The idea for this post came from a discussion I had with a friend at a BBQ the other day. My friend, who has a young daughter, was telling me of the conundrum she has deciding what goes into the school lunchbox. She really wants to do the best by her little one, but is confused about what is, and is not, ok to eat for snacks (apart from the usual ‘everyday’ foods such as fruit, veggie sticks, yogurt, etc). She was wondering about muffins and muesli bars – are they ok to include if they are home-made, are full of ‘good-for-you’ ingredients such as fruit, seeds, oats, wholemeal flour, etc but do contain a little bit of sugar and fat as well? A very valid concern!
I cannot blame my friend for being a little confused. There is loads of marketing for children’s’ snack foods, a fair whack of misinformation and not to mention, the strong moral obligation parents feel to give their child the best diet possible. But, I think my friend is right, better the devil you know that the one that you don’t! Processed baked goods, snack foods, muesli bars and muffins often contain ingredients that are not ideal as well as containing additives and preservatives. I really believe that homemade snacks such as muesli bars and mini-muffins (note the mini) when made from mostly ‘good-for-you’ ingredients are fine as a small snack. Although these may contain a small amount of butter or sugar, if the overall balance is pretty good then there is little to worry about if the general diet that you and your family are eating is on-balance pretty healthy.
Putting this into practice is not tricky – whether your child has this in their lunchbox every day or just now and then is one best made when the overall diet and activity levels of the child are taken into consideration. If your kid is doing sport, on the go all day, eating their ‘everyday’ foods such as fruit and veg, whole grains, dairy and lean protein without drama – then maybe I’d lean towards more than once-in-a-while… if the kid was sedentary, struggled eating all the ‘everyday’ foods listed above –then higher energy snacks like mini-muffins and muesli bars are more suitable as a once-in-a-while snack. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to eating.
On that note, here is a muesli slice recipe that I have been making for years. It does use a small amount of butter and sugar, but is also jam packed full of other great foods such as rolled oats, wholemeal flour, nuts and seeds and dried fruit. It packs an energy and fibre punch meaning that a little goes a LONG way! The ingredients can be tweaked to suit your own personal preferences. Get into it!
Peanut butter and muesli slice
Makes 18 or 24 squares (depending on what you prefer)
½ cup wholemeal self-raising flour
½ cup wholemeal flour
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup desiccated coconut
½ cup oat bran
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup total of a combination of sunflower seed kernels, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), flaxseed, currants, sultanas, chopped dates, chopped walnuts or whatever you like
2 tb sesame seeds
1 tb chia seeds (optional)
½ cup natural peanut paste (no added sugar or salt)
¼ cup mild honey
90 g butter (if you wish, you could use a good quality margarine here but NOT a cholesterol lowering one please as this is not appropriate for children)
1 large egg, lightly whisked
- Preheat oven to 180ºC. Lightly grease the base and sides of a slice pan with margarine and line with non-stick baking paper
- Combine flours, oats, coconut, seeds, nuts (if using), dried fruit and sugar in a bowl.
- Place peanut butter, honey and butter in saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until melted and well combined. Remove from heat. Add peanut butter mixture to flour mixture and give it a mix. Then add the egg, stirring until well combined. (The mixture will be sticky and you may have to work to get all the ingredients wet and incorporated!)
- Press the mixture into a prepared pan. Bake in oven until golden brown and set – approx 20 minutes but highly variable depending on your oven. Check as early as 12-14 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely before slicing – or you will end up with a delicious crumble, but no slice!