The dreaded school lunch. I don’t quite know why this is, but making children’s lunches for school is about as rewarding as making a beautiful gourmet dinner and then flushing it all down the toilet without tasting a single bite. Which is to say, not rewarding at all. I am fortunate not to have very picky eaters, but when it comes to what I pack in their lunch boxes, they have their definite likes and dislikes. One has decided to boycott sandwiches of any sort, while the other is very particular about his afternoon snack. If I were a smart woman, I might pay for the school meal plan and have done with it. But apparently I am not a smart woman. The miser in me can’t quite come to terms with overpaying for bland food with little to no nutritional value. The logic behind my self-inflicted agony is that at least if I pack their lunch, I can get a few whole grains and some fruit into their little bodies. Presumably this will work until they are old enough to figure out that they don’t actually have to eat everything I put in there!
And, joy of joys, my kids’ day at preschool includes breakfast. I have the added pressure of having to pack something that they will eat upon arrival, while the lucky children whose parents actually do pay for the meal plan munch on pancakes or biscuits. At times, I rely on a bag of dry cereal, but then even I pity my kids as I walk out the door. So the pressure is on to find tasty, interesting but wholesome breakfast items that won’t make them feel they are missing out on the school pancakes. The pumpkin muffins of a few weeks ago were a hit with one child, but not the other. And my usual go-to breakfast snack, granola bars, are out because the school is a nut-fee zone. I tried making my own nut-free granola bars a few months ago and they were fantastic. Or so I thought. The kids remained skeptical.
During my last trip to our local wholesale club, I noticed those Quaker “Oatmeal to Go” bars. It was tempting to grab a carton so as to have a pre-packaged breakfast to toss into their lunch boxes. But that little voice in my head started suggesting that I could make something comparable, something tasty that the kids would eat but that wouldn’t have high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient. And so I started scheming. Oatmeal, obviously, but what else? Whole wheat flour. Almond meal and flax seed meal for added protein and fiber. Buttermilk to make them moist and tender. Oh, and hey, those amazing dried cherries my husband’s aunt sent at Christmas! And a small amount of mini chocolate chips, to convince the kids to eat them without adding too much sugar. And thus, a breakfast bar was born.
The Results: Success! These were wonderful. Soaking the oats in buttermilk, a trick I stole from my favourite oatmeal muffin recipe, helped make the bars moist and tender. The mini chocolate chips added sweetness to every bite without loading up too much on chocolate. The dried cherries added a nice zing and the child who declared she didn’t like dried cherries prior to tasting the bars didn’t even try to pick them out. I am already planning other flavours of breakfast bars – cinnamon raisin, blueberry, banana nut (although not for the nut-free school zone!).
Sadly, they were such a hit that they are all gone and I haven’t had a chance to make more. My children will be toting bags of dried cereal to school tomorrow. Pity.
Chocolate Cherry Breakfast Bars
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup buttermilk (I use buttermilk powder, available at most supermarkets in the baking aisle, and mix with water)
1 large egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar substitute (or another 1/4 cup brown sugar, if you prefer)
1/4 butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup flax seed meal
1/4 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
In a large bowl, combine oats and buttermilk and let sit for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F and spray an 8×8 pan with vegetable oil cooking spray.
Add sugar, sugar substitute, butter, flax seed meal and yogurt to oat mixture and stir.
Sift flour, almond meal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together. Add to oat mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in cherries and chocolate chips.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 25 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and middle is set. Let cool and cut into 16 bars.