car snack 4 (or, the banana oat bar)

Julie Haagenson runs the middle school program, and in the end of the summer, she asked me if I would be willing to come in and do some cooking with the kids. She thought they might be interested in making some snacks instead of buying them, and she was hoping to give them some tools as they moved into the discussion.

As savvy business people, those kids wanted to provide a product that all the other kids in the school would be interested in buying. And as they considered whether they should start making food from scratch, the question arose as to whether kids would want snacks that were “more healthy”.  Right now, there are healthy snack days (cucumber slices, oranges) and there are the other days (goldfish, bagel and cream cheese).  If goldfish were replaced by homemade cheese crackers, would that be a healthier choice? Or would it be perceived as one?

I continue to cling stubbornly to the idea that taste will lead us to the right place. All summer, I worked with kids in the kitchen at food camp, and they supported this idea with every meal. There were all sorts of ideas about what was healthy and what their parents wanted them to eat, but in the end, what inspired them and made them sparkle was the first bite. So many kids went home and cooked for their parents–they left the camp kitchen saying, “I can’t wait for my dad to try this. He’s not going to believe how good it is!”

I’m no nutritionist. I can’t even begin to sort through the constantly changing information about food and health. I start to wade through some of the mess that we’re in around food safety, and I feel like the system is broken, and I’m not sure how to navigate through it. But I keep coming back to this idea of good food, and of always going towards food that tastes good to us. It seems simple, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got. And if there’s a possibility of raising a new generation of people who actually pay attention to what they put in their mouths, and who even can have a sense of whether it feels good or bad in their bodies? This could be nothing short of a revolution.

And with that, we move to the car snack. Oh yes, old friend, we’ve returned.
The short story is that the car snack is the granola bar, the energy bar, the bag of goldfish, the fruit leather, or whatever else you pack for your kids to ease the panicked hunger of 3:00. Of course, it’s for grownups too, and you can eat it in whatever vehicle you choose. I wrote about car snacks 1 and 2 a ways back, and car snack 3 joins them in the book. But all three involve a fair amount of butter and varying amounts of refined sugar, and I’ve gotten a bunch of requests for a healthier car snack.

And so I bring you…the banana oat bar. No white flour, no refined sugar (except the wee bit of chocolate), and no butter or oil either. It comes together quickly, holds together well for the car, and (need I say it?) tastes really really good.

Car Snack 4 (the banana oat bar)

Makes 20 bars (about 2 1/2 x 3 inches)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups puffed rice cereal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup peanut or almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment, leaving enough hanging over on the edges so you can pull out the finished product.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, rice cereal, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon, stirring well to combine. In a second large bowl, combine the banana, honey, yogurt, nut butter, and vanilla. Stir until the mixture is fairly uniform.
3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones and stir until they come together into one uniform mixture. Gently stir in the chocolate chips. Transfer to the prepared pan and flatten down with a spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until just starting to brown on top. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour before removing from the pan and cutting into squares.


  1. Anonymous says

    Hi Alana,
    Really enjoy reading your blog and these bars look super tasty. Just one thing, what is a goldfish? I have images of all these children running around with little fish flipping out of their mouths!!
    Kate in Australia

  2. Marya says

    Yum – can't wait to try! But I think I'm gonna see how sunflower butter will work for the no-nut crew. I totally agree on the "healthy" thing. Felicia was chastised at school, by classmates no less, for bringing in a brightly colored yogurt, which actually has 1/2 the sugar of other yogurts on the market. The craze is just that.

  3. dstangl says

    These bars sound so delicious. I'm always carting snacks around in the car (and my purse) for my toddler and my (pregnant) self. Thanks for the yummy recipe. Your blog reminds me of Smitten Kitchen: fabulous recipes accompanied by delightful prose.

  4. Sara says

    This looks terrific! I have a junior in HS with no lunch period, so I'm always looking for something small she can nibble on in class for energy. Thanks!

  5. alanachernila says

    Ha, Kate! I love the image, but really goldfish are little goldfish-shaped crackers. I'd say they're a snack staple in the States, and most kids are into them at one point or another. More crunch, less flipper.

  6. Sara says

    I made these this weekend & they are terrific! Thanks for the recipe. One comment on it: you don't say when to add the chocolate chips. It's not a big deal, but you might want to put them in one of the steps for clarity's sake – especially for the newbie. Thanks again!

  7. Stephanie says

    I don't even have a child, but I'm totally into car snacks. For myself.

    You never know when you're going to be stuck at a red light and NEED TO EAT. I always try to have a box of granola bars hanging around under a seat (when nothing homemade is on hand).

    I am intrigued by your use of the banana in this recipe . . . looking forward to trying it!

  8. alanachernila says

    Thank you Sara! I realized that this weekend- sorry that it was before you got to it! All fixed now, though- and so glad you liked the recipe.

    • alana says

      When it comes to these car snacks, you can cut them to the size that works for you. I usually go for 16 bars to a pan, which works pretty nicely.

  9. Allison says

    These look delicious. All of the car snacks are on my list of things to make (one per week) in the coming weeks! Loving your blog, thanks for sharing all your experiences and recipes!

  10. Jen says

    These are fantastic snacks to take along skiing! You can eat them on the chair lift when you don’t want to take the time to head into the lodge but need some sustaining calories.
    I used Bob’s Red Mill 5 grain cereal instead of rolled oats and added a bit more honey.
    The bars freeze well too, if you don’t end up eating them all.
    Thanks for the great recipe! I enjoy reading your blog.

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  12. Sara R. says

    I received a recipe card for these bars in my MightyNest order. I had all of the ingredients on hand and decided to make them. I did use Sun Butter as my kids have a no nut policy at their school. They turned out great! I love that they don’t fall apart and it sounds like they can be easily altered depending on what I have on hand. Thank you!

  13. says

    Just made these last night and they are AMAZING! My two-year-old devoured two this morning for breakfast and the husband loved them too.

    One question though, how do you store them? Do you keep them in the fridge or in a sealed container on the counter?


  14. Vasudha says

    Could you suggest a Gluten Free flour that will perfectly substitute the Whole Wheat flour in this recipe? Thanks a ton! :)

    • alanac says

      I haven’t experimented with gluten free flours with this one, but if you give it a try, let me know what you use!


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