The season of packing school lunches is here again. The old classic PB&J is an easy fallback, but it’s important to embrace variety and mix up what goes into your children’s lunch boxes. This month’s Recipe Redux is full of ideas for “brown bag bars and bites.” Learning how to make protein bars is one of the best things you can do to keep the lunchtime meal varied and fun.
Homemade protein bars are perfect for kids. They taste like dessert, but they can be filled with healthy ingredients to keep children satisfied and energized throughout the school day. They work at snack time as well as lunch. Sweetened by dates, these bars can also be shaped into small squares or balls to fit nicely into your storage containers.
How to Make Protein Bars
A food processor, a handful of ingredients, and five minutes are all you need to put together a batch of protein bars. The main sources of protein are nuts and seeds, and I like to include coconut flour or shredded coconut too. These bars can be sweetened by Medjool dates and other dried fruit. For a chocolate version, you can add cocoa powder or chocolate chips.
Measuring Ingredients: It’s hard to get an exact measurement of dates or nuts because they don’t fit smoothly in a measuring cup the way flour does. When I measure a cup of dates, they go above the top of the measuring cup because there are gaps in the pile with no dates. For this reason, you can’t go by recipe measurements alone to get the texture just right.
Texture: Because of this measurement issue, it’s often necessary to add a little water at the end of the process to get the texture right. If you add too much water, you can always add in a few extra nuts or other dry ingredients. The final product should bind together easily, similar to the texture of cookie dough.
The Hardest Part: Cleaning your food processor after making a batch of protein bars is truly the hardest part. Really, this couldn’t be easier to do. The food processor does all the work of mixing the ingredients into a tasty snack.
This recipe for chocolate coconut protein bars is just one example of how you can mix flavors together to make a fun snack bar. Experiment with your favorite combinations of dried fruit and nuts to come up with your own homemade protein bars. For more ideas, read my roundup of 20 homemade protein bar recipes.
Chocolate Coconut Protein Bars
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips
- 1 cup Medjool dates (about 7 large dates)
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1/3 cup coconut flour
- 1 tbs water if needed
In a food processor, chop up the chocolate chips into small bits for about 20 seconds. Transfer them from the food processor to a small container.
Remove the pits from the dates, and place the dates in the food processor along with the walnuts and coconut flour. Process for 20 seconds. Add the chocolate back in, and process for 10 more seconds.
Remove the top from the food processor and carefully check on the mixture to see if it binds together easily. If it’s a bit crumbly, add water 1/2 teaspoon at a time and process briefly. It’s done when it binds together easily and has the texture of cookie dough.
Transfer the mixture to a medium loaf pan (or similarly sized storage container). Cover and refrigerate for an hour.
Cut into bars or squares. I like to cut this down the middle (lengthwise) to make two long sections, and then cut each section into 5 pieces for a total of 10 bars.
Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container, or freeze.
For more lunch packing tips, read this post about how to pack a healthy lunch.