Category Archives: Recipes

How to make your own energy bar

5 Easy Homemade Energy Bars

Do you want tasty treats to help energize your workout? Then consider making your own “energy” bars. Beyond great taste, you will have control over the ingredients. You’ll likely save money too!

Although clever marketing fools many, most commercial bars are nothing special.  You can create delicious bars in your own kitchen that will power your workout just as well, if not better, than an expensive bar.

And you don’t need special ingredients. In fact, many homemade energy bar recipes tend to be overly complicated and claim to be healthy because of hyped-up ingredients like coconut oil, agave nectar, or a protein powder.  Or they boast being “naturally sweetened” implying that something like organic brown rice syrup,  coconut sugar, or sugar from dried fruit is better than regular sugar (it isn’t).

READ  Are "Natural" Sweeteners Healthier than Sugar?

Although I recommend limiting sugars when you’re not active, sugar will fuel your working muscles and might help your workout performance if you’re exercising vigorously and/or for long periods. In fact, many of the harms attributed to sugar have to do with how it is metabolized when sedentary, or in sedentary individuals, not in athletes.

Here are five bars that rely on simple whole foods available in most grocery stores. They provide healthy fats, but are generally low in fat, because during exercise your muscles require carbohydrates as fuel.

A potential downside of homemade bars is the time required to make them.  But give it a try! Make a batch and freeze so you’ll have a convenient and portable snack on hand when you need it.

Ginger Bars with Chocolate

These spicy bars are amazingly delicious! The ginger delivers a good zing, and the molasses keeps them dense and fudgy. You can whip these up pretty quickly, which will make your entire house smell pretty wonderful.  These bars are great workout fuel, but certainly tasty enough for a lunchbox treat or as a sweet with coffee or tea.

You can substitute a different nut or seed butter for the peanut butter. I’ve tried tahini – sesame seed butter – and almond butter would work well.

Sheila’s Quick & Easy Oatmeal Bars

These bars feature oats, which are a staple of my diet.  For athletes, oats are a terrific and inexpensive source of carbohydrates to help fuel muscles.  Also,  according to this study, oats might help enhance nitric oxide production, which is important for heart health and might benefit athletic performance.  This recipe is quite versatile, so create your own variation by modifying the dried fruit and nuts/seeds to suit your taste. These bars feature whole grains (oats and 100% whole wheat flour), are relatively low in fat, with most of the fat coming from healthful sources (nuts and seeds) that provide other important nutrients.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Bites

These bites are simple to make, using only five ingredients. Their bite-size portion is often “just right,” so you can doll out energy as you need fuel during long hikes, runs, cross-country skis, or bike rides.

The oats and raisins are a good source of carbohydrates, the peanut butter provides healthy fats, rounded off with a double-chocolate hit of cocoa and chocolate chips.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

These bars are dense and chewy and taste like brownies.  They are a bit of a departure from energy bars that are full of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and other wholesome ingredients —  which is the kind of bar I typically prefer on slower-paced  workouts, where the low intensity makes it easy to digest the seeds, nuts, fats, and fiber in the bars.  I like these bars for more intense workouts or intervals – when you need a burst of sweetness that goes down easily (kind of like an energy gel that actually tastes good).

For eating outside of workouts, this bar recipe is likely healthier than most cookies or bars.   Whole grains (whole wheat flour and oats) replace the more typical refined white flour (and you probably don’t need to worry about the gluten in the flour). I also used this baking strategy, substituting almond butter for most of the butter. Almond butter provides heart-healthy fats instead of saturated fat, as well as protein, fiber, and minerals that many people lack. Peanut butter works in these bars too (and is much less expensive!).

Sesame Date Energy Bites

These bites have a double sesame punch with sesame seeds and tahini (sesame butter): these little seeds are very nutritious and most often used as a garnish, so here’s a good way to take advantage of their superior nutrition.

I know, a refined cereal like Rice Krispies seems out of place with the rest of the wholesome ingredients, but the added crunch is worth it.  And if you’re going to eat refined carbs and sweet dates, during activity is the best time to do it:  your body processes the sugars to use as fuel and help sustain long workouts.

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5 Terrific Side Dishes for Summer Potlucks

Wondering what to bring to a summer potluck? The side dishes below are easy to make, tasty, and complement many main dishes.

Roasted Potato Salad with Vegetables

This is a beautiful potato salad that is a great side dish to take along to a barbecue. Roasting brings out the flavours of the potatoes, and adding corn, tomatoes, peppers, and onions lightens up the salad while adding great taste, colour, and good nutrition.

This is a much healthier option than traditional mayonnaise-laden potato salads, which are often calorie-dense and nutrient poor: some traditional deli potato salads have almost 500 calories and more than 20 g fat per cup, with few protective nutrients.

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Rice Noodle Salad with Lime Vinaigrette

This is a light and refreshing salad that is a tasty and eye-catching side dish for almost any meal, and a perfect potluck dish. This salad combines rice noodles, sweet peppers, fresh herbs, tomatoes, and feta cheese in a lime dressing, giving this dish Asian, Mediterranean, and Mexican influences . . . sounds odd, but the flavours blend together beautifully!

Don’t be dissuaded if you are, like me, not typically a fan of cold pasta-salad style noodles. Rice noodles make an entirely different type of salad; they are lighter than pasta or wheat-based noodles, and are better at absorbing flavourful and zesty dressings like this one.

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Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

This is a terrific salad with vibrant colors and a great combination of flavors. It’s also quite versatile:  it’s a great side dish to bring to a pot-luck or BBQ, a nutritious meal you can pack for tasty lunch, and stuff any leftovers into a pita for a nutritious sandwich.  Exact measurements aren’t important, so feel free to add more or less of what’s listed.

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Beets & Arugula in a Curry Vinaigrette

This beet and arugula salad is great anytime, but terrific when fresh beets and apples are in season. It takes a little longer to prepare than my typical salads, but if you cook the beets in advance it is pretty quick to put together.

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Orzo with Kale, Artichokes, & Chickpeas

This dish is a terrific and pretty side salad that’s versatile enough to bring to a summer BBQ or winter potluck; with the chickpeas providing protein it’s a nourishing main course. If you have leftovers, you’ve got a tasty ready-made lunch on hand.

This recipe magically transform 12 cups of kale into 1.5 cups of kale pesto/puree. All that good nutrition and it doesn’t really taste like kale . . .

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Good Morning Muffins

I love muffins. They pair so well with coffee or tea, are a terrific pre- or post- workout snack, or a quick grab-and-go breakfast.  But I try to keep in mind that most versions are really cleverly disguised cupcakes.Mammoth Muffin

A sprinkling of oats on top and clever marketing claims create a health halo effect, and many people believe that the standard muffin is a healthy choice.  But most muffins are made with refined flour, plenty of sugar, and don’t provide much nutrition.  Oversized muffins and large amounts of fat also mean hefty calorie counts (some large muffins have almost 500 calories).  And low-fat labelled muffins often aren’t a healthy choice either.

Making your own muffins is a good way control the ingredients.  This recipe is a healthier version of “Morning Glory” muffins, attributed to Chef Pam McKinstry of the Morning Glory Cafe on Nantucket island. You can tailor the recipe to the fruit, dried fruit, and nuts that you have on hand.

Ingredient swaps for better nutrition (& flavour!)

A generous amount of fruits and grated carrots add moistness and great flavours while providing many important nutrients;  the nuts add healthy fats; and whole grain flour has the minerals and fiber that have been stripped out of refined white flour (and you likely don’t need to worry about the gluten . . . ).

These ingredients also improve the fiber content, something that is lacking in most diets.   I’ve cut down on the sugar, but these muffins are still sweet thanks to the fresh fruit, dried fruit, and brown sugar. You may be tempted to use a “more healthful” sweetener than sugar, but don’t be fooled: although some believe that “natural” sweeteners are better for you,  sugar is sugar.  The overall calorie count is lower than traditional muffins as well, which is good for those who don’t need the excess calories.

You’ll find some other good tips for adapting your favourite muffin recipes here.

Morning Glory Muffins Against Wall

Are muffins a healthy breakfast?

Traditional muffins definitely aren’t a good breakfast, since they provide few nutrients and should really be considered as dessert or a treat.  Although this recipe is much more nutritious, it would be best paired with other foods for breakfast (e.g., nonfat  yogurt, nuts, fresh fruit) for added protein and nutrition.

I would consider these a perfect pre or post workout snack . . . rich in carbohydrates that you need for exercise, and your body will use the sugar in the muffins for a good purpose!



  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk (dairy or plain soymilk)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup canola oil or melted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  • 1.5 cups grated carrots
  • 1.5 cups chopped fruit (apple, pear, or canned drained pineapple are all delicious)
  • ½ cup dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dates)
  • ¼ cup walnuts or pecans

GARNISH (Optional – but highly recommended!)

  • Oats
  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 deg F, and prepare 12-cup muffin tin with butter and flour (or line with paper muffin cup liners).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine egg, milk, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla.  Stir in carrots, chopped fruit, dried fruit, and nuts.
  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry, mixing just until combined.
  5. Dividing batter into muffin tins and top with oats/nuts/seeds for garnish if using.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes (or until tester comes out clean).

Makes 12 Muffins

Nutrition Per Muffin

  • 185 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • 7 g fat
  • 16 mg cholesterol
  • 31 g carbohydrate
  • 3.5 g fiber
  • 215 mg sodium
  • 133 mg potassium
  • Iron: 3 % Daily Value
  • Calcium: 6.5 % Daily Value

Muffins Cake


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Pumpkin Bars with a Pecan Oat Crust

Pumpkin pie is a delicious symbol of harvest times, but it’s just too good to save for special occasions. Here is a spin-off recipe with a twist or two: it’s pretty good and the superior nutrition means there’s no need to save it for a special holiday dessert. I’ve lightened up some heavy traditional pumpkin pie ingredients to make it more nutritious without losing any of the flavour.

Isolated Pecan Pumpkin Bar SmallFor the custard filling, evaporated milk (milk with about half of the water removed) adds richness and is an excellent stand-in for cream, providing 2.5 times more protein, 4 times more calcium, and less fat.  I’ve cut down on the sugar a bit, but the filling is still rich and satisfying.

The crust features oats and nuts (instead of refined flour and shortening/butter). These two nutrition all-stars are also quite flavourful and combine really well with the pumpkin filling. If you don’t have pecans, walnuts would also be great.

I’ve baked it in a format that allows you to cut into it bars or squares, which are more versatile (but unfortunately the custard filling doesn’t make it a portable workout snack . . it’s great for recovery though!).


Pecan Oat Crust
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 1 egg
Pumpkin Custard Filling
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree*
  • 1.5 cups evaporated milk (1 can – either non fat or 2%)
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. salt

* if you used a big can of pumpkin (29 oz; 796 mL) you should have just enough pumpkin left to make my Pumpkin Spice Bread!

  • 1/2 cup pecans halves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Pumpkin Pecan Bars Circle


Make the Crust

  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Place the oats, pecans, brown sugar, and salt, and flour in food processor and process. Add the butter and egg and process until well mixed.
  2. Press mixture into a 9 x 13 dish that has been lined with foil or parchment paper.  Use your hands and fingers to spread the dough and press it evenly all over the inside of the pan (it helps if you wet your fingers with water).
  3. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Pumpkin Filling and Topping

  1. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, evaporated milk, cornstarch, eggs, spices, and salt in large mixer bowl or food processor (I quickly just wipe out the food processor from the crust processing to save some cleanup).
  2. Process for about 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Combine chopped pecans and brown sugar (for topping). Set aside.
  4. Pour filling into cooled crust. After about 20 minutes, remove the bars from the oven and top with pecan/brown sugar mixture. Return to oven and bake for about 20-25 more minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the filling comes out clean.
  5. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars (I cut the rectangle into 2 and remove each half to cut into bars on a cutting board).

Yield: 24 bars

Pumpkin IsolatedUsing Fresh Pumpkin

Canned pumpkin works well in this recipe, but you may want to use fresh pumpkin when they are in season. It’s generally not a good idea to use large pumpkins for cooking, since they don’t have as much flesh and it tends to be more watery, stringy, and have less flavour.  Small pumpkins (about 10-12 inches in diameter) are best for cooking.

Motivated to cook your own? Check my tips for How to Cut and Cook Squash.

Nutrition Notes

  • Pecans IsolatedPECANS are rich in healthy unsaturated fats associated with favorable lipid profiles.  Like most nuts they also contain important vitamins (notably vitamin E) and minerals, as well as fiber.  And these nutrients may benefit health, as eating nuts can lower cardiovascular disease risk, according to a recent meta-analysis.   In this analysis, researchers looked at 61 studies that examined the effect of tree nuts on blood lipids (tree nuts include walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts).  They found that tree nut consumption was linked to blood markers associated with lower heart disease risk (lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and ApoB). The greatest effect was linked with consuming 60 grams of nuts or more daily (60 g nuts is equivalent to about 40 pecan halves).
  • OATS are well-know for their cholesterol lowering properties: a recent systematic review and meta-analysis shows that beyond reducing LDL (“lousy”) cholesterol, oats also positively influence non-HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B. Oats also contain antioxidant compounds called avenanthramides that help decrease chronic inflammation that can lead to disease.
  • The deep-orange colour of PUMPKIN is a sign of protective carotenoids (mainly beta-carotene), which can act as an antioxidant, inhibit cancer cell growth, and improve immune response. A number of studies suggest that diets rich in carotenoid-containing foods can help discourage the development and progression of several types of cancer. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of vitamin A and potassium, and a good source of vitamin C, and fiber.

Nutrition per Bar

  • 150 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • 23 g carbohydrates
  • 7 g fat (1 g sat)
  • 25 mg cholesterol
  • 2 g fiber
  • 160 mg sodium
  • 170 mg potassium
  • Vitamin A 23% DV
  • Vitamin C 2% DV
  • Calcium: 6% DV
  • Magnesium:  4% DV
  • Iron: 5% DV

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Recipe Index


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