Nut-free chewy honey cereal bars

It’s a new school year and my new term’s resolution is to get organised with packed lunches. These lunchbox treats are nut-free, high in protein and taste better than anything you can buy in a packet.

There’s a lot of pressure on parents these days to make sure kids are eating a varied, healthy diet, without ultra-processed elements or plastic packaging. We’re generally pretty good at doing this with the meals eaten at home, but lunchboxes present a different challenge. Proper sourdough bread, for example, makes for quite a challenging sandwich on the second day, especially for little mouths.

Making everything from scratch is always going to take much longer than assembling a load of shop-bought packets, and of course, the most important thing is for your kids to look forward to lunch and come home with an empty box, but I like a challenge and the more I hear about the long-term effects of ultra-processed food, the more determined I am to try to exclude it from our diet.

I had all of that in mind when I made these nut-free cereal bars. I’m going to say straight away that they contain far too much honey to truly be called “healthy”, but they include a variety of cereal grains and they’re nut-free to comply with school allergy policies. I’ve also snuck in some high protein elements – tahini, coconut, pumpkin seeds and chickpea flour – to help grow and repair those active little bodies and make them feel fuller for longer. Very best of all, the children LOVE them!

You can of course vary the combination of dried fruit and seeds, depending on your children’s preference (or whatever you happen to have lurking in the cupboard). If you’re looking to make a vegan version, it would be worth experimenting with coconut oil instead of butter and agave syrup instead of honey – let me know how you get on!

Nut-free honey cereal bars

Makes 15 squares or 16 bars

  • 165 g runny honey
  • 70 g light muscovado sugar
  • 85 g butter
  • 40 g tahini paste
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 115 g rolled oats
  • 50 g gram flour (chickpea flour)
  • 45 g desiccated coconut
  • 25 g puffed rice
  • 25 g cornflakes
  • 50 g dried sour cherries
  • 50 g candied peel
  • 50 g pumpkin seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160° fan) | 350F | gas 4 and grease and line a 20 cm x 30 cm baking tin with baking parchment.
  2. Put the honey, sugar, butter and tahini in a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until melted and starting to simmer. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl, then stir in the honey mixture. Scrape it into the prepared baking tin and spread it out evenly. Wet your hands and press down really firmly to compact.
  4. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes or until golden brown across the whole surface. Leave to cool completely in the tin.
  5. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the tray to loosen, then tip it out onto a chopping board. Peel away the baking parchment, then cut into squares or bars (I cut my sheet into 3 lengthways and 5 widthways to make 15 squares as that was the best fit for the kids’ lunchboxes, but you could cut the sheet in half lengthways, then cut each strip across into 8 rectangular bars). Store in an airtight tin.

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