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Tasty bars won’t bust your budget

Homemade oatmeal bars are an economical alternative to store-bought granola bars, which carry a much higher price tag.

ian campbell/for the times leader

After the first dozen days of school, the lunch-packing routine was already old.

A sandwich, yes, and …?

We’d about exhausted the supply of baby carrots, pretzel sticks and almonds.

So I reached into the recipe vault and retrieved a healthy-yet-homey snack.

We like granola bars – they’re convenient, of course, and tasty. But we don’t like the cash-to-crunch ratio – they just cost too darn much for the short time they spend in the house.

I’d found a recipe for Oatmeal Bars in “The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide” at the tail end of the last school year. Thirty minutes spent with a few handy ingredients, and we had a jar full of “granola bars.”

No, the jar didn’t stay full for long, but at least the price was right.

I had all the ingredients (except walnut oil) on hand, and didn’t hesitate to substitute good old canola for it. If it lacked something in flavor, we didn’t notice, and both are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Oats are always in the pantry and are a good source of carbohydrates to fuel afternoon recess rapture or a soccer scrimmage.

I also had a hankering for chocolate, so I scattered a scant half cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips across the top and pressed them in before baking.

These bars are a bit dry but just right with a pint of cold milk — or mug of hot coffee. Grownups deserve a lunch treat, too. Even if we don’t get recess.

Oatmeal Bars

3 cups whole oats

2/3 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup walnut oil

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons orange juice or water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a cookie sheet.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Combine remaining (wet) ingredients in a separate bowl, mixing thoroughly.

Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix again.

Using a spatula, press mixture firmly onto cookie sheet, forming a large rectangle about 1/3 inch thick and smoothing the edges.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until light brown and firm.

Remove from oven and cool completely.

Using a sharp knife, cut into 1 1/2 –inch by 3 1/2-inch rectangles.

Note: I sprinkled a scant half cup of chocolate chips over the bars before baking, pressing them into the surface. Next time, maybe chopped nuts or dried fruit.

From “The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide” by Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring.

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