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:
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
- 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:
Originally posted April 2016. Completely updated Aug 2019.