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Chewy Quinoa Granola Bars: Picky Eater Lunchbox

easy no-bake granola bars

Did I tell you, I’ve been volunteering in the lunchroom at Harry’s school on Thursdays? At first I thought I might have a seizure from the clamor, but once my ears acclimated I came to admire the (gentle) military precision the lunchroom staff uses to shepherd the kids in and out safely while getting them fed. Over the two hours that I’m there, something like 300 kids from kindergarten to second grade shuttle through. I help open milk cartons, peace-broker spats between BFFs, clean up spills, and encourage the kids to actually eat.

That last task is more challenging than you might imagine. First of all, a shocking number of children come with lunchboxes packed with a bag each of chips and cookies, plus juice-like liquid—but no real lunch. Longtime readers know that I’m not judgmental; I encourage parents to do their best and accept that life is imperfect. But seriously, chips, cookies, and sugar water for lunch? I find myself getting not judgmental, but angry. Who would consider that “doing your best”? We’re a Title I school, so lunch is free for everyone. Why pack a lunchbox full of empty calories and chemicals when a healthy meal is there for the taking?

In those cases, we’re allowed to gently suggest to the child that she choose one of those things to eat now along with the school lunch, and save the rest for later. Because these kids are still quite young, most of the time they’re willing to go up and get at least a sandwich.

But then there’s the other issue: The kids who do have lunch, either from home or school, and spend their lunchtime socializing instead of eating. That’s Harry. He never stops moving, and he has so.much to say to his friends, there’s no time for food. I’ve watched out of the corner of my eye for four consecutive Thursdays now, and he’s consistently eaten the fruit I send and the nibbly stuff like nuts or whole-wheat crackers. The lunch-lunch, not so much. Almost never, in fact.

To combat this, I pack food that resembles snacks more than lunch. Always fresh fruit, often nuts or Justin’s nifty low-sugar chocolate-hazelnut butter squeeze packets, sometimes a little fake bento of shredded mozzarella, crackers, and mustard for him to put together. And lately, variations on the recipe I’m about to share with you. They’re simple-yet-nutritious, practically-no-bake granola bars—you toast the dry ingredients and make the binding mixture on the stove, then combine and pat firmly into a baking pan. Done.

I’ve added two ingredients to my bars that up the nutrients without Harry noticing: uncooked quinoa and nut butter. With a little over half a cup of added sugar, just enough chocolate to make Harry think they’re a treat, and only a few tablespoons of added fat, these blow commercial granola bars—which are often no better than straight-up candy—out of the lunchbox.

What do you do to make sure your kid eats well at school?

Chewy Quinoa Granola Bars
Adapted from Inspired Taste
Makes 12

ETA in response to reader requests: If you’ve got nut allergy issues (in your family or at school), swap the almond butter for sunbutter, and the sliced almonds for a bit more rolled oats and quinoa. You could also replace the almonds with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or coconut, if those work for your needs.

2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup white quinoa
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup almond butter (or nut butter of your choice)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pats
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper—cut the piece big enough to have paper hanging over the sides a bit.

  1. Spread oats, almonds, and quinoa in a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, shaking and stirring once or twice, until oats and almonds are golden-brown. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the dried cherries.
  2. Put the honey, nut butter, unsalted butter, brown sugar, and salt into a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fully combined and bubbly. Stir in the vanilla.
  3. Pour the mixture over the contents of the mixing bowl and stir well—be careful, since that liquid is quite hot. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in all but a handful of the chocolate chips (set that handful aside). Don’t worry if they melt a bit.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan. Spread as evenly as you can, then lay a piece of parchment paper over the top and press with your hands—smooth and flatten firmly. Don’t be afraid to press hard, in order to create solid bars that won’t fall apart. Remove the parchment and scatter the remaining chocolate chips over the top of the bars.
  5. Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least a few hours, then use the overhanging parchment paper to remove the entire block of bars at once. Cut into 12 bars—I like to wrap them individually, to make them easy to toss into Harry’s lunchbox, then store in an airtight container in the fridge. Straight from the fridge they’re quite firm, but by lunchtime they’re perfect. (I imagine you could freeze them, too, and let them defrost in your kid’s lunchbox.)

MAKE BABY FOOD: Sorry, but there are a good half-dozen reasons why this isn’t safe for the under-1 crowd.

131007 chewy quinoa granola bars

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. Kate

    These look awesome! I wonder if there are any easy substitutions I could make for my little nut-free allergic kid?

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Thank you for asking, Kate! I should’ve made this clear: You can easily substitute sunbutter for the almond butter, and swap the almond slices for a bit more rolled oats & quinoa–or use sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or coconut, if those things work for your kid.

      I’ll add a note about this to the recipe itself.

  2. Mama Mo

    So here’s a non-nut question 🙂 Can I substitute quick cook oats for the old fashioned rolled? I have the Trader Joe’s kind that takes 2.5 minutes to cook in my cabinet and everything else needed to make these right now!

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Ugh this got caught in my spam filter–sorry! I’ve never made them with quick cooking oats, but I can’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t work. Give it a shot! And please let me know how it turns out.

  3. Samantha Irawan

    OMG Debbie I am so in LOVE! I can’t wait to try these! I LOVE YOU! Come to Melbourne for a bake off!

    1. Debbie Koenig

      I LOVE Melbourne! I spent a week there about a decade ago, but haven’t managed to swing back since.

  4. Julie M. Oxford, MS

    I am so glad I tried these. I have experimented with many different granola bar recipes but these appealed to my two kids AND me. The quinoa gives it a toasty crunch. I used pecans instead of almonds and a few extra chocolate chips (per the kids request). They are just what I’ve been looking for. Found your book in our children’s book store, Square Book Jr. and have followed you ever since. Keep these fabulous recipes coming. Thanks a bunch!

  5. lark

    These look so delicious. Should the quinoa be cooked already, or does the baking take care of that?

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Hi Lark. No need to cook the quinoa! They add a nice pop/crunch effect in the granola bar.

  6. Holly

    These are delicious !

  7. Regina Cyzick Harlow

    Tried these this evening and they were a HUGE hit! I improvised with what I had in my cabinets. I used organic coconut oil instead of butter and dried currants instead of dried cherries, and pecan pieces instead of almonds. They were outrageously delicious! My husband, who usually sniffs out a “healthy” treat in a heartbeat, was really impressed. I cannot wait to try them with the almonds and cherries too. I think our 5-year-old son will like them even better that way. Thanks for posting this recipe. It’s a keeper in our household.

  8. Danielle

    Just made these over the weekend and they are amazing. I’ve only made 2 other granola bar recipes but I didn’t really like them. These are just perfect. I also recently admitted to myself that I don’t care for quinoa but I had some still sitting in my cabinet. I now love quinoa (just not cooked w/liquid I guess). Thanks for the recipe!

  9. Camille

    I have been searching for a great granola bar recipe with good texture, the right amount of sweetness, and legit ingredients and I have finally found it! My husband and I agreed that these are the best granola bars we’ve had. Thank you so much!! We will be making these frequently. 🙂

  10. Stephanie

    I found this recipe last night and made two batches today using what I had on hand. The first batch I subbed crispy rice cereal for the almonds, organic sugar cane crystals for the brown sugar, added 1-2T of ground flax, and left the cherries out. I’ve made a lot of different granola bar recipes and none of them were anywhere near as good as these. They were delicious so I made another batch and did the same except instead of leaving the cherries out, I used dried cranberries. I will not try another recipe for granola bars. This is my new go to recipe for granola bars. I think it will adapt well to any variation I can come up with. Thank you so much!

  11. Nicole

    Well I had the problem of them falling apart but other than that they are amazing. I think I assumed they were chilled enough to cut them but it turns out I should have left them chill for longer. I left them in the fridge for about 30-45 minutes.. But the pieces that I tried this morning are much more together so I think the trick would be to let them sit overnight I the fridge then cut them later or after at least a couple hours

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Thanks for pointing this about, about the chilling! I’ll add a note to the instructions to make it more specific.

  12. Nicole

    I also used dried pomegranate cheeries, whole almonds instead of half, and peanut butter. So good!

  13. Gertp

    This is the only bar our family will eat now!
    I ran out of almonds so gently broke up pumpkin and other seeds as a replacement.
    Could a few tablespoons of outmeal be replaced with chia seeds?
    I look forward to your advice.

    1. Debbie Koenig

      So glad they’re a hit, Gertp! I don’t see why you couldn’t swap in some chia seeds. Let me know if you try it!

  14. Natalie

    May seem like a stupid question but wondering if I could use cooked quinoa instead of raw?

    1. Debbie Koenig

      SO sorry, just seeing this! I suspect it would make the bars too soft, since cooked quinoa is soft. Did you try it?

  15. Natalie

    Also, do you think it would would if I substituted all butter in the recipe for coconut butter?

    1. Debbie Koenig

      You mean, if you used coconut butter in place of the dairy butter? That should work fine! You still need the almond (or other nut) butter, though.

  16. melissa

    These were so delicious!! Thank you for the recipe. My husband said they were the best “candy bars” he has ever eaten. And my two year old loved helping me make these. I am wondering if on the next batch I could eliminate the brown sugar and add more honey. What do you think?

    1. Debbie Koenig

      So glad they were a hit! As for using all honey and no sugar, I’m not sure if it would work since brown sugar is solid & honey is liquid. But I’ve certainly seen recipes that use nothing but honey, so it’s possible… Wish I could give you a definitive answer, but all I can say is It’s worth a shot! And if you do try it, please report back how it turns out. I’m sure others would be interested too.

      I’m curious, though, why you’d like to use all honey. Is it because brown sugar is more processed? In that case you could try swapping turbinado or demerara.

      1. Melissa

        Thanks for the reply..yes, I was trying to avoid the processed sugar. I made them again (since we quickly finished off the first batch) and eliminated the brown sugar and upped the raw honey just a tad. But made the huge mistake of subbing coconut butter for regular butter…this did not work. I realized it should have been coconut OIL not coconut butter. The mixture was way too dry. But, all was not lost. I crumbled it up and made it into delicious granola. My husband, daughter and I still loved it!!

        1. Debbie Koenig

          Ha, glad it worked out, one way or another! Yes, coconut oil and coconut butter: not interchangeable ;). When you make them with coconut oil, let me know if the all-honey treatment works!

  17. Katie

    I just made this recipe but left out the dried fruit and nuts because I have a two year old that likes to stuff his mouth! These bars are so good. Thank your for sharing this recipe.

  18. Tinell

    Hi. I have made these twice with some substitutions but was grateful for this recipe. I was so excited to provide something in my kids lunches that wasn’t from a package. I am always looking for ways to keep their lunch healthy.:)Thanks for sharing your amazing ideas!

  19. Clay

    This was great. I love to take a recipe like this and make it my own. Used closer to a full cup if quinoa and cut back on the oats. Used pecans instead of walnuts. Threw in raisins, chopped dates and sweet coconut. Used very little chocolate chips. Peanut butter instead if almond butter. Turned out great. Will try a school friendly version next. May cut back on the brown sugar, pretty sweet for my taste.


  20. Marc

    GREAT Recipe, My wife made them and i immediately said they were the best bars I have ever eaten!! Do you happen to know the calorie count on 1 serving??

    1. Debbie Koenig

      Thanks, Marc! Glad you liked them. I don’t have calorie counts for any of my recipes–sorry!

  21. Jane

    Debbie, I have made a LOT of granola bars and this I admit is the best of all. I used homemade peanut butter instead of almond. Lived them.thanks a ton.

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