A few years ago, Mike and I made a trip out to Boston and Maine. Although it wasn't a fiscally irresponsible thing to do, it was our second vacation of the year, on top of the facts that lodging in Boston is very expensive and the under-25 rental car fee surcharge is outrageously high. So I appointed myself the Budget Czar of the trip, responsible for cutting costs wherever possible. I found us a studio apartment in Boston with a kitchen so that we could cook dinner (deluxe Kraft Mac 'n Cheese that we brought in our luggage) and tracked down a very cheap, authentic restaurant in Chinatown (as a bonus, the portions were so huge that we got to eat the leftovers for dinner the next night). In Maine, we bought groceries for a picnic lunch in Acadia and stayed in budget-friendly Bass Harbor instead of pricier Bar Harbor. But my most infamous frugality effort of the trip, the one Mike will probably never let me live down, is Oatmeal to Go (a processed breakfast bar made by Quaker).
In theory, I was looking for a portable, non-perishable breakfast option so that we wouldn't have to go out for breakfast. In reality, we ended up eating unpleasantly textured bricks with limited flavor and a dauntingly unpronounceable ingredient list. But because I'm stubborn, instead of sensibly just tossing the things in the trash and going out for Dunkin' Donuts or actual bowls of oatmeal, I insisted that we eat our Oatmeal to Go bars every day. I don't know why Mike didn't "accidentally" nudge me into the Atlantic Ocean. By day 5 of Oatmeal to Go, I deserved it.
Nevertheless, I do love oatmeal, minus the high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, glycerin, etc. I microwave bowls of quick oats as a quick lunch or snack, and top them with a bit of brown sugar, maple syrup, nuts, pumpkin pie spice, or a chopped apple. But as much as I like oatmeal in a spoonable form, I decided to try my hand at making a homemade version of Oatmeal to Go as a more portable healthy snack option. The recipe below is for cranberry walnut oatmeal bars, but I've also had delicious results using blueberries and almonds or pecans and cranberries. Feel free to experiment with whatever dried fruit and nuts you like, and let me know if you come up with any additional delicious variations. You can substitute quick oats for the rolled oats for a bar with a more cake-like texture; personally, I prefer the chewiness of the rolled oats.
Full disclosure: since the only sweetness in these bars comes from the dried fruit, these are more on the savory than sweet side. While I enjoy them, Mike (who uses far more sugar on his oatmeal than I do) thinks they're bland.
Adapted from Kath Eats Real Food
Yield: 4 breakfast-sized bars or 8 snack-sized bars
- 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
- 1/4 cup unsalted roasted sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 1 1/4 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine oats, sunflower seeds, walnuts, cranberries, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg, milk, and vanilla. Pour mixture into an 8 x 8 pan lined with parchment paper or greased. Spread mixture to an even thickness and press down firmly with a spatula.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until bars have set and oatmeal is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars and store tightly covered in refrigerator. Warm in microwave for 15 seconds before serving.