Throughout my entire educational career, I never bought lunch at school. Not one single time. The long lines and terse hairnet-clad ladies terrified me—what if they counted out my change so slowly that I ran out of time to chow down on my slice of pizza before the end-of-recess bell rang? I felt much safer with my insulated purple lunch pail tucked neatly inside my backpack instead, so Dad always prepared my noon meal the night before.
For every lunch, he tucked a little treat inside as a reward for eating all of my apple slices. Since mom rarely baked homemade cookies, she bought Little Debbie desserts for us at the store. Depending on the week, she switched between Swiss Rolls, Chocolate Cupcakes, Oatmeal Creme Pies, and Holiday-Themed Cakes. Although indecisive from a very early age, the latter were my favorite. (I think… Well, I suppose it varied every few days!)
Whenever I pulled out the plastic-wrapped treats at the school picnic table, my friends clamored to search their lunch bags to find something to trade. Despite their alluring display of big brownies, candy bars, and soft sugar cookies, I rarely forfeited the rights to my Little Debbie desserts. They tasted too good!
But in middle school, I realized that exchanging those packaged treats for healthier granola bars would help me lose my last bit of baby fat. Although difficult at first, I learned to love the nutritious snacks instead. But I still grow nostalgic when passing by Little Debbie desserts in the grocery store, and I always crave something sweet after every meal!
These Chocolate Fig Squares are the perfect compromise. Each lightly sweetened bar exudes decadent chocolate flavor while actually hiding over 4 grams of protein. Speckled with oats and fruity bites of juicy dried figs, they’re a low fat snack you’ll feel good about eating—or sharing with your kids!
This recipe contains only wholesome, clean-eating ingredients. I started with a base of whole wheat flour and instant oats, which provide a subtle nuttiness. When baking 100% whole wheat goods, I exclusively choose Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flour. While other brands produce dense and dry treats, Gold Medal keeps my baked goodies light and moist. And if you don’t have instant oats, you can easily make your own. Just pulse regular old-fashioned oats in a food processor 5-7 times until they turn a little finer—that’s all there is to it!
The chocolate flavor comes from unsweetened cocoa powder and chocolate protein powder. Most grocery stores carry protein powders; I opted for Designer Whey, which I found at Trader Joe’s. You can use any protein powder you like, including soy or brown rice. (The Nutrition Information may change accordingly.)
These skinny snacks contain no refined sugar. Instead, the sweetness comes from applesauce and honey—and dried figs! I always enjoy Trader Joe’s dried black mission figs, and after I spotted a few left over from my Fruitcake Cookies, I immediately set them aside for this recipe. I diced them fairly small, which added a slight chewiness and kept the bars extra moist. A smaller dice also helps when slicing the pan into squares; it reduces the number of big chunks you have to drag the knife through!
When baking these chocolate treats, only let them sit in the oven for 15-18 minutes—no more! The hot pan continues to cook the squares as they cool, so baking them in the oven for more than 18 minutes results in dry, overdone snacks. Not good! The center of the pan will still look slightly wet when you pull it out; that’s okay. By the time it reaches room temperature, it’ll be baked through perfectly!
Little flecks of hearty oats speckle the surface of these Chocolate Fig Squares, and sweet bits of chewy dried fruit stud the interior. Each wholesome bar is packed with protein, but with the rich chocolaty flavor shining through, you’d never guess they were barely 70 calories!
After slicing the squares and setting them on the counter, I reached for one after lunch… And another after dinner… And a third the following morning with breakfast. I just couldn’t stop! They’re the perfect quick and easy snack to stash in the pantry for hungry kids after school. (Or hungry parents too!)
With how rapidly I ran through this batch, I may need to buy another bag of dried figs before the week ends…