Guilt-Free Granola

By Margo Graf

Granola is seen as the healthy breakfast or snack. For many, it has replaced pancakes and sausages, bagels, cinnamon French toast, Pop Tarts, Toaster Strudels, and my childhood favorite: Lucky Charms. Since it is loaded with fiber, granola is definitely healthy at its core. However, once it became trendy, it was marketed towards those who can afford to spend $12 on a bag of “all-natural oats.” Then, of course, came the children’s version, which is covered in chocolate bits, brown sugar, and cane syrup. So, we have the super expensive, hip granola brands and we have the regular brands with added sweetness–so the kids demand it.

My point is that it has become very pricey and almost too sweet to be anything other than a dessert. When you look at the ingredient list, you will see it is not the healthiest snack to consume. Even the all-organic varieties have many strange ingredients, including one we should avoid at all costs: corn syrup.

So, a simple solution to enjoy granola guilt-free? Fire up the oven and make it yourself. Homemade granola has exactly zero of the added preservatives (tocopherols) Quaker Oats or any store-bought brand has. For example, whey protein concentrate, canola oil, nonfat dry milk, natural flavor, sunflower oil, evaporated cane juice, soy oil, and oat syrup solids are cut out of the recipe. Just leave them back on store shelves–your kitchen can produce better.

You also get to control how much sugar and salt is added. I found most big brand bags to have around 13 grams of sugar per serving. The recipe below calls for ½ cup maple syrup. This will produce a sweet batch of granola, but if you do not want it too sweet then take it down to ⅓ cup. Also, comparatively speaking, this recipe makes a lot of granola. I have found ½ cup of maple syrup or honey to be perfect. The teaspoon of salt is important because it brings out the other flavors within the granola. However, you are king of your kitchen, so remove all the salt and natural sweetener if you like.

I use Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Oatmeal for all my oats and flour needs. Whole grain Old Fashion oats are nice because instant or quick-cooking oats do not keep their shape as well when baking. Although the granola will be just as tasty, it will not be as chunky and clumpy. Also, quick-cooking oats bake more quickly so make sure to stir every 5-10 minutes to avoid burning.

This recipe will tackle breakfast for a week. It can be used in lieu of cereal or atop yogurt. I like to pack my granola full of nuts and seeds; therefore, giving it more calories. (Which in this case can be consumed with a smile.)

Guilt-Free Granola
Makes 6 cups
Total Time: 35 minutes

4 Cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 Cup shaved almonds
1/4 Cup chopped cashews
1/2 Cup pepita (pumpkin) seeds
1 tbsp. chia seeds
1/2 Cup melted unrefined coconut oil
1/2 Cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 Cup dried cranberries (plus other dried fruit)

1. Set the oven for 350 degrees F and line a large pan with parchment paper.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, nuts, seeds, salt, and cinnamon.  Mix well.

2. Gently mix in the coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract.  Pour the granola mixture onto the pan and flatten out the granola with a spatula or spoon.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, stir, and resume baking another 10 minutes until crisp and golden.  Let the granola cool completely before breaking it into chunks and adding the dried fruit.  Store in an airtight container for up to ten days.

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