Honestly, It's been a little bit difficult for me to come up with homemade, healthy treats that are stable enough for me to put in my kids' lunch boxes. First, they cannot be prone to melting. Although, I put an ice pack in their lunch, I just never know how things are going to end up by lunch time, especially since temps can get pretty high here at times. Secondly, they have to be able to endure the way my son "man-handles "his lunch box. In other words, the snack must be durable. Finally, my kids have to like it. That's a no brainer. These Orange-Almond Nut Squars seem to fit the bill. The best part is that I think I have created a great base that I can build on to make other flavors in the future. You can even take this recipe and play with it, adding other dried fruits, *essential oils, and nuts you have on hand. If you've ever had a Larabar, think Larabar, as these were inspired by them.
You may be wondering, "can I make these without essential oils?" Absolutely you can, but I can't imagine why you would want to! ;) Essential oils add a depth of flavor that is difficult to achieve without them. They really add a big flavor boost. Plus, there are a lot of health benefits by using them. When you use citrus oils you have the benefits of d-limonene. Go ahead and Google it, you'll find some great information for your health journey!
*As always, if you're cooking with essential oils please use only 100% therapeutic grade oils. I use Vitality essential oils from Young Living Essential Oils because I know they are safe and now they're Non-GMO certified. You can get yours here.
Orange-Almond Nut Squares
1 lb. dried, pitted whole dates
1C. cashews, unsalted
1/2 C. coconut, desiccated, unsweetened
2T. almond butter
1tsp. almond extract
6 drops tangerine or orange Vitality essential oil
Line an 8x8 or 8x11 baking dish with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray. Leave enough parchment paper hanging over the edges so that you can lift it out with your hands later. Note, the parchment paper will not stay down in the baking dish and that's ok for now.
In the bowl of a food processor add the cashews and blend until they are chopped very fine. Remove them from the food processor into a small bowl.
Add the pitted dates into the food processor and pulse until completely blended. You may need to use a spatula to spread the dates out a bit and then continue mixing. They get pretty sticky here and will usually form into a ball. Once they have formed a soft and sticky mass, add the pulsed cashews back in, on top of the dates. Add the remaining ingredients and mix on speeds 1 or 2. You will have a VERY thick paste. If the mixer forms a ball before it's well mixed, take a spatula and break it up and then mix again.
Dump the paste mixture on top of the parchment paper-lined baking dish you prepared. You will need to get out your arm muscles and firmly press the mixture into all corners of the dish. Using a stiff spatula, your hands (sprayed with cooking spray) or the flat bottom of a glass cup (sprayed with cooking spray), spread and press the mixture out as flat and evenly as possible. I like to use a pastry roller to make the top nice and flat.
Once you've got the paste spread out nice and neat, refrigerate for an hour or more. To cut the bars, lift them up via the parchment paper so out comes a big square/rectangle. Cut into even squares. Wrap each square in wax paper and seal with a piece of scotch tape. Store in the refrigerator.
Other flavors you can experiment with:
16 drops lime vitality essential oil (in place of the orange oil)
2 t. vanilla (in place of the almond extract)
Sub half the dates with dried cherries