I often get asked how to choose a healthy muesli bar for both adults and kids. Most adults don't need to rely on muesli bars for snacks, especially if they have sedentary jobs and don't reach their target for fruit, veggies and dairy foods (these make excellent snacks when needed). In comparison, muesli bars can be a very convenient on-the-run snacks for active kids. For kids involved in sport, muesli bars can proivide a good source of carbohydrate (AKA fuel for thier working muscles) to have before training or between sessions or games at gala days). I understand that parents get worried about the added sugars and preservatives that a lot of these bars carry, so there are a few things we can consider when choosing a better option.
1. It’s always good to look for a nutrient dense bar and this is where general food knowledge can come in handy. If you can see lots of oats, bran, nuts and seeds you are one step closer to choosing a better option (versus bars that have shapes, colours and ingredients that you don’t see naturally occurring)!
2. Reading the food label for the amount of ‘sugar’ is not always the best indication of a healthier option. This is because any natural sugar such as that from dried fruit or yoghurt will be listed under ’sugar.’ These natural sugars are nutrient dense and contribute to your child’s carbohydrate intake to top up their blood glucose levels and give them energy for training. The majority of snack or muesli bars will also need a little bit of added sugar to make them palatable and bind them together. Honey or glucose is often used for this - a small amount is not detrimental to health in the presence of nutrient dense ingredients (AKA oats, bran, nuts and seeds) and again will contribute to the carbohydrate amount for this training snack.
We of course don’t want our children to be snacking on bars that offer hardly any nutrition and have sugar as the main ingredient.
3. To out-rule these options, the ingredients list on food packaging can be really helpful. Ingredients are listed in order from most used to least used, so if a bar has a type of added sugar listed first and throughout the list, this suggests that this bar is high in added sugar and likely low in additional nutrients. Names for added sugar include sucrose, cane sugar, raw sugar, dextrose, glucose, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, rice malt syrup, agave syrup, fructose, molasses, barley malt and caramel.
4. Look past sugar and look at the whole food and what it may offer. In the case of a muesli bar it may be a good source of carbohydrate to give your child the energy they require for training, it may also provide fibre and various vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. So when looking at a food label it’s important to always look at the bigger nutrition picture and look for an option that is also low in saturated fat, low in sodium (salt) and high in fibre. To give you a general guide, look at the per 100g column on the nutrition label and look for:
Less than 3g of saturated fat per 100g.
Less than 400mg of sodium per 100g.
More than 5g of fibre per 100g.
Another option is to make some home-made muesli bars. This is not something I do regularly but have been asked more and more for family friendly recipes. When this months recipe redux theme was nuts, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to play around and create my own recipe. My husband and his team mates have enjoyed the taste testing process, and I think we have a winner.
This recipe contains nourishing ingredients in oats, almonds, pepitas, olive oil, apricots and currants. Eggs and a little bit of maple syrup are used to bring the ingredients together. Let me know what you think.
Almond and Apricot muesli bars
Ingredients (makes 14 bars)
3 cups (300g) rolled oats
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup diced dried apricots
½ cup currants
½ cup almonds, chopped
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Preheat oven to 160 degrees.
Combine all ingredients.
Line a 30cm x 20cm slice tin with baking paper and press mixture in.
Bake for 25 minutes or until starting to turn golden.
Nutrition information (per serve): Kilojoules: 949kJ (220cal) Protein: 6g Carbohydrate: 22g Fat: 12g Saturated fat: 2g Fibre: 4g Sodium: 21mg