Nut-free oatie bars: healthy school lunches

Friday is often treat day and these tasty delights will thrill your child

Similar to the flapjack but with less sugar and butter, these oat bars are also nut-free. Photograph: Harry Weir

Similar to the flapjack but with less sugar and butter, these oat bars are also nut-free. Photograph: Harry Weir

 

With the children back at school, many parents with small children entering primary education will be adding something sweet into the lunchbox for “treat day”, usually on Friday.

This is not as straightforward as it sounds. With a predisposition for swapping items in lunchboxes, you can never really be sure your little ones are eating the contents of their own lunchbox.

Being mindful of foods that are no longer permitted by many schools such as crisps, nuts and even eggs, means that packing a lunch box is a minefield. 

Once a stern note arriving from school reminded us that “we are a nut-free school” when a teacher spotted a chocolate containing nuts emerging from a lunchbox.

I had to admire the vigilance of that teacher. How difficult it must be for teachers to monitor healthy eating policies when sweets are everywhere. The French school in Dublin has an exceptional system where the parents take it in turns to provide a healthy snack (known as Le Goûter) for the entire class. The tradition is sacred within the school.

Healthy snack

Muesli bars covered in carob chocolate seemed like the ultimate healthy snack in the 1980s and for a brief period started to erode the concept of breakfast.

Energy snacks, trail mixes and protein bars packed full of plant-based ingredients are seeing a meteoric rise in consumption, but these high-volume processed bars often contain lots of sugar too.

Making a home-baked treat bar is a great way to sneak fruit and seeds into a tasty snack that is perfect for treat day at school. You also take control of the amount of sweetness being added.

The convenience of individual packets of dried fruits and seeds makes it easy to pick and choose which ingredients you want to add, to suit your taste. These packs contribute to a well-stocked store cupboard of healthy bits which never go to waste scattered over porridge and salads.

These school-friendly, nut-free bars are irresistible. They are full of oats and I also like to add in Rice Krispies for a good texture which I find easier to slice into uniform bars. The kids get a kick seeing the Rice Krispies included too.

While this wholesome bar is a first cousin to the flapjack, it has less butter and sugar. A welcome treat at any time of day for the entire on-the-go family.

Nut-free oatie bars

Ingredients
Makes 8
150g porridge oats
25g self-raising flour
30g Rice Krispies (puffed rice)
Pinch cinnamon
1 tbsp pumpkin or sunflower seeds (or linseeds, chia seeds)
30g goji berries (or cranberries)
50g dried apricots, chopped (or sultanas)
50g butter
150g golden syrup

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (fan). Grease and line a rectangular (26cm x 18cm) or square baking tray with parchment paper.

2. Add the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl (oats, flour, Rice Krispies, cinnamon, seeds and dried fruits). Mix to combine them. 

3. In a small saucepan heat the butter and golden syrup together over a medium high heat until melted. Set aside for five minutes to cool down slightly. 

4. In three additions, carefully fold the melted butter and syrup mixture through the dry ingredients, until the mixture is fully coated.

5. Transfer the mixture to the lined tin, levelling the surface with the back of a spoon.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden on the surface. (Cover with tinfoil for the last five minutes if it starts to colour sooner – this will avoid any fruit on the surface burning.) 

7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool fully in the tin. Cut into squares or fingers.

Variation
If you prefer fruit to be less chewy in bars, first soak the dried fruits (not apricots) for five minutes in hot water. Drain, then pat the fruit dry before adding to the oat mixture.

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