Healthy meals on-the-go to replace fast food this busy time of year

January tends to be make-it-yourself season, when we all try to save money and eat healthier by making our own meals. It's also a busy time of year when you need to save on time. Here's how to do both.

CBC food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal offers a few ideas for quick snacks and dinners

Chewy granola bars are made with your preferred combination of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, plus some sort of binding agent, such as golden pea butter, peanut butter or tahini. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

January tends to be make-it-yourself season, when we all try to save money and eat healthier by making our own breakfast, lunch and often dinner.

Yet it's also a busy time of year. Lessons and other extracurricular activities are picking up again. Everything from swimming lessons to hockey tournaments make it more tempting to hit the drive-thru between school, work and other things. Even at work, January is prime bring-it-yourself lunch time.

The food industry is constantly telling us we don't have time to cook, that we should make life easy and pick up some fast food. But a little planning makes it easier to have a homemade dinner, even when the kids need to eat in the back seat. (You can save yours to leisurely enjoy in the stands.)

You see a lot of elaborate to-go meals these days, but all-in-one is where it's at. Go for single dishes that aren't drippy and that you can eat with a fork or spoon, such as chunky pasta and meatballs, squares of frittata, falafel, pizza rolls and even thick chili.

Pizza rolls are one of many bite-sized dishes that you can eat in the car or in the bleachers. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

When my son was little, he loved what he called platters: a tray of bite-sized cheese, grapes, crackers and other little things he could nibble on, sort of like a kid version of cheese and charcuterie. I'd pack it in a little compartmentalized plastic tackle box I bought just for that purpose when he needed to take it to go.

And really, there's no shame in a peanut butter and jam sandwich with a banana for dinner in the back seat.

Of course a full-on meal isn't always required; sometimes you just need snacks here and there to fill in the gaps and avoid the lure of the vending machine.

I make granola bars on the regular (see recipe below) out of oat or barley flakes, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and coconut. Yes, you can sneak some chocolate chips in there too. Bind it with a neutral oil, nut butter, maple syrup or tahini and honey.

They travel well, so you can tuck them into a glove compartment or gym bag for snacking emergencies.

These power balls sell for $2 a pop in stores, but they're simple and cheap to make at home. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

The same goes for those no-bake energy balls that are so popular at coffee shops. They're actually very easy to make at home and don't really require a recipe.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse soft dates, apricots and dry figs with chopped almonds, pecans, cashews or walnuts. Add a shake of coconut and/or a spoonful of cocoa, if you like, and a pinch of cinnamon.

Add a spoonful of honey or maple syrup and/or a spoonful of nut butter. Blend until you have a mixture that holds together when you squeeze it into a ball.

If it's too sticky, add a bit more cocoa, nuts or fruit. If it's too dry, add a bit more honey or nut butter. Roll the mixture into balls, and that's it.

Chewy granola bars

Feel free to use any nuts, seeds and dried fruit you happen to have. I like sesame, sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds. You can use golden pea butter or tahini if you want to go nut-free.

Chewy granola bars are simple to make and tasty. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)


1¾ cups rolled oats, barley flakes or a combination

½ cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup oat or barley flour

¼ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

2 to 2½ cups chopped dried fruit, nuts and seeds

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup peanut butter, golden pea butter, tahini or other nut butter

1/3 cup liquid honey, maple syrup or Rogers golden syrup

1 tsp vanilla


Preheat the oven to 350 F and spray or line an eight-by-eight inch pan with parchment.

In a large bowl, stir together the oats, brown sugar, oat flour, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

In a small bowl, stir together the canola oil, nut butter, honey and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until well blended and crumbly.

Press into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden around the edges.

Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into bars.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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