I don't know if this is something you struggle with, but my boys absolutely love cereal bars. I've made a rule in our house that for mid-morning snack, they are only allowed to have fruit. This usually ends up being a banana, but little Tonju also loves plums and pears or a bowl of strawberries and blueberries. If they are extra hungry they can have a Babybel cheese as well (or a revolting cheese string - bleurgh!). In the afternoon, they are allowed a snack that is a little more exciting. Of course, they can still have fruit, and cheese if they didn't have it earlier, but what they always ask for is a cereal bar.
Everyone knows about the trap of the cereal bar, that seemingly innocuous product sitting innocently on the supermarket shelf in all its attractive packaging. There are cereal bars that are actual breakfast cereal brands, the ones aimed at adults often claiming to contain next to no fat; bars that are "healthy," made of oats, seeds and other slow release energy providers, and the ones that don't actually try to be something they're not, such as the good old Tracker bar - surely the original cereal (type) bar, full of peanuts and chocolate chips. Now, I'm not on a cereal bar doing-down rampage; I was brought up on cereal bars and they don't seem to have had a detrimental effect. It's a bit like the whole, "I only give water and milk to my children to drink; they only have juice on special occasions." (Yes readers, that's me!) Again, almost the entirety of my childhood liquid comsumption was in the form of Robinson's orange squash, and those were in the days before double concentrate. Maybe we've all become a load of hypocrites in our old age. Not naming any names, but someone in our house that isn't me, unpacks the contents of the boys' party bags when they've returned from a party, puts the sweeties in a tin as we wouldn't want them to eat them all at once, and then secretly helps themselves when the boys aren't looking! Like I said, a load of hypocrites! Although I'm sure that doesn't happen in any of your houses...
Back to cereal bars. We know the main issue with these easy snack products is the amount of sugar they contain, and perhaps preservatives, although I know nothing about those. So I've decided to begin a quest for the tastiest healthy snacks, not restricted to cereal bars but certainly inspired thereby. The snacks don't need to be sugar free, far from it in fact, but the point is to see how much sugar they contain and what other ingredients are included. Obviously the less sugar the better and the more taste derived from inherent sugars, for example, from dried fruits, the better.
I'm going to begin with these really tasty Fruity Fridge Flapjacks from River Cottage Fruit Everyday, and you are so lucky because I have literally, just this minute, done a search for the recipe in case it's online, and it is! That is very pleasing because I know it can get frustrating if a recipe given is from a book and can't be fully shared because of copyright issues, and I'm sure some of you would like to try this recipe for your children (and yourself!)
Now, I don't want to give the impression here that I'm a mum who gets her children involved in cooking very frequently. To tell the truth, cooking with my boys is one of the most stressful things I could do. If I want to make myself feel on edge and frustrated, I should just suggest we do some baking together, and there will follow a period of time spent stopping the Tonjus fiddling with every conceivable item on the worktops, fighting over and pushing each other off the stool, which is an unfortunate requirement at present due to their lack of height, trying to add excess ingredients to the mixing bowl and simply NOT LISTENING TO A WORD I SAY! My blood pressure is rising just thinking about it! But I decided that, since this recipe was to be mainly for their benefit, it would be good for them to "help", and I did manage to get some sweet shots which don't in any way represent what came in between. If you make this with small children, I recommend you prepare the stoned fruit in advance so as not to encourage the idle hands of boredom as you hurry to stone your dates!
The first part of the recipe is ideal to get children involved with: adding the dates, prunes, bananas, honey, coconut oil and water to the food processor (please see link to recipe for ingredients). They can break up the bananas into chunks, and
Children can also enjoy the unfailingly exciting job of turning the blender knob to "on".
Depending on the age and dexterity of you children, they can even add all the dry ingredients to the bowl, and they can certainly get involved in mixing them together, though the oats have a tendancy to fly out and over your worktop if the wooden spoon is thrashed about too vigourously, so take care with very little ones.
The recipe recommends you mix the wet and dry ingredients together with you hands, and I would totally concur with this; they are absolutely the best tool for the job. Once you've added the blended fruit and honey to the dry ingredients, give it a slow and precise stir with a wooden spoon to basically combine everything...
...then get your hands in!
Those last two photos aren't included because of their technical superiority (come to think of it, none of the photos you'll see on this blog are, because I really know nothing about taking good photos) but because my sweet big Tonju took them, and he's 4 1/2 years old, so I thought they were pretty good and worthy of inclusion.
Now for the magical part of this recipe; suddenly it all comes together in quite a surprising and beautiful way. Your strange bowl of dusty mush has transformed itself into this:
And once pressed out (which does take come doing, I warn you) it will look like this. Really rather pleasing.
Now comes the moment when you open your fridge and realise that there is no way this gargantuan baking tray is going to fit, unless it is balanced precariously upon the tops of yoghurts and punnets of fruit, in a rather disconcertingly uneven manner.
Once taken from the fridge and the baking paper backing removed (I forgot to mention, although you have hopefully inferred it, that this recipe requires no baking) the flapjacks can be neatly cut up into slices to be stored, much more neatly, back in the fridge.
Slice with an extra long knife if you have one; it will do a much better job than lots of smaller slices.
I recommend separating the layers with baking paper so they don't get stuck together whilst being stored.
This box lasted us, with the boys and I having one each, every afternoon, for a week and a half, which isn't bad going. They keep extremely well in the fridge, especially if you have one of those extra cold fridges which seem to keep things fresher for longer in general. There was no problem with the banana going off or anything like that.
So the overall verdict is that these are a fantastic snack. They are tasty, whilst tasting healthy - they are comprised entirely of fruit, oats and seeds which I think is fantastic. A snack with absolutely no added anything (assuming you use unsulphured dried apricots, which I, erm, didn't!) So a good start for the healthy snack quest. They went down really well with the boys, husb and also my mum (with whom any snack goes down well, although apparently not chocolate, hey mum?) and they lasted well and for a good length of time.
The only problem I envisage for this quest is the cost, as seeds are really expensive, so I shall be looking for ways to acquire seeds at minimum cost. Any recommendations would be very welcome.
Thanks, as always, for reading and have a most marvellous bank holiday weekend :)