Category Archives: Cooking Tips

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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Healthy Baking Tip: Use Nut & Seed Butters Instead of Oils

Increase the iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, & fiber in your diet. . .

Many people are deficient in important minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium because they aren’t getting enough of these minerals in the foods they eat.  Focusing your diet on whole, unprocessed foods is a good way to get more of these minerals, as food processing tends to remove fiber and important vitamins and minerals.  For example, in terms of carbohydrates, whole grains contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than their refined counterparts.

When it comes to fats, obtaining fats from whole plant foods rather than solid fats (butter, margarine) or refined oils is considerably more nutritious.  I’ve illustrated this in the table below.  Oils are generally a healthier choice than butter or margarine because they contain healthier fats. But the extraction and refining process to produce oils eliminates fiber, protein, and  minerals.  When it makes sense, substitute nut and seed butters for oils in your cooking, and you’ll benefit from more nutrients.

nut and seed butters vs oils2

Smart Baking Swaps

Some types of fat are obvious ingredients for certain foods, like oils in salad dressings (but a good whole-food substitution here is to try an  avocado-based dressing, that will provide fat with more nutrients; mayonnaise is another place where avocados sub wonderfully). Bake goods provide more opportunities to substitute all or part of the fat with nut or seed butters. Here are a few examples.

GREAT GRANOLA.  I used this trick in my 3-ingredient granola recipe. Most granola’s contain quite a bit of oil, which adds plenty of calories with few nutrients:  swapping the oil for a nut or seed butter increases the nutrition substantially (and improves the flavour!).

3-ingredients for granola (640x429)
This granola gets a nutrient and flavour boost by using peanut butter instead of oil (almond butter or sesame butter are equally delicious!)

BARS AND COOKIES. You can also try this out in bar and cookie recipes. Many health-conscious cooks are now using coconut oil (the “healthy” oil du jour), because they think it’s a nutritious choice (read more about coconut oil here).  In reality, coconut oil adds plenty of calories with questionable health benefits, and no vitamins, protein, fiber, or minerals. It makes sense if coconut oil benefits the flavour or texture of your baked good, but you can do better if you’re trying to improve the nutrition!  The recipes below use a nut butter, which gives great flavour, while adding protein, fiber, and minerals.

energy bites row NEW

Ginger Bars With Chocolate Textalmond butter chocolate chip bars tall2_small

PIE CRUSTS. Another place you can use nuts for fat instead of oils, butter, or lard is in a pie crust. The recipe pictured below, healthful walnuts provide the fat for the simple crust.

fruit tart with words


So you see, it’s possible to improve the flavour and nutrition of baked goods by substituting nuts for oils or other fats. Give it a try!

nuts, seeds, oils, with magnesium


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Move over pesto, chimichurri is the new sauce in town!

“I’m using this sauce on everything!” my cookbook co-author Vicky Newman said,
we have to put it in our book!

clearbowlchimichurri (427x640)I gave Vicky’s chimichurri a try, and, like Vicky, was using it on a surprisingly wide variety of foods: eggs, grilled fish, lentils, vegetables, brown rice, as a sandwich spread . . .
I was recently reminded of chimichurri when my brother returned from a fly-fishing trip in Argentina. He arrived with special spice packets provided by a chef who was making a chimichurri that guests loved . . . and put on just about everything.

garlicThere are countless versions of the traditional Argentinean sauce, which is typically served over meat. Parsley (mostly fresh, sometimes dried), garlic, olive oil, hot peppers, and vinegar are common in most recipes. Some chimichurri “purists”  don’t use cilantro – so if you’re not a cilantro fan, or don’t have any on hand, just double the parsley in this recipe.  This version contains less olive oil than most recipes, so it is lighter and has fewer calories.

I love to cook with fresh herbs, and use them generously, since they dramatically enhance the flavour of almost any dish, perking up the taste of foods without relying on unnecessary fat or salt.  Like most leafy greens, fresh herbs also have tremendous nutritional benefits.  Having versatile chimichurri on hand makes adding fresh herbs to meals pretty easy.


  • 2      garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1      cup firmly packed fresh Italian parsley (flat leaf)*
  • 1      cup firmly packed fresh cilantro
  • 1/3   cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3   cup red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • ¾     tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  • ½     tsp. ground cumin
  • ½     tsp. salt

* look for flat leaf or Italian parsley, which has a richer and more satisfying flavor than curly parsley


  1. Process garlic cloves in a food processor.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients, and process until ingredients are well chopped and combined.

Makes ONE CUP (or EIGHT 2-TBSP Servings)

Variations and Tips

  • You’ll find great tips for preparing and storing fresh herbs here.
  • Exact measurements aren’t necessary. If you want a sauce that is more pourable, add more olive oil or vinegar (olive oil will make it richer but also higher in calories; vinegar more acidic).  Use more herbs for a thicker condiment that you can spread on sandwiches. You can tame or increase the spiciness by adding more or less red pepper flakes.
  • Preparing parley and cilantro. There’s no need to meticulously tear the leaves from their stems since these stems are relatively tender and won’t be noticed once minced in the food processor. (For cilantro, I simply cut off the roots; remove thick stems from parsley or cilantro, but use the rest. I make a few rough cuts to the herbs, but let the food processor do everything else).
  • Try lemon or lime juice instead of vinegar; and consider adding some zest from the citrus.
  • Add other herbs – oregano is a popular chimichurri ingredient.
  • If you prefer a chunkier sauce, chop the herbs by hand, or pulse in food processor instead of pureeing.

Nutrition Notes

Herb Series Sampler with clipping pathsHealth Benefits of Fresh Herbs.
In addition to their seasoning qualities, fresh herbs offer health benefits. Researchers have identified a host of phytochemicals in culinary herbs that can help protect against disease.

Many fresh herbs are a concentrated source of antioxidants, compounds that help prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals.  Preliminary research has revealed potential disease-protective properties of garlic no backgroundfresh herbs. For example, studies in laboratory animals have shown that compounds found in basil helped prevent cancerous changes; the volatile oil myristicin in parsley, inhibited tumor formation; and limonene, which is present in dill, helped shrink mammary tumors.  Parsley and cilantro and rich sources of dietary nitrates, which might benefit blood pressure, heart health, and endurance performance.

Garlic contains many protective compounds that are being studied for their disease-fighting effects.

 Nutrition Per 2 Tbsp. Serving

  •  90 calories
  • <1 g protein
  • 1 g carbohydrate
  • 9 g fat (1 g sat)
  •  0 mg cholesterol
  •  <1 g fiber
  • 150 mg sodium
  • 65 mg potassium
  • 15 mg calcium
  • 6 mg magnesium

Recipe adapted from Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor, by Sheila Kealey and Vicky Newman with Susan Faerber. California: Regents of the University of California, 2012.





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APPLES: Selecting, Storing, and Preparing


  • Buy apples that have been kept cold.
  • Look for firm apples; smaller apples may be your best bet, as larger apples tend to ripen more quickly.


  • Store apples in plastic bags in your fridge crisper (apples ripen 8-10 times faster at room temperature). Properly-refrigerated apples can have a shelf life of 90 days or more.
  • Fruit bowl savvy: apples produce ethylene gas while ripening, which could affect fruit stored close to apples (except pineapples, tangerines, and oranges, which aren’t sensitive to ethylene gas).
  • To minimize browning (oxidation), prepare apple dishes just before serving. Protect cut apples by dipping them in a solution of one part citrus juice and three parts water.

Cooking Tips


  • Three medium-sized apples weigh about 1 pound.
  • One pound of apples, cored and sliced, is about 4 1/2 cups.

Which Apples to Choose?


Adapted from Food for Thought: Healing Foods to Savor.

More tips, strategies, and techniques to help you
out in the kitchen . . .
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