The Perfect Soft Granola Bars (Gluten Free & Vegan)
The PERFECT Soft Granola Bars – These chewy homemade granola bars are a perfect snack or school lunch treat. With so many ways to change them up, you can make a different batch every week! (Naturally sweetened, gluten free, vegan friendly.)
Some people love crunchy granola bars (I do!) and some love soft granola bars (I also do!). I’ve found a lot of kids prefer the soft kind, so when I developed this recipe a few years ago, my goal was something that was sweet (but not TOO sweet), soft and chewy (without falling apart) and easy to adapt (no one wants to eat the same kind forever, right?).
These are JUST what we’re looking for. They’re the PERFECT soft granola bars! They make a great afternoon snack or a fun surprise in a school lunch. After all that testing, here are a few secrets to the best homemade soft granola bars (plus a lot of different variations to choose from!)…
FIRST UP: WHAT’S IN SOFT GRANOLA BARS?
GLUTEN FREE QUICK COOKING OATS. I almost exclusively use rolled oats or steel-cut oats in my kitchen, but this is a good use for quick-cooking oats. I’ve found rolled make the bars too chewy, and they don’t hold together as well. (Steel-cut would be rock hard.) This brand and this brand are certified gluten free.
GLUTEN FREE CRISP RICE CEREAL. We almost always use crisp brown rice cereal, since it’s certified gluten free. If you’re not gluten intolerant, any crisp rice will do! We usually go for Erewhon, One Degree, or Barbara’s brands, which are certified GF. I get them at Sprouts, Whole Foods, Thrive Market, Natural Grocers, or in bulk at Amazon. (Note: Rice Krispies brand is NOT gluten free–it contains malt syrup, which contains gluten)
COCONUT OIL. I use coconut oil since it’s subtly sweet and I don’t feel like these granola bars have a strong coconut taste. You can use refined coconut oil (which doesn’t have any coconut flavor), or swap in butter or vegan butter, depending on your needs.
BROWN RICE SYRUP. Brown rice syrup is a thick, sweet syrup made from brown rice. It works wonders binding the mixture together and is neutral enough to let the other flavors shine. I find it least expensively ($4-5) at Sprouts, Natural Grocers, or Whole Foods, but I have also found it at Kroger and Amazon. *Can’t find it? See the FAQ + TIPS section below for a solution.
PURE MAPLE SYRUP. Just 2 tablespoons here, but pure maple syrup add a lovely sweet note.
SALT & VANILLA. My flavor balancers! I notice a difference when I forget the pinch of salt. It really brings out the other flavors. Vanilla lends some sweetness as well, though you can swap it out for other extracts (See the flavors section below for ideas!)
GOODIES. This is the fun part! You can mix and match ALL kinds of goodies to make new flavors. Keep scrolling for ideas!
MIX-IN IDEAS FOR HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS:
Here’s where you can really make things interesting! Feel free to gravitate toward classics you grew up with (chocolate chip, anyone?), or experiment with some fun combinations. Here are some ideas to get you started:
NUTS & SEEDS. (macadamia nuts, chopped or sliced almonds, pecans, peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.)
DRIED FRUITS. (raisins, cranberries, apricots, apples, cherries, goji berries, pineapple, mango, coconut, etc.)
FREEZE-DRIED FRUITS. So nice and fresh-tasting! The flavor is much brighter, and the sugar is less concentrated than in dried fruits. We like strawberries, raspberries, & blueberries. You can also go with mango, peach, pineapple, etc.
CHOCOLATE + CANDIES + EXTRAS. Add something fun, like:
- chocolate chips (we love these dairy free ones)
- candy-coated chocolate pieces (like M&Ms–these and these are dairy free!)
- mini marshmallows (Trader Joe’s and Dandie’s brands are GF + vegan)
- crushed pretzels (these are gluten free),
- or sprinkles (these are dye-free!)
EXTRACTS & SPICES. Add lots of big flavor with a small splash of an extract! Vanilla, almond extract, and coconut extract are regular faves at our house. Or, add some cinnamon, or pumpkin spice for variety!
SOME FAVORITE FLAVOR COMBINATIONS FOR HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS:
The possibilities for homemade soft granola bars are nearly endless! You could make a different batch every week for months without running out of flavor combinations! All you need is about 1/2 cup mix-ins for each batch. Some of our favorite combinations are:
- Chocolate + Dried Cherries = 1/4 cup dried cherries + 1/4 cup chocolate chips
- Coconut + Macadamia Nut = 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut + 1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
- Chocolate Strawberry = 1/4 cup chocolate chips + 1/4 cup chopped freeze-dried strawberries
- Vanilla Almond & Sea Salt = Sub 2 Tbsp. honey for maple syrup + 1/3-1/2 cup sliced almonds + 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
- Coconut Chocolate = 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut + 1/4 cup chocolate chips +1/4 tsp coconut or almond extract (optional)
- Cherry Almond = 1/4 cup dried cherries + 1/4 cup dried almonds + 1/4-1/2tsp. almond extract.
- Trail Mix = 1/4 cup mixed dried fruit + 1/4 cup mixed nuts & seeds (opt. +1/4 tsp. almond extract or vanilla)
- Monster Cookie = 1/4 cup peanuts + 1/4 cup M&M candies (these are dairy free)
- Cranberry Almond = 1/4 cup dried cranberries + 1/4 cup sliced almond
- Chocolate Hazelnut = 1/4 cup chocolate chips + 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
- Cinnamon Raisin Cookie = 1/2 cup raisins (or 1/4 cup each raisins and chocolate chips) + 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- Mixed Berries = 1/2 cup diced freeze dried berries, such as strawberries + raspberries + blueberries
Need more combination ideas? Check out some of our favorite flavors for trail mix! All of them work beautifully here.
FAQ + TIPS FOR THE BEST SOFT GRANOLA BARS.
WATCH THE BOILING TIME. You really want to follow the directions and let the mixture boil 3-4 minutes before pouring it into your oatmeal mixture. If you boil it less, they may not hold together as well. If you boil it too long, the mixture may be thicker, and the granola bars will end up more dry and hard.
PACK THEM TIGHTLY. The other important tip for perfectly soft, chewy granola bars is to pack them as tightly as you can. The more densely you can pack them into your container, the better they’ll stay together as they cool. If you don’t pat them down at all, they’re more likely to fall apart when you pick them up. If you pack them down, you shouldn’t have any trouble slicing them into bars or squares once they’ve set.
HOW TO STORE HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS. We store our soft granola bars in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator or freezer after slicing them. The less air exposure, the softer they’ll stay. They’ll keep for 4-5 days in the fridge and about a month in the freezer. (My kids pack them frozen for school lunch, and they’re perfectly soft and thawed by lunchtime!)
GLUTEN FREE NOTES. If you’re gluten free, be sure you’re using certified gluten free oats and certified gluten free crisp rice cereal. Neither oats nor crisp rice contain wheat gluten themselves, but they’re often processed or grown in ways that can cause cross-contamination. Certified GF is the way to go if you’re intolerant!
CAN’T FIND BROWN RICE SYRUP? Brown rice syrup is more common than it used to be (Sprouts, Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Kroger, Amazon, etc.), but sometimes you just can’t find it. In that case, you can use 1/4 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup coconut (or brown) sugar, and 1/4 cup pure maple syrup in place of the brown rice syrup/maple syrup/coconut oil amounts listed below. Follow the rest of the directions as written.
Like this recipe? You might also like:
- 7 Ways with Overnight Oats
- 15 Healthy Snacks You Can Make RIGHT NOW
- Peanut Butter Protein Bars – Clean Eating Couple (So easy!)
- My Ultimate Guide to Trail Mix
- 10 Healthy Snacks with Fruit
- 2 Weeks of Healthy School Lunches (+2 MORE Weeks of Ideas!)
HELPFUL FOR THIS RECIPE:
The PERFECT Soft Granola Bars (Gluten Free + Vegan)
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 10-12 bars per pan 1x
The perfect base recipe for perfect soft granola bars! These chewy homemade granola bars are perfect for snacks or school lunches. (Naturally sweetened, gluten free, vegan friendly)
- 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats (gluten free, if needed)
- 1 cup crisp rice cereal (gluten free, if needed)
- pinch salt
- 1/3 cup brown rice syrup**
- 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (or honey, if not vegan)
- 4 Tbsp coconut oil (can sub butter/vegan butter)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup add-ins (Mix and match! See notes below for ideas)
- Line an 8×8″ or 9×9″ baking dish with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine the oats, crisp rice, and salt. Stir to combine well.
- In a small saucepan, combine brown rice syrup, honey, and coconut oil. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring regularly. Boil 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla extract (or any other extracts you’re using).
- Pour wet mixture over the oat mixture. Add your mix-ins (nuts, fruit, chocolate chips, etc.) and stir to combine really well. Press into an 8×8″ baking dish and press down with a spatula as hard as possible to flatten and compact it into the pan. The more compact, the better.
- Refrigerate about 1 hour before slicing into bars or squares, and enjoy!
- Store extra granola bars in a zip top bag in the refrigerator for a week or the freezer for up to a month.
**If you can’t find brown rice syrup, you can substitute 1/4 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup coconut or brown sugar, and 1/4 cup pure maple syrup for the amounts of brown rice syrup/coconut oil/pure maple syrup above. Follow the boiling instructions and keep the rest of the directions the same.
- NUTS & SEEDS (macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, etc.)
- DRIED FRUITS. (raisins, cranberries, apricots, cherries, goji berries, pineapple, mango, coconut, etc.)
- FREEZE-DRIED FRUITS. (strawberries, raspberries, & blueberries, mango, peach, pineapple, etc.)
- CHOCOLATE + CANDIES + EXTRAS. Chocolate chips, candy-coated chocolate pieces (like M&Ms), mini marshmallows, crushed pretzels, etc.
- EXTRACTS. 1/2-1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1/4-1/2 tsp. almond extract, and 1/4 tsp. coconut extract are regular faves at our house.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Snacks, Desserts
- Method: No-Bake
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: soft granola bars, soft chewy granola bars, chewy granola bars, no bake granola bars, gluten free granola bars, vegan granola bars, naturally sweetened granola bars
Originally posted April 2016. Completely updated Aug 2019.
These look awesome! Can’t wait to make these for school lunches. And thank you for being so detailed and thorough. Just a couple of questions: if I pulse rolled oats in the vitamin for a bit is that an ok substitute for quick oats? Or are quick oats thinner, processed differently enough that I wouldn’t want to use rolled oats at all? And my second question, would you be able to provide a teaspoon measurement for the salt? I know what a pinch is, but it seems that every recipe I try that calls for a pinch always tastes under-salted.. thanks so much!!!
Lindsay – Great question. The big difference between quick and rolled oats is largely the steaming, rolling, and slicing. Quick oats are sliced thinner, so they cook faster. In this case (for a no-bake recipe), I like the texture, and I’ve found that rolled oats aren’t as tender and don’t compact the same way since they’re thicker. (You want the mixture super compacted so it stays together well).
If you pulsed rolled oats in a food processor, it would definitely break them up a bit, but I’m not sure if it’d be uniform enough for the best texture. (Since they’d be ground in irregular shapes, rather than thinly sliced). So for *best* results, I’d say stick with quick-cooking oats if you can. But, in a pinch, your workaround would probably work! I’d love to know how it goes if you give it a try!
And for the salt, I usually start with about 1/8 tsp. and always taste and add more salt, as desired. You should be able to tell right away after stirring the mixture together (before pressing it into the pan) if it’s salted to your taste. If not, feel free to add a bit more!
Hope that helps–THANK YOU so much for your questions!
I just made these. They are easy and SO GOOD! I used a tsp of vanilla powder instead of the extract. I did the variation with the freeze-dried blueberries and strawberries and threw in some pepitas. Will definitely be making a zillion variations.
I LOVE vanilla powder! I bet that tasted amazing! 🙂
I’m looking forward to trying this recipe! I have to drastically reduce my sugar intake so I’m using stevia as my go to sweetener. I’m sure I can find a sugar free maple syrup … have you tried any of the lower sugar options? I’m just hoping that they will still turn out as amazing as the comments I’ve been seeing! Thank you!
Darlene – I don’t bake with any sugar subs, so I haven’t tried these with any lower sugar options. I’m sorry! The syrups here are really great binders. If you use a different option, your bars may not hold together as well…
Do you think that this will work with canola oil? I need to find a vegan option that is palm oil, coconut, and nut free. Thanks!
Sherry – It should work, though it won’t add the slightly sweet taste of coconut oil. You should be good! 🙂
Very yummy!!! Easy to make, with great results!
I’m so glad you enjoyed them! They’re my favorite! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a review! I appreciate it so much!
Where do I get brown rice syrup? I can’t find it anywhere. I didn’t even know it existed before this recipe
Christine – I find it least expensively ($4-5) at Sprouts, Natural Grocers, or Whole Foods, but I have also found it at Kroger and Amazon. Depending on the store, it’s sometimes kept in the natural or health food section, near breakfast syrups, or by baking syrups (like corn syrup, molasses, etc.).
Hi there! Just found this recipe and the flavor was absolutely amazing! However, I followed your instructions for the brown rice syrup substitute version ( with coconut sugar, not brown), and my bars mostly crumbled when I cut them. Any idea what went wrong?
Sorry you ran into trouble! The substitute version doesn’t hold together as well as the brown rice syrup version, but I’m usually at least able to cut them without them crumbling. One thought is that you may have let the mixture boil too long, which can lead to crumbling and dryness later. Another way to help prevent this in the future is to add 2 Tbsp. nut butter to the liquid mixture after boiling. Sometimes this will thicken and soften the liquid ingredients enough to make the bars more pliable. Again, I’m so sorry!
Made this recipes for my son’s lunches for school … struggled not to just eat it out of the bowl before even making the bars! they’re in the fridge hardening right now, but super excited to send one with him tomorrow! love homemade options and I’m so glad I found this recipe! thank you so much!
I’m so glad you liked them, Hannah! Hopefully they’re a huge hit for your son this week!
Did anyone else follow the recipe exactly but the bars came out super dry and don’t really stick together? I made a second time and added an extra 1 tbsp of each wet ingredient and they are still crumbly?? Taste AMAZING tho!!
Nicole – I’m so sorry to hear that! Did you use the brown rice syrup or maple syrup? The brown rice syrup option will stick together better than the maple syrup. Another trick you can try is stirring 1-2 Tbsp. nut butter into the wet ingredients mix to help bind things. Again, I’m so sorry they didn’t stick together as well as you’d hoped!
Love, love, LOVE this recipe!! So yummy and chewy, and I love that they are super customizable!! One question, the first time a made these the chocolate chips melted because the mixture was so hot from boiling the syrups and oil. Then the second time I made them, I stirred in the syrup mixture, and then let it cool, but it got kind of hard and crumbly. I still love the recipe, I was just wondering if it would work if I boiled the syrup and oil mixture, let it cool, and then mixed in into the granola bars. Thank you sooo much for the great recipe!
Oona – Thank you so much for your review! Yes–I think that letting the syrup cool slightly then mixing it into the oatmeal mixture will help protect your chocolate chips!
Thank you soooo much for getting back so quickly!! Making them this morning!!
I have continued to make this PERFECT recipe MANY times!!! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE LOVE LOVE them!! They freeze amazingly well, and taste FANTASTIC!! I really want to thank Emily for creating such a great recipe that is pretty healthy. I struggle to find healthy and yummy recipes to make for my family, and Emily’s website has been so amazing for me!!! Thank you soooo much
You’re the best, Oona. THANK YOU!
I really enjoyed this recipe. It was easy to follow and made with every day ingredients. My daughter wanted triple C bars (coconut, cranberry, white choc chips) and they turned out quite good. My only issue was that, for me, they were too sweet. I’m always cautious when adjusting sugar because I know it can also change texture. I also know that the white chocolate chips getting a little melty probably added to the sweetness. Any recommendations on how to cut down on the sweetness? Also, for sharing/gifting, recommendations on how to wrap?
Tani – I’m SO glad you enjoyed them! I agree that it’s probably the white chocolate (it’s so sweet!). You definitely need all the liquid in this recipe for them to hold together, but you could try cutting down on the added chocolate chips and drizzling them with a little bit of melted white chocolate instead at the end, rather than adding them to the recipe. You may also like these peanut butter granola bars that use nut butter to cut down on the sweetness!