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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.)

Different Flavors of Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

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!)…

Making Homemade Granola Bars A Pan of Perfect Soft Granola Bars

FIRST UP: WHAT’S IN SOFT GRANOLA BARS?

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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 Mixing Up Homemade Granola Bars

MIX-IN IDEAS FOR HOMEMADE GRANOLA BARS:

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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!

7 Flavors of Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life 7 Flavors of Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

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. 

A Pan of Cut Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

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.

7 Flavors of Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

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HELPFUL FOR THIS RECIPE: 

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7 Different Flavors of Homemade Soft Granola Bars

The PERFECT Soft Granola Bars (Gluten Free + Vegan)


  • Author: One Lovely Life
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 10-12 bars per pan 1x

Description

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)


Ingredients

Scale
  • 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)

Instructions

  1. Line an 8×8″ or 9×9″ baking dish with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, crisp rice, and salt. Stir to combine well.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. Refrigerate about 1 hour before slicing into bars or squares, and enjoy!
  6. Store extra granola bars in a zip top bag in the refrigerator for a week or the freezer for up to a month.

Notes

**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. 

ADD-IN IDEAS

  • 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

Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life
7 Flavors of Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life7 Flavors of Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely LifeHomemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely LifeHomemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

Homemade Soft Granola Bars from One Lovely Life

Originally posted April 2016. Completely updated Aug 2019.

51 Comments

    1. Lindsay – I actually wouldn’t. They’re so thick that they won’t compact as well as quick-cooking oats. They’ll also be much chewier.

  1. I love these, I’m going to try them! I love that they’re basic and we can tailor them to our nut/peanut allergies. Thanks for the recipe!

  2. SO SO YUMMY! and SO SO easy to make! We did the cherry chocolate combo and the first time I forgot the chocolate, but they still tasted awesome. The next time I didn’t forget the chocolate and they were incredible! My kids LOVE them too, which is always a plus 🙂

  3. Excited to try this recipe but im wondering if, when you pack them in a container, do they stick to each other?

    1. Amanda – I store my leftovers in the fridge to prolong their shelf life and I have no problem with sticking. If you were going to take them unrefrigerated into the hot sun for a few hours, they will probably stick together. If you have them in a lunch box or cooler, or even at room temperature, this shouldn’t be a problem.

  4. Thanks Emily! Totally appreciate these recipes. Definitely loving these and your gluten free/dairy free family friendly food!!

    1. Jenelle – I have never made them with margarine, but I imagine they’d work out just fine. If you make them this way, I’d love to know how they turned out!

  5. By far the best granola bar recipe! Every other recipe I ever made were either falling apart or hard as rock, but these are absolutely perrrrrrfect! Other ad-ins ideas : slivered almonds and dried cranberries, or chopped dried mangoes and coconut! Yummmmmy!

    1. I haven’t tried it with oat flour, but I don’t think the ratios would be the same. If you try it, I’d love to know how it works out!

    1. I would not use molasses instead of brown rice syrup. Molasses is a VERY strong flavor and will overpower the granola bars. Brown rice syrup blends right in and allows the other flavors to shine more.

    1. You can’t substitute for brown rice syrup in this recipe–I’m sorry! Honey or maple syrup won’t be thick enough and they’ll be overly sweet.

  6. Hi! I now make these every week for my family 🙂 thanks so much for the great recipe. One question though they are still far too sweet for my taste buds… We eliminated all sugar last year so this now affects how we taste sweet things. Do I need to add the extra honey or can I just use the rice syrup? Or can I cut the honey in half? How can I reduce the sweet flavor but still have them stick together and be chewy… Thanks a lot! Julie

    1. Julie – So glad you enjoy them. I know what you mean about your sweetness tolerance adjusting! As for how to adapt them, I haven’t tested them any other way, so you’ll probably need to play with the amounts a bit, since you still want them to stick together.

      As you mentioned, you might be able to get away with eliminating the honey/syrup and sticking with just the brown rice syrup, since it’s just 2 Tbsp. I’d start by using half the amount of honey and seeing how they stick together, then going from there.

      Another idea would be to stir in a Tbsp or two of nut/seed butter in place of the honey, which will give you that moisture/binding power without any more added sugar. If you go this route, I’d add the nut butter AFTER boiling the brown rice syrup, then whisking till it melts/gets smooth. Does that make sense?

      If you end up adapting them, I’d love to know how they turn out!

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