to make any changes. Then last year I made a friend who is both my buddy and my personal trainer for heavy weight training. She’s vegan and talked to me about it and had me over for a raw lunch. I said some pretty ignorant things like “I’ll still have meat for my protein!” but she definitely inspired change in me– she never forced her lifestyle on me but would just offer information, suggest I read The China Study and other books and really she just led by example. I’m now on my third day of being vegan although right now I don’t ‘feel like a vegan’ IYKWIM! I have Easter lunch with my parents this weekend where meat will be the main feature and they were asking me “but what will you eat??” So I’ve decided to do what you and my friend do and lead by example, quietly and confidently. I’ll have to look through your recipes now for food to take that I can share with everyone :)

As for what to make your mum, would you consider raw/veganising popular Greek dishes? I am going to be doing this myself, coming from a Greek background. I want to veganise my old favourites: avgolemono soup; moussaka (we use half eggplant half zucchini to cut down the oil sucked up by the eggplant); gyros!

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Gena April 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm

I’ll definitely try to do more Greek recipes soon! In the meantime, Christos Anesti!

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Heather @ For the Love of Kale April 11, 2012 at 8:26 am

Everything about this post rules. The end. ;-)

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Robyn Okrant April 11, 2012 at 8:40 am

Gena — I love that you are experimenting with these bars. I am also incredibly close with my mom and find your passion for helping her get healthier to be so adorable and relate-able! Personally, it’s my dad’s diet that makes me cringe. He thinks he’s healthy because he eats a ton of those 100-calorie snack packs. I don’t know how the marketing geniuses at those food manufacturers have managed to convince buyers that a 100-calorie pack of chocolate chip cookies is somehow HEALTH FOOD. What?! I wish I lived close enough to my dad to be able to teach him how satisfying and simple whole foods can be. On our visits, I cook for him and he seems to enjoy the treats, but he goes right back to his old way of eating the moment I leave. Sigh….I guess I have to learn some acceptance with his eating style…I’m not going to change 60+ years of habits in the blink of an eye. I can only plant the seeds and hope his tastes evolve!

Keep up your great work! It inspires me.

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Jill in Chicago April 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Robyn! What a fun surprise to see your name, I’m reading your book right now :)

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Gena April 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Thanks Robyn! I also cringe at snack packs — but no matter how steep the uphill battle, at least you present a different example.

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Leslie April 11, 2012 at 9:08 am

Thanks for the recipe Gena! I’m always looking for healthy snack bar recipes. I just made them exactly as written except I subbed in 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips for the 1/2 the raisins so my husband would be more likely to eat them. Can’t wait to try them! Just one quick question, what size rectangle pan did you use? I have several sizes and wasn’t sure which to use. I. Went with a pan 1 size down from a 13×9 and they seemed to have cooked perfectly. Thanks!!!

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Gena April 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Mine was 13 x 9 too!

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Skye April 11, 2012 at 10:35 am

The problem I have, with a peanut and tree nut allergy, is that most bars (unhealthy and healthy) have nuts in them. I can’t eat Larabars :( However, this recipe looks delicious and it looks like I could easily sub out the walnuts (with more seeds) and nut butter (with sunflower butter) to create my own healthy snack bar! Thank you! :)

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the delicate place April 11, 2012 at 10:47 am

i wish my mom would eat larabars instead of those stupid zone bars! so much better for you! i guess i’ll keep leading by example :) and hope that one day she turns her eats around! hey we’re mid week already! hope yours is going well x

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Shannon April 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

These bars look great! I can’t wait to try them…most days I’m in lecture hall for several hours and snacking is unavoidable. Lara bars are a favorite, but often don’t fill me up for a super long time…but these look great! What do you think about adding a little dark chocolate instead of raisins? I don’t like raisins and LOVE chocolate…but would want to stay true to them as a nutritious bar.

Also, love hearing/reading about how you share this part of your life with your mom, so special!

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L. April 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I’ve been wanting to ask this question but I’ve been a bit hesitant…I don’t expect you to have the answer or even really bother, let alone if you even see this comment…but what do you recommend for replacing beans that doesn’t involve nuts or seeds? I have an abnormally bad GI tract thanks to 8 years of being on NSAIDS for arthritis, and for some reason whenever I eat beans, nuts, or seeds, the ulcers start bleeding, no matter how I treat them (raw, soaked, blended, strained milks, whatever >.<). I was thinking soy butter but then I don't always feel optimal eating that. Anyway take care and blessings. I absolutely adore your blog.

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L. April 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I’m also a vegan. I get my protein by eating lots of potatoes, whole grains, greens, and the occasional soy. It’s just enough for my body, thank goodness. :)

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Gena April 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Oh my! I’m so sorry, Lyza — and SO proud of you for sticking to veganism in spite of these challenges.

I’ll have to think on this. But think I shall.

Quick Q: can you do nut and seed butters?

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L. April 14, 2012 at 10:43 am

Aww, thanks so much!! :) That means a lot!! I actually can’t do nut and seed butters >.< I'm intolerant to both! Sunflower seeds I can do on the occasion but I try really hard not to because of the side effects (facial bloating, indigestion)!

Take care and if this is too challenging I totally understand, LOL.

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Bek April 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm

“it’s a lot more effective to inspire change, rather than force it upon someone.”

Thank you for this. I think we all need to remember this a lot more often, not just in healthy eating. :-)

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Nada (One Arab Vegan) April 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Chickpeas in a snackbar? Gena, you know the way to my heart. Can’t wait to make these.

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Hannah April 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I’m not sure if you can get them in America but in the UK nakd bars are amazing. Just nuts dried fruit and oats the banana bread flavour is my gave and I have a feeling these bars with chopped dried banana and peanut butter would be amazing. And do you reckon blackstrap molasses could work here? Maybe slightly diluted to thin it? I’ve been told so many times it’s a superfood for the calcium and iron. Or do you reckon fruit sugar is always better?
As for mothers, I won mine over with curry. Now whenever I offer to cook she wants curry, I guess with all the spices and flavours you don’t notice the lack of meat. Our face is holycowvegan.net ‘s temptress tomato dal with cauliflower masala and brown basmati rice – a wonderful example of a wholesome balanced and flavourful vegan meal and she says it’s better than the local takeaway (but maybe that’s cos shes my mum!)
Best of luck

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Alexa April 11, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Hello!
What is the best way to store these?
And how much protein per bar if you cut it into the 16-snack proportions?

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Emily April 11, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I am so excited to try this! I love the beans idea for extra protein! I am always trying to find a good granola/nut bar recipe but they either have ingredients I don’t have on hand/are expensive or have an added sweetener when I’d rather sweeten just a little with fruit. I’ve been pretty busy with school lately-almost to finals!-but I just discovered your blog a couple weeks ago and I love your philosophy with food. Can’t wait to try your recipes this summer!

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Gena April 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Yay! Enjoy.

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Ashley April 11, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Too funny! I actually LOVE the Uber bars! Much more than the original Larabars. I get a little tired of the date flavor and texture. I think the Uber bars are way better than KIND bars too, in taste, texture, and the ingredient list.

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Vicky (Sweet and Healthy Living) April 12, 2012 at 8:05 am

What a fun experiment! That is exactly the kind of thing I love to do… wait I already do that! ;-) These bars look delish! The chickpeas are a clever addition!

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Anastasia@healthymamainfo.com April 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Wholesome snacking is the best kind! Never tried raisins in combination with cinnamon before. Intrigued!

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Johanna April 17, 2012 at 4:29 am

My oven has kinda crashed, so I ended up going to my parents to use theirs, just so I could bake these! They are lovely, though a bit heavy on the raisins I think – but that’s a matter of personal taste! Tried to change half of the oats to buckweath oats and that worked really well! Gonna get my hands on some hemp seeds and then I’m on trying the no-bake bars! =D

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Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles April 21, 2012 at 8:01 am

Thanks for the reminder about being compassionate when educating people on their food choices. I’ve been known to be a bit pushy and somewhat of a know-it-all when it comes to these matters. What a great idea to do the side-by-side taste test, and I’m really looking forward to hearing about your May experiment!

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Melinda April 30, 2012 at 8:44 am

Yum! I made these this weekend and they are delicious. I’m impressed that you managed to cram so many of great ingredients into one tiny little healthy package. bravo!

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jessy jones August 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Gena,
My boyfriend is a professional cyclist, I made these for him, so he could take them on his rides. (He usually will just grab a few clif bars, half a sandwich, trail mix, etc.) Well, he said these bars are the best ride food he’s ever had!! It gave him a ton of energy, and every day his bike rides are at least 4 hours long, so he needs something dense but light, just like these are. (And his favorite food just happens to be chickpeas!) I have made batch after batch after batch for him, and he LOVES them. He is racing in the Tour of Utah right now, and is doing very well ( I like to think it’s because of all the pure ingredients he is getting his energy from haha!!) I also take your zucchini date muffin recipe, and press it into a 9×13 pan, to make bars, and he loves those as well! Thank you for providing such wonderful (and healthy) snack food. You’re the best!

Off to make a batch right now!

Jessy

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Liesl @ Fitnessinthekitchen March 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

These look great! There are lots of alternatives to change up the flavors and add ins too.
Do you know the grams of protein per bar? Just curious! :)

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Gena March 11, 2013 at 6:38 am

I’m afraid I don’t! Sorry!

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Beth February 25, 2014 at 11:34 am

is it okay to soak the oats first?

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