Nutrient Dense Treats
By Tess Weaver Strokes

Crave more sugar in winter? You’re not alone. Whether it’s a response to the winter blahs, stress eating through the holidays or a lack of body awareness during the darker months of the year, sugar and winter seem to go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Unfortunately, we tend to indulge our sweet tooth during the season that demands the most from our immune system. But cutting out treats all together might suck too much joy from winter. Thanks to the vast array of alternative sweeteners on the market, it’s never been easier to at least kick refined sugar to the curb. Real-food sweeteners like dates, coconut sugar, monkfruit, maple syrup, and raw honey, not only sweeten but add complex flavors. And raw treats aren’t only more nutritious but require zero oven space and few dishes (why not swap out a labor-intensive pastry crust with a two-ingredient pecan-date crust?). This winter, swap out the sugary cookies, cakes, and pies for one of these naturally sweetened treats.

Whether you call them “bliss balls”, “energy bites” or “snack balls”, round shapes of blended raw nuts, fruit and seeds are taking juice bars and the internet by storm. Start with an equal amount of organic medjool dates and raw nuts blended in the food processor as a base and the flavor possibilities stretch as long as the #blissballs Instagram feed. Add chia seeds or flax seeds for texture, oats, or keep them grain-free by adding nut butter, collagen peptides, shredded coconut, cocoa nibs, pumpkin, dried blueberries, lemon zest or cocoa powder. Roll, coat in shredded coconut, cocoa powder or freeze-dried berry powder, and you’ve got a treat as pretty as it is delicious and nutritious. Store in the fridge for a week or freezer for a month for a grab-and-go energy boost. We like some versions by Eating Bird Food (Tahini Chocolate Chip with rolled oats, tahini, collagen peptides and mini chocolate chips), Ambitious Kitchen (Salted Date Brownie Bites with Medjool dates, almonds, flaxseed meal and cocoa powder), and Two Peas & Their Pod (Blueberry Coconut Energy Bites with oats, dried blueberries and flaked coconut).

Chunky Granola
There are two camps for granola: loose and sprinkleable (that should be a word) or chunky. I’m firmly in the latter camp, which is what inspired this original recipe. The key? Not stirring or disturbing the granola during the cooking or cooling process. It produces a sheet pan sized granola bar. When broken into large chunks and mixed with dried fruit and seeds, it’s the perfect whole-food cereal, topping for plant-based yogurt or sweet crunchy snack any time of day ( I pack big chunks for kindergarten snacks).

3 cups whole rolled oats
1 cup whole buckwheat groats (you can omit and use 4 cups oats instead, but I like the puffed cereal-like texture they add)
2 cups raw, whole nuts (chopped nuts will burn)
Salt to taste
1 or 2 TBSP pumpkin pie spice (or any combo of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, all spice)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup Dash of vanilla
1-2 TBSP molasses (optional, but adds a nice color)
1 cup dried fruit (coconut “smiles", dried cherries, dried blueberries and dried currents are all more unexpected and flavorful than raisins)
Handful of pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Directions: Oven to 340 degrees Line baking sheet with parchment paper
1. Combine honey or maple, vanilla (and molasses if using) and coconut oil in a pot over medium heat until mixture is combined and starts to bubble.
2. Mix oats, buckwheat, salt and spices in a large bowl
3. Pour wet mixture into dry ingredients and stir to combine
4. Spread onto parchment paper
5. Bake for 15 mins
6. Rotate pan, but don't touch the granola!
7. Bake for 10-15 mins (you want golden, but not too dark)
8. Put pan on drying rack to cool
9. Once cool, you can break up the granola and add the dried fruit and seeds
10. You can store in a glass jar in the pantry, but it keeps crunchiest if you roll it up with the parchment paper (helps absorb some moisture), place in a large Ziploc and store in the freezer.

Chia Pudding
The perfect make-ahead breakfast or snack, chia pudding is creamy, satisfying and loaded with protein, fiber and omega-3s. It’s also vegan, gluten-free, paleo and keto. Plus, it’s beyond easy. There are hundreds of chia pudding recipes out there (everything from key lime to pumpkin spice), but Eating Bird Food offers a ratio that seems to work every time:
3-4 Tablespoons of chia seeds to 1 cup of liquid (any nut or seed milk, coconut milk or even fresh juice).
Optional: add a pinch of sea salt, any desired spices or flavorings, something sweet (mashed banana, maple syrup, dried fruit) and something with texture, like chopped nuts.
Shake it up in a mason jar and leave in the fridge for for three hours or overnight.

Fig and Coconut Brownies
These flourless, vegan brownies from MindBodyGreen are packed with superfoods, antioxidants, protein and healthy fats. They turn out consistently perfect and fool every kid I’ve “tricked” so far.

½ cup raw almonds
½ cup dried pitted dates
½ cup raw organic cacao powder
1/3 cup applesauce
¼ cup organic coconut sugar
¼ cup light canned coconut milk
¼ cup organic coconut shreds
5-6 stemmed dried figs
2 Tbsp. organic unrefined coconut oil
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
Optional: sea salt flakes to top

Blend almonds in food processor until ground.
Pulse in the dry ingredients (cacao, sugar, salt, and baking soda).
Next, add the dates, figs, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut shreds, and blend until you have a smooth batter.
In a medium bowl, stir applesauce into the batter.
Grease an 8x8” pan lined with foil and spread batter evenly on the foil (optionally, top with flaky sea salt).
Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool about 10 minutes before cutting.
They’re great once cooled, but they’re best the next day from the refrigerator.