Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Homemade Fruit and Nut Bars

   Snacks. Pretty much a staple of successful parenthood, right? I'm one of those mean moms who hates snacks. Honestly, they're all but banned here. Here's why: Most snacks are easy things you can throw at your kid to get them to quit whining at you. In our family, though, snacks are a bad habit. That's because either A- you didn't eat a decent meal or you wouldn't be hungry again, or B- we're about to eat and yes, you're obviously hungry. I don't like giving my kids snacks because it turns into a self-perpetuating cycle of poor eating habits. Not eating a good meal at meal time = eat a snack between meals = not hungry enough to eat a good meal at meal time = legitimately hungry between meals and need a snack = ...... You see what I mean? So we just don't do. Most of the time. I pay close attention to nutrients and work hard, cooking everything from scratch, and make sure my kids are getting wholesome meals, jam-packed with the nutrients they need every day for growth and good health. Snacks? They're more of, "Look. There's a banana on the counter. Eat it and stop whining, please." Potassium =  good. Constipation =  bad. Sometimes, though, snacks are necessary for various reasons, so I have a few key items I like to make for easy and nutrient-rich quick-grabs. One of our favorites: fruit and nut bars. They're like make-at-home LARA bars. We've tried these with all sorts of recipes, variations on nuts, fruits, and proportions. In the end, here's what we prefer(and it's all organic and inexpensive at our local bulk foods store or Costco):

Unsalted Cashews(seeds like sunflower and pumpkin can be added or substituted as well. We've tried almonds, too. They're alright, but a lot harder and drier)
Dried fruit(apricots and blueberries are our favorites)

Using equal parts of each ingredient, start with the cashews in the food processor. Pulse a couple times until they're in smaller pieces, then turn it on constant for a minute as they get smaller(but not to powder). While it's still going, add the dates to the food processor. When it's clear there are no longer large chunks of dates whipping around in there, add the dried fruit. If you have a drier fruit like blueberries, you will want to add a little water, a tablespoon at a time to get the right texture. After adding the fruit, it shouldn't take long- maybe 1 to 2 minutes- to get the right texture. The mixture will be wet enough that as it pushes up the walls it will collapse on itself, or it might even turn into a moist ball spinning around inside the food processor. Dump the mixture into an ungreased 9x9 casserole dish, and press it out into an even layer. It will be moist, but it shouldn't be too sticky. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to let it firm up.
   You can leave it in the dish, covered, for as long as you like, or for convenience's sake(as I do especially for trips in the car and husband's lunch box) you can cut it into even squares and wrap them in saran wrap. They're perfectly shelf stable(they are made with all dry, shelf-stable ingredients, after all), but we keep them in the fridge just to keep them nice and fresh. Make it in a pie dish for novel triangles to teach your toddler more hands-on shapes, or double the recipe and use a 9x13 pan for eight good size bars. Whatever you want to do. Make it work for you. Just watch out for the vultures. They smell it when you're slicing these up, and come begging for a snack even when they devoured two dozen pancakes and half dozen eggs an hour prior.

...And just because he's too stinkin' adorable while he watches me cut and wrap:

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