I first tried LaraBars at Folklife in 2010, at a table full of free samples. I don't remember liking them that much. I still liked my synthetic and grainy energy bars. But, as I transitioned to a more "real food" diet, I realized that my outdoor nutrition needed a makeover. So, I returned to Lara Bars last year, since they have only 3-4 ingredients. Now, I love most of their flavors! I think my tastes and cravings have changed along with my diet.
Lara Bars are great, but they come at a price. When summer arrived and our biking/climbing activity spiked, we wanted to see if we could make our own for less. There are lots of recipes for homemade Lara bars online. Essentially you puree some dried fruit and nuts, knead them into dough, press them into a pan, refrigerate/freeze to set, then chop into bars. This is one good recipe with great details and photos. And here is another one.
Here is the recipe I used today:
3 cups of Trader Joe's Almond Meal
4 cups of dried fruit: about 75% pitted dates and 25% dried cherries
1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut
- Line an 8x8 glass pan with parchment paper.
- Grind the almonds. Or, in my case, don't. I'm an expedient cook whenever possible. Using almond meal saves my small food processor from overheating and shortens preparation time.
- Soak the fruit in hot water for 10 minutes until it is soft, drain the water, and puree in the food processor. The extra bit of water from the soaking really helps get an even puree. I got impatient, so I put the bowl of water and fruit in the microwave for 30 seconds (anti-microwave people, avert your eyes!). It had the same effect as a 10-minute soak.
- Then, take your (clean) hands and knead it all together in a bowl. Once it is blended, press into the baking dish. Freeze for 20 minutes to set. Use a sharp knife to cut into squares or bars. Wrap individually in foil, or store in the fridge and package them as you go.
Retail prices of Lara Bars in Seattle as of summer/fall 2013:
$1.59 - single 1.6 oz bar, PCC; $15.90/lb
$1.49 - single 1.6 oz bar, QFC; $14.90/lb
$19.99 - box of 16, Amazon.com; $12.50/lb
$18.00 - box of 18, Costco; $10.00/lb
$5.99 - box of 10, Grocery Outlet; $5.99/lb unfortunately they were stale and tasted bad.
Costs of bulk ingredients at Trader Joe's:
1 lb almond meal: $4.99/lb or $0.31/oz
1 lb apricots: $2.99/lb or $0.19/oz
1 lb dates: $4.99/lb or $0.31/oz
Total cost of 3 lb raw ingredients was $13, or $4.33/lb.
Cost for the batch I made today:
2 C almond meal: about 3/5 of the package, or $3 worth
1 lb dates, about $5 worth
4 oz dried cherries, about $2.00 worth
1/2 C coconut was probably about $0.50.
So, today, for $10.50, I made about 2 lb of Larabars. That's about $5.50/lb, give or take. Cherries were an expensive treat that I got in honor of Jon recently receiving a 3-year NASA grant to use at the UW. Other dried fruits like cranberries and apricots provide flavorful tartness at a lower price. If I had a Costco membership, I think I could get a lower price on the dates, but the nearest Costco is a longer drive and you have to pay to join. Yep, there's always a tradeoff!
Overall, making your own bars is one-third to one-half the cost of buying them. It is a bit of a project, probably taking 30-60 minutes per batch if you factor in all the clean-up. We also overheated our little food processor while pureeing the dried fruit the first time around. The microwave trick really worked and resulted in better texture. Another downside is that homemade bars have less of a shelf life and wrapping them individually is tedious. We have to be more careful when throwing them into bike jersey pockets and backpacks because they're more squishable. Also, they are so delicious and since they are homemade, I feel like I have a license to eat them anytime I want to! I'm much more stingy with the pricey store-bought LaraBars.
Bottom line? Eating real food always costs a bit more time or money, but it's soooo worth it!