In honor of the new school year I’ve been experimenting with granola bar and energy bar recipes for back-to-school lunchboxes and nutritious breakfasts on the go.  Here’s a high fiber, nutritious granola bar that’s not only fun for kids to eat, it’s fun for kids to make!  The bars resemble oatmeal bar cookies more than traditional granola bars because I chose to use milk instead of carmelized butter and sugar as my binder, but that’s what keeps these easy enough for young children to make on their own (or for busy parents to make quickly!).

Cameron mixes his granola bars.

 My boys were able to measure, pour and mix these granola bars with only a little assistance.  I had to do the final spreading and baking, but the boys did most of the work themselves.  Unfortunately I timed things wrong the first time we made these bars and they were almost cooled and ready to cut at 5:15 when my boys and I came inside from playing.  I hadn’t made dinner yet and the boys “needed one” right then, so I cut a couple bars and we had them with milk.  Then I cut a couple more bars, added some apple slices, fresh veges and cottage cheese and called it dinner.  The hamburgers thawing in the refridgerator could wait for the next night, but enjoying the boys’ fresh-baked granola bars could not.  After all, it’s the daily ritual of sitting down at the dinner table and enjoying each other’s company that’s important to me.

Easy Granola Bars

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or peanuts
3/4 cup unsweetened flaked or coursely shredded coconut
1/4 cup isolated protein powder (soy, whey, rice or pea), optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 15 ounce can condensed milk
1/2 cup honey or sweetener of your choice*

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees and grease a 9 x9 inch baking pan.  Combine the oats, flax seeds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, coconut, protein powder and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix the milk and sweetener.  Pour the milk mixture over the oat mixture and stir until just moistened.  Press the granola into the prepared pan, then bake for about 30 minutes until the top is golden brown.  (If you do not have a 9 x 9 inch pan, you may press the granola into about 9 or 10  inches  of a 13 x 9 inch pan and leave the rest empty).

Let the granola cool completely, then cut it into 14-18 bars (about 1 inch by 4.5 inch each).  Store the bars in an air-tight container for up to one week.

* A Note about Sweeteners: Honey, maple syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, Splenda and stevia (1/2 teaspoon stevia powder or 1 teaspoon liquid) all work in this recipe, but honey and maple syrup add the best flavor.  If you use stevia, these bars will not brown.  You may want to add a teaspoon of honey to help the bars brown or rely on a timer for doneness.  You may also want to experiment with different levels of sweetness.  When I make these bars with dried cranberries, chocolate chips or extra raisins, I reduce the sweetener. 

Variations:  Try any combination of dried apples, dried bananas, dried cranberries, peanuts, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds,  or chocolate chips instead of the raisins, pumpkin seeds and coconut.  One yummy combination is 3/4 cup dried apple pieces, 3/4  cup raisins, 1/2 cup walnuts and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. (Your total add-ins should equal about 1.5 – 2 cups.) For a dairy-free version of this recipe, visit my blog, low oxalte family cooking

Traditional Granola Bars: You may also wish to make a more traditional granola bar or granola.  Do this by omiting the milk.  Start by toasting the oats and pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet at 300 degrees for about 15 minutes until golden brown.  Meanwhile, put 3 tablespoons butter (or coconut oil) in a skillet on low heat.  When the butter melts, add 1/2 cup brown sugar, honey or maple syrup and stir until the mixture carmalizes (stevia and Splenda will not work). Pour all the other ingredients (except the milk) in a bowl, add the carmel mixture and the toasted oat mixture, and stir until just combined. Press the granola into a greased 9 x 9 inch pan and bake for about 30 minutes for traditional granola bars OR spoon the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for about 25 -30 minutes, stopping and stirring the mixture every 8-10 minutes during the cooking for traditional granola.  Cool completely before cutting the bars or storing.


Have you ever ordered one half of a pizza with pepperoni and the other half with sausage?  This common family meal solution can be extended to other foods like casseroles, quiches and stromboli, keeping the entire family happy without making  a lot of extra work for busy parents.

Sausage and Cornbread Pie

Sausage and Cornbread Pie before adding the topping (shown here made with sausage links)

I started experimenting with this “separate meals in one dish” idea when my boys started rejecting foods with red peppers.  Cameron will happily pick raisins out of his pineapple carrot salad before wolfing his salad down, but he refuses to even try foods containing peppers or celery.  I can live without celery, but I miss the pepper and adding it to my own portion before eating isn’t always satisfactory.

This family meal solution works best with casseroles that are layered not mixed, such as lasagna or quiche.  One of my boys’ favorites, sausage and cornbread pie, can easily be modified using the separate meals in one dish technique.

Sausage and Cornbread Pie

1 pound ground sausage (Or 2 pounds sausage and omit the ground beef)
1 pound ground beef
2 red or green bell peppers
1 onion
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or one 15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained)
1 ½ cups frozen corn (or one 15-ounce can, drained)
½ teaspoon sage
1 package cornbread mix (8 ounces)
½ cup milk
1 egg
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Brown the sausage and ground beef over medium heat.  Meanwhile, chop the red pepper into thin strips and finely chop the onion.  Drain the fat from the meat mixture then spread the meat evenly in the bottom of a 13” x 9” casserole dish.  Saute the red pepper, onion and cherry tomatoes (if using) in the hot skillet with a little cooking oil until the onion is translucent (about 3-4 minutes).  Transfer the pepper mixture to the casserole. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with corn, canned tomatoes (if using) and sage.

Mix the cornbread, milk, egg and cheese in a separate bowl until the batter is just moist.  Drop the cornbread batter on top of the casserole by spoonfuls, making sure you leave an opening in the middle and maybe in the corners (this allows steam to escape while cooking which keeps your cornbread topping from getting too soggy). Bake the casserole for about 20 minutes until the cornbread topping is lightly browned.

Yeild: Serves 8 adults  (You may halve this recipe, by halving all ingredients except use a whole egg.  I keep the extra cornbread mix in a zip-lock bag and just add it to the batter the next time I make muffins.)

Separate Meals in One Dish:   If you are trying to please picky eaters by making separate meals in the same dish, then sauté the vegetables separately as needed. (You may also want to reduce the amount of an unpopular vegetable).  Layer the vegetables on one half of the casserole or the other as desired.  The tastes will mix a little, but you can keep at least part of the meal pepper or onion-free.  When I make this casserole for my family I put a lot of peppers, onions, and tomatoes on my side with just a little corn.  The boys’ side gets lots of corn, a little tomato, a little onion, and no peppers.  I also put more cornbread topping on their side, since they enjoy it so much.  Aidan still picks at the tomatoes a little, but it doesn’t keep him from eating a healthy portion (and last time he actually ate a few tomatoes.)

Get the Kids to Help: I like to assemble this casserole myself then call the boys into the kitchen to make the cornbread topping.  Kids can measure, pour and mix the topping ingredients.  My boys also love to “plop” the topping into the casserole dish, although sometimes I have to perform damage control and remove some topping from the center so we have a good steam vent.

Meal Planner: This makes a great brunch dish for lazy weekend mornings.  Or serve it for dinner with a garden salad and fresh strawberries or cantaloupe on the side.

My boys love to make cottage cheese pancakes on days we aren’t rushed.  I crack the eggs, but they can “measure,” pour, and mix the pancakes themselves.  Cottage cheese pancakes are especially good for young cooks, because unlike flour-based pancakes, egg-based pancakes do not need precise measurements. You can begin to teach the basics of measuring ingredients correctly, but if your kids put in too much flour or too little cottage cheese it won’t ruin breakfast. Just eyeball the amounts as your kids pour them in, then make adjustments at the end if the consistency doesn’t seem right.

Young cook makes cottage cheese pancakes

Aidan stirs the eggs and cottage cheese.

These pancakes pack a lot of protein, so they’re perfect for kids who don’t eat meat or other high protein foods.  Paired with fresh fruit, they also make a great dinner on nights when you don’t feel like cooking a traditional meal.  My boys like to eat plain, cold pancakes for a snack the next day, so we usually make a double batch.

Cottage Cheese Pancakes

4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
½ cup whole wheat flour (or baking mix*)
Dash salt
Canola oil for frying

Mix eggs, cottage cheese, flour and salt in a bowl with a spout if possible.  Heat about ½ tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat until it’s hot enough to sizzle.  Pour pancake batter into the skillet in 1/3 to 1/2 cup portions.  Cook until bubbles start to form on top of the pancakes and the underneath in golden brown (about 3 or 4 minutes).  Flip the pancakes once and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Serve cottage cheese pancakes with the traditional butter and syrup, or try peanut butter, apple butter, honey, jam, sour cream or fresh fruit.  One topping my boys really love is plain yogurt mixed with a little maple syrup and cinnamon.

*Note: These pancakes are much denser than traditional pancakes.  You may substitute a commercial or homemade baking mix for the flour and salt if you want a slightly fluffier pancake.

Yeild: 6-8 pancakes (recipe easily doubles or triples for larger families)

Variation:  Add ½ cup grated apple, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, a drizzle of honey, and another ¼ cup flour for apple spice pancakes. Yum!  These are especially good as a left-over snack the next day.