FBC nutritionist,  Sondi Bruner, loves to take favourite recipes and show you how to adapt them to be allergen-friendly, as well as delicious and healthy.  She also includes vegetarian or vegan options where appropriate.  Today, she tackles a lunch box staple and allergy minefield with her guide on how to make allergen friendly granola bars!

Allergy Friendly Recipe Remix: Granola Bars | Food Bloggers of Canada

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Navigating the  contents of school lunchboxes can be a minefield when it comes to allergies, zero waste or pre-packeged foods.  And the granola bar can be tricky - for kids and adults alike!

Everyone loves a good granola bar as fuel, right? They’re simple, filling, portable, endlessly versatile, and can perform double duty as a snack or an on-the-go breakfast. The trouble with many store-bought bars, though, is they’ve developed a bogus ‘health halo’, when they actually contain artificial ingredients, preservatives and loads of sugar – they’re often no better than chowing down on a candy bar!

Know Your Granola Bar Ingredients

Making granola bars at home means you’ll end up with a snack that will help, not hinder, your health, and you can eliminate some of those nasty allergens, too. You'll know exactly what you're putting into it!

It’s tricky to define a standard granola bar, since they vary so widely, but many recipes contain some of the following ingredients:

  • Oats
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Dried Fruit
  • Chocolate
  • Butter
  • Corn Syrup

Here are a few switcheroos (ingredient swaps) to make your granola bars more allergen-friendly.

Swapping out the Regular Oats

There is some dispute about whether oats are gluten-free. This can be befuddling, so hang in with me.

Oats do not contain gluten themselves, but they’re often grown alongside wheat, or processed with other glutenous stuff in facilities, leading to cross-contamination. This can cause a reaction in those who have celiac or are gluten-sensitive.

In Canada, manufacturers are not allowed to label products with oats as ‘gluten-free’. Even when oats are processed apart from gluten-y things, there is a small percentage of celiac patients who can’t tolerate them (experts believe this is due to another protein called ‘avenin’). Still, this led to the kibosh on gluten-free oats.

You can, however, find oats here that are wheat-free. These oats contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten (a product is considered gluten-free when it tests at 20ppm or below), and are considered safe to use.

When I make granola bars, my first swap is wheat-free rolled oats, as they taste exactly the same as traditional oats.

Other Grains You Can Use In Granola Bars

However, oats aren’t the only grain you can use in your granola bars. I’ve also subbed in whole buckwheat groats, cooked brown rice and quinoa flakes, which can be trickier to find in some grocery stores, but they’re widely available online. I recently picked up a bag of buckwheat flakes – I haven’t used them yet, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with them!

Don’t Go Nuts

Instead of nuts or nut butters, use seeds instead. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia, flax or hemp seeds are great options, plus they contain a fantastic nutrient profile. Toss them in whole, or use their butters (sunbutter is a fave of mine). If seeds are an allergen, too, then leave them out entirely and compensate with more dried fruit.


Create dairy-free granola bars by using coconut oil, which is my default substitute for butter. Coconut oil is rich in healthy saturated fats, it’s good for digestion, plus it contains anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. (It’s also a good stand-in for moisturizer and lube, but that’s a topic for another post.)

I substitute coconut oil for butter in a 1:1 ratio. I find coconut oil works particularly well in no-bake recipes, as it firms up and hardens in the fridge, binding everything together.

Everybody Loves Chocolate

Choose a dairy-free chocolate bar, dairy-free chocolate chips, or raw cacao nibs instead of milk chocolate. Nobody will notice the difference, ‘cause they’ll be swooning over the chocolate-y goodness.

RELATED:  27 Christmas Cookie Swap Recipes

Say Goodbye to Corn Syrup

I’m not a fan of corn syrup, as it’s extremely refined, usually made from genetically modified corn, and in the case of high-fructose corn syrup, hard on the liver.

Raw honey is rich in enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and is great natural sweetener to add to your granola bars. For the vegans in the crowd, use brown rice syrup – though you might need to use less of it, as I find brown rice syrup tastes much sweeter than other sugar alternatives. Here's more info on natural sweetener substitutions.

Toss in Some Beans and Legumes!

Recently, I was introduced to the idea of using lentils in sweet treats like muffins and cookies. While I’ve used chickpeas and black beans in baked goods before, it never occurred to me to try lentils. My mind was blown! Why not puree some lentils or chickpeas and add them to your wet ingredients? This is the plan for my next batch of bars!

What’s your favourite granola bar? Share the recipe (or a link to the recipe) in the comments.

No Bake Sunbutter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
Prep time
Total time
Recipe type: Snack Bars
Serves: 8-10
  • 1½ cups walnuts, or sunflower seeds for a nut-free version
  • 1½ cups walnuts, or sunflower seeds for a nut-free version
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup cacao nibs or dairy-free chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup cacao nibs or dairy-free chocolate chips
  • ⅓ cup sunbutter (http://www.sondibruner.com/2014/02/14/no-bake-sunbutter-chocolate-chip-granola-bars/)
  • ⅓ cup sunbutter (http://www.sondibruner.com/2014/02/14/no-bake-sunbutter-chocolate-chip-granola-bars/)
  • ¼ cup raw honey (or brown rice syrup to make them vegan)
  • ¼ cup raw honey (or brown rice syrup to make them vegan)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • pinch of salt
  1. Put the walnuts or seeds into a food processor and pulse until they are ground into a rough meal. Dump the meal into a bowl and add the shredded coconut and cacao nibs.
  2. In a small pot, gently melt the sunbutter, honey, coconut oil and pinch of salt together. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix well.
  3. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, then spoon the granola bar mixture into the pan. Press down evenly with the back of a spoon, or your fingers.
  4. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour, then cut into bars or squares. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

More Reading

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This site is also an affiliate for the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.

Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer, food blogger and author of  Simple Superfood Smoothies, The Anti-Inflammatory Diet in 21The Candida Free Cookbook and Action Plan, co-author of The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Action Plans. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. She is also the head program coach for the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com.

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One Comment


Sondi, these sound awesome! My immediate family doesn’t have any food sensitivities but for school and sharing with friends and relatives it’s always great to have snacks that everyone can have. Thanks for the great tips and recipe!

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