Homemade Nut Free, Gluten Free Granola

Finding a granola that's tasty, nut free and also not loaded with weird ingredients used to be hard. Do you have a favorite brand? There are loads of great options out there, but I found my happy place when I started regularly making my own. Lately I've been leaving the big jar out on my kitchen counter and it gets demolished pretty quickly. My son plans granola + yogurt + fruit for his lunch at least once a week, and with a big jar on hand, it's super easy to pack.

parfait lunchbox

I love homemade granola because it's straightforward, versatile, and with a million different ways to keep it interesting, no two batches are ever the same. Some weeks, ours includes lots of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), some weeks it's heavy on dried fruit. Once I got the basic formula straight, it freed me to customize based on my pantry. 

The only hiccup arises when I shut off the oven timer but not the oven, and forget to take it out. Admittedly, this has happened more than once. Sigh. This recipe is easy enough for kids to make on their own, with adult oven supervision. It's perfect for a nut free, gluten free meal or snack, though it's best to always read labels if cross contamination is an issue for you. Be sure to check the recipe notes following the recipe for some variation ideas. 

homemade granola

* 3 cups rolled oats
* 1 1/2 cups mixed seeds, like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
* ½ cup dried coconut
* ½ cup olive oil
* ½ cup maple syrup
* 1 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
* 1½ cups mixed dried fruits cut into small chunks. 

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss oats, seeds and coconut in a large bowl. Add oil and syrup and stir until well coated. Season with 1 teaspoon salt. Spread out onto the pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Use the same bowl for the dried fruit pieces, and add the oats back to the bowl after they cool for 5-10 minutes, and combine.
Don’t clean up the baking tray yet. Pour the mixed granola onto it and let the whole thing cool for a while.
Taste and adjust the salt if needed.
1. If you can have nuts, feel free to add those in! Start with 1/2 cup and go from there. Add at the same time as seeds. 
2. If you don't have coconut oil, any neutral oil (like avocado or grapeseed) will do. 
3. Options for the dried fruit might include chopped dried apricots, or raisins, or dried banana pieces. 
4. I love coconut, but if you hate it, eliminate it. 
5. I've tried this recipe with honey, and I prefer maple's more subtle sweetness. Both are doable in this recipe though. 
7. I've tried reducing the amount of maple added, but it didn't taste as good in my opinion. 

healthy nut free granola lunchbox

Want more lunchbox inspiration? Right this way.... 
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Banana Oatmeal Bars: A Fast, Easy, Healthy Breakfast

'Tis the season to be hectic. 
I don't know about you, but amid all of the awesomeness of the holiday season, I'm just pooped. Truth be told, my husband and I are relieved when the kids want cereal with milk and a banana or toast with a banana for breakfast these days. My kiddos choose their breakfasts and lunches in advance, which certainly makes things easier for me because I don't have the added stress of thinking about what to serve (let alone dealing with an argument about it). That said, I still have to prepare and serve those meals and unfortunately, there are no holiday fairies that take care of that for me. 

It's times like these that make Banana Oatmeal Bars so very amazing. 

LaLa Lunchbox banana oatmeal bars

These things are so easy to make, my kids do it themselves now, which frankly is one of the greatest holiday gifts ever. One batch makes 9 bars in our house – but it can make 16 more if you cut them smaller. My kids generally eat two apiece with breakfast. With just four ingredients, they're simple to prepare, quick to serve, and full of healthy goodness. Trifecta! In fact, putting two of these on a plate with some fruit is even easier than serving a bowl of cereal with milk. These bars also make for wonderful snacks! They're dairy free, gluten free, vegan and naturally sweet thanks to those super ripe bananas. 

Download the image below and add it to your LaLa Breakfast Food Library and/or your LaLa Lunchbox Food Library so that your mornings are just a teensy bit easier. Feel free to reach out with any questions you might have about that. 

Banana Oatmeal Bars

LaLa Lunchbox banana oatmeal bar ingredients

3 super ripe (aka brown) bananas
2 cups of rolled oats (not instant)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
* optional: 1/2 cup of one of these: dried cranberries, raisins, nuts, pumpkin seeds or chocolate chips

How to:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8×8 dish with parchment paper.
2. In a mixing bowl, mash the bananas until they are smooth.
3. Add the oats and mix to combine.
4. Add the vanilla extract and salt and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
5. Pour into baking dish. Bake for 25-28 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and enjoy.

Here are some other recipes you might like: 
Banana Sweet Potato Muffins
Banjo Muffins
Oatmeal Muffins
Banana Pancake Kebabs

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String Cheese: Snack? Or Main?

String Cheese is a funny thing. I dont think it was around when I was a kid... at least my mom never had it in our house. But everywhere I look these days, kids are having string cheese. It's funny because cheese doesn't come in logs like this and we don't typically peel back layers of cheese and eat them with our fingers. And yet you can ask some kids about string cheese (referred to lovingly by many as cheese sticks) and they'll voice opinions loudly about the "striped kind" or the "white kind" or the "splotchy kind." 

Some parents hail it as a calcium-rich, non-sugar snack. Some parents consider it part of the "main dish" as an added protein. Some hate it because some brands have a hefty amount of sodium. Some avoid it entirely because all of the packaging is detrimental to the environment. All very good points, if you ask me. 

My daughter loves cheese in all forms and always has. But when it comes to her lunchbox, she's not sure where string cheese belongs. Is it a main protein? Is it a snack? 

What do you think of string cheese?