‘Power Up’ DIY Energy Bars

I’d been warned: Sleep can be elusive when you’re a new parent. I prepared myself as best as possible for the onslaught of newborn need, simplifying my daily life to maximize the minutes and sometimes hours when I could sneak naps between caring for a completely dependent human. But nobody mentioned that sleep becomes almost nonexistent when a baby turns four months old.

The past few weeks of parenting were trying enough–returning to work and disrupting Alice’s day and night schedule–without the added challenge of trying to function on three hours of sleep every day. It took about a week and half of sleep deprivation before the ol’ body gave in to whatever nasty bug is going around Denver this month. Ever tried to feed a baby at 3am when you’re exhausted and have 102 degree F fever? I wouldn’t recommend it.

In that not-so-distant but now somewhat blurry past of “life before Alice”, I liked to sucker punch colds by upping my sleep as much as possible. Rest was the best way to prevent a cold from overstaying its welcome or from even stepping inside for a look-see. It still is, which is why the inability to rest this week has been particularly disheartening. I know the cure for what ails me but have no way to dispatch it and still keep my kid fed.

If only sating her appetite was as easy as sliding her one of these Heart Oat Energy Bars and calling it a night. That would entail Alice having teeth, and I’m not ready to face a baby’s teething phase just yet.

Good news, most of you out there have finished your teething, and with minimal prep in the kitchen, you can have a plate of nutrient-dense energy bars that cost much less than what you’d pay if you bought them in a store where you’re forking over cash for packaging.

Below you’ll find a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook recipe for oat bars. I like the flavor combination of almond, dates, honey, and citrus, but if you’re looking to cut costs, you could use smooth natural peanut butter instead of almond butter and substitute pure vanilla extract for almond extract. The important advice here is to have binding ingredients like a sticky dried fruit and nut butter so that when the pan cools in the fridge, post-baking, the binding ingredients will act as glue to prevent the bars from falling apart when cut.

DIY Oat Energy Bars
Image by author.

Hearty Oat Energy Bars
from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Makes 9 squares

– 1 cup chopped dried pitted dates
– 1 1/4 rolled oats
– 3 TBS whole-wheat flour
– 1/3 cup wheat germ (I avoid buying wheat germ in bulk because it needs to be refrigerated to prevent it going rancid. I usually pick up a jar of Kretschmer Wheat Germ.)
– 1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
– 1/2 tsp table salt
– 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
– 1/4 cup almond butter
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 1/4 cup honey
– 1/4 tsp freshly grated orange zest
– 1/4 tsp almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan with two sheets of parchment paper. Make the paper long enough to have extra sticking above pan top. You’ll be using these edges to remove the bars from the pan in one piece before cutting.

2. Stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mixture, and stir together until dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly onto the bottom, edges, and corners to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.

3. Bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are brown around the edges and a light golden brown on top. They’ll still seem soft and almost under baked when you press into the center of the pan because they need time to cool.

4. Cool the bars in their pan in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Once they’re cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill them further in the fridge for 30 minutes, which will fully set the “glue,” and then cut them cold. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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