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In honor of the new school year I’ve been experimenting with low oxalate granola bar and energy bar recipes for back-to-school lunchboxes and nutritious breakfasts on the go.  These bars have 4 – 5 mg. oxalate per bar, depending on which ingredients you use and how big you make the bars.  I was able to make them high fiber, gluten-free, dairy-free, a good source of omega-3s, and pretty dang yummy.  An added bonus:  these aren’t only fun for kids to eat, they’re fun for kids to make! They resemble an oatmeal bar cookie more than a traditional granola bar because I chose to use milk (or coconut milk) instead of carmelized butter (or coconut oil) and sugar as my binder, but this is what keeps them easy enough for young children to make.

Cameron stirs his low oxalate granola bars.

My boys were able to measure, pour and mix these granola bars with only a little assistance.  I had to do the final spreading and baking, but the boys did most of the work themselves.  Unfortunately I timed things wrong the first time we made these bars and they were almost cooled and ready to cut at 5:15 when the boys and I came inside from playing.  I hadn’t made dinner yet and the boys “needed one” right then, so I cut a couple bars and we had them with milk.  Then I cut a couple more bars, added some apple slices, fresh veges and cottage cheese and called it dinner.  The hamburgers thawing in my fridge could wait until the next night, but enjoying the boys’ fresh-baked granola bars could not.  After all, it’s the daily ritual of sitting down at the dinner table and enjoying each others’ company that’s important  to me.

Easy Low Oxalate Granola Bars

2 cups GF rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
3/4 cup raisins OR dried cherries
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup flaked or coursely shredded coconut
1/4 cup isolated protein powder (whey, rice or pea), optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 15 ounce can condensed milk (OR 1 can coconut milk*)
1/2 cup honey or sweetener of your choice**

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees and grease a 9 x9 inch baking pan.  Combine the oats, flax seeds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, coconut, protein powder and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix the milk and sweetener.  Pour the milk mixture over the oat mixture and stir until just moistened.  Press the granola into the prepared pan, then bake for about 30 minutes until the top is golden brown.  (If you do not have a 9 x 9 inch pan, you can press the granola into 9 or 10 inches  of a 13 x 9 inch pan and leave the rest empty).

Let the granola bars cool completely, then cut it into 14-18 bars (about 1 inch by 4.5 inch each).  Store the bars in an air-tight container for up to one week.

*A Note about Coconut Milk: If your brand of coconut milk is thick and creamy, this recipe should work well.  If it is really “liquidy” this recipe may work better if you add 1/8 cup coconut flour.

** A Note about Sweeteners: Honey, maple syrup, sugar, Splenda or 1 teaspoon liquid stevia are all low oxalate (or very low oxalate) and all work in this recipe, but honey and maple syrup add the best flavor.  If you use liquid stevia, these bars will not brown.  You may want to add a teaspoon of honey to help the bars brown or set a timer for doneness (note: do not use powdered stevia–it is high oxalate).  You may also want to experiment with different levels of sweetness.  When I make these bars with extra raisins and dried apples, I reduce the sweetener.

Oxalate Note:  Many of the ingredients in these granola bars are medium oxalate, including rolled oats (11.1 mg./half cup), ground flax seed (6.6 mg./half cup), dried cherries (5.2 mg./half cup) and some brands of coconut milk (coconut milk ranges from 0-6.6 mg./half cup).  Condensed milk, flaked coconut, salt and honey are all very low oxalate (less than 1.0 mg./serving), while raisins (3.8 mg. /half cup), pumpkin seeds (2.6 mg./tablespoon) and whey protein powder (2.4 mg./half cup) are low oxalate. (Pea powder is 5.4 mg./scoop while rice protein is 6.5 mg./half cup). These bars have about 4 – 5 mg. oxalate per bar, depending on which ingredients you use and how big you make the bars.

Variations:  Try any combination of dried apples, dried bananas, roasted chestnuts or Nestles premium white morsels, instead of the raisins, pumpkin seeds and coconut.  One really yummy combination is 3/4 cup dried apple pieces, 3/4  cup raisins and 1/2 cup coconut. (Your total add-ins should equal about 1.5 – 2 cups.)

Traditional Granola Bars: You may also wish to make a more traditional granola bar or granola.  Do this by omiting the milk.  Toast the oats and pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet at 300 degrees for about 15 minutes until golden brown.  Meanwhile, put 1/2 cup butter (or coconut oil) in a skillet on low heat.  When the butter melts, add 1/2 cup brown sugar, honey or maple syrup and stir until the mixture carmalizes (liquid stevia and Splenda will not work). Pour all the other ingredients (except the milk) in a bowl, add the carmel mixture and the toasted oat mixture, and stir until just combined.  Press the granola into a greased 9 x 9 inch pan and bake for about 30 minutes for traditional granola bars OR spoon the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for about 25 -30 minutes, stopping and stirring the mixture every 8-10 minutes during the cooking for traditional granola.  Cool completely before cutting the bars or storing.

Update on 9/28/11:  You may need to use more butter if you put in extra add-ins or tend to use rounded scoops like I do.  Yesterday, I made traditional granola and had to add an extra tablespoons of oil to make it work.

Other Diets: These bars may be appropriate for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and controlled carbohydrate diets with the proper modifications.

Plenty of great food bloggers post low oxalate recipes without realizing it.  Other bloggers post recipes that are easily tweaked to be low oxalate or “lower” medium oxalate.  In this new series, I will introduce you to some of these bloggers and provide you with links to their low oxalate recipes so you can check them out yourself (just click on the recipe title).  I hope this series will also give you the confidence to start finding and tweaking recipes on your own.  Please read my description about the recipe before running over to check it out, however, because each one needs at least one simple change in order to be low or “lower” medium oxalate.

Soft Serve Banana Ice Cream

(Gluten-free, casein-free, vegan and “lower medium” oxalate, could also be used on a controlled carbohydrate diet)

This recipe is from Choosing Raw–a popular vegan, raw foods blog.  It makes a simple, creamy frozen treat that your kids will love (and hey, so will you!).  It’s a guilt-free pleasure with no added sugar.  If you want to experiment, try adding some frozen strawberries, pineapple, mango or vanilla extract.  Just remember that the bulk of your recipe must be bananas or it won’t get the creamy texture.  Also, remember chocolate is high oxalate, so don’t use Gena’s  chocolate sauce.  See my white chocolate sauce recipe at the bottom of low oxalate banana splits, instead, or opt to put sliced strawberries on top.

Oxalate Note:  If you skip the chocolate sauce, this recipe only has one ingredient — bananas, a “lower medium” oxalate treat)

Stuffed Squash

(Gluten-free, casein-free and low to “lower medium” oxalate depending on how you modify it, could also be used on a controlled carbohydrate diet)

Kim’s fabulous blog, Gluten Free Real Food,  is full of great gluten free recipes.  Some are low oxalate.  Many more are easily modified to be low or medium oxalate.  I tried this squash dish with fresh picked butternut squash, red pepper and tomatoes from my garden two nights ago and my family loved it!  You should leave out or reduce the amount of black olives (about 22 mg. oxalate per 1/2 cup) or let the non-low oxalate dieters add them at the table.  You may also want to use less tomato if you are very oxalate sensitive (most tomatoes are medium oxalate) or use a lower oxalate variety of tomato (like Georgia Peach or Early Girl).  When I made this dish I used the full amount of tomato but left out the black olives.

Apple-Turnip Chicken Salad

(Gluten free, casein free, low oxalate with modification, good for a controlled carbohydrate diet)

This recipe is from the blog, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free.  Angie’s website is beautiful and horribly tempting with way too many high oxalate dishes.  But if you can be strong and sift through the numerous high oxalate treats, you will find a few low oxalate gems.  When you check out this recipe, just skip the chicken stock part in the narrative–this has too many high oxalate veges in it–and jump down to the recipe for Apple-turnip chicken salad.  I used a pink lady apple, a yellow onion, and two fresh turnips.  It was yummy and crunchy, but be sure to leave out the walnuts (walnuts have about 46 mg. per half cup)! Also, make sure to use gluten free Dijon mustard if this is important to you.  I ate this salad on a bed of low oxalate lettuce and greens, but you might also try topping  cucumber “crackers” for a truly low oxalate treat.

My boys have a new favorite low oxalate recipe–Jamaican Rice and Peas!  This is a staple from my vegetarian days that I haven’t made in years, but I had one of those crazy cravings and gave in.  It also seemed like a good learning opportunity for the boys.  What better way to introduce new cultures than through their food?

Low Oxalate Rice and Peas

Aidan loves his rice and peas (here made with kidney beans)

Rice and peas is an everyday staple in Jamaica.  Its subtle coconut flavor and creamy texture are a perfect complement to Jamaican Jerk Chicken and other spicy island treats, but it also makes a filling vegetarian main-dish.  It’s traditionally made with pigeon peas, but black-eyed peas or kidney beans are often substituted.  I make it with canned peas or beans because it’s so easy, but you can prepare  the raw peas yourself if you can’t find canned pigeon or black-eyed peas (use one cup raw peas with three cups water).  I sometimes use the  pepper and sometimes don’t.  Since you use a whole pepper and remove it before cooking, it doesn’t make the rice hot, but adds a nice, subtle pepper flavor.

The night I introduced Jamaican Rice and Peas to my boys, I talked with them about Jamaica and tropical islands.  They were fascinated and asked lots of questions and repeated the things I was telling them over and over.  I think it was the first time it started to make sense to them that people live in many different places, and that people in different places eat different foods than we do.  It was fun watching them learn, and  it was a very pleasant way to make dinner conversation with soon-t0-be-three-year-olds.  I plan to buy a good map to keep in the kitchen, so as we cook and learn together I can point out where the different foods we eat come from.  I hope this will also make cooking and eating together as a family more fun.  It sure was fun last week.  And it was even more fun when Aidan requested “Island rice and beans” again for dinner a few nights later (we ate it as our main meal the second night since I already knew they liked it).

Jamaican Rice and Peas

1 can black-eyed peas, pigeon peas* or kidney beans* (15 ounces) (see oxalate note)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (13.5 ounces)
1 cup water
2 cups long or short grain white rice–not instant!
1 habanero pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
salt to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon)

Put all of the ingredients into a saucepan, including the liquid from the beans.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender (about 30 minutes).  Remove the habanero pepper and serve.

Makes 4 main dish or 8 side dish servings.

Note:  Most Jamaican chefs start by cooking raw peas (which are soupy like non-drained canned beans) which is why I use the canned bean “juice” in my recipe. It keeps things easy and more authentic tasting.  You may like the texture of this dish better, however, if you drain and rinse the beans first, then add an extra 3/4 cup water.

*Oxalate Note:   Pigeon peas and kidney beans are medium oxalate ingredients.  All other ingredients are low or very low oxalate, so this is a low to “lower medium” oxalate dish depending on what type of pea/bean you use. Actual oxalate values are: black-eyed peas (3 mg. per 1/2 cup), pigeon peas*(7 mg. per 1/2 cup, canned), kidney beans* (11.7 mg./half cup, dried), coconut milk (0.0 mg. per 1/2 cup, Chaokoh brand), Uncle Ben’s long grain white rice (trace) OR “boiled” white rice (0.9 mg. per half cup), habanero pepper (0.4 mg. per sauteed pepper), thyme(2.5 mg. per teaspoon), garlic (0.3 mg. per clove), Hain table salt (0.0 mg.)

Picky Eater Pleaser:  Try leaving out the pepper, thyme, garlic and beans at first, so you just have coconut rice (you will have to add 1/2-3/4 cup water).  If your picky eater likes this, try adding back in the beans/peas first, then add each “spice” one at a time each time you make the dish.  Alternately, make “coconut rice” and let family members add their own beans at the table.  You can also use 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs instead of the dried thyme and remove them before serving.

Menu Planner:  Try Jamaican Rice and Peas as a side dish with baked chicken and pineapple, or as a main dish with a tropical fruit salad on the side (mango, banana and pineapple with coconut sprinkles-yum!).

Other Diets:  Jamaican Rice and Peas may also be suitable for gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian diets.