5 Tips for the Gardening Black Thumbs

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We get it — gardening can be intimidating. It’s easy to overwater (or forget to water) your plants, or to start a garden from scratch next to your neighbor’s thriving one. Fear not — with just a few simple tips and a little planning, you and your black thumb will be on your way to growing fresh vegetables and herbs in just a few weeks!

boy kid grow sage plant indoor gardening garden in a can easy

Start Small:

If you’re nervous about turning your yard into a garden without vetting your skills, start small, and start inside.  Container plants that can grow foods such as herbs, mushrooms, and tomatoes can sit on your windowsill in your kitchen, where it’s easier to remember them.  Plus, these can be grown all year, so you can practice in the “off seasons.” Indoor Tip: Not a lot of direct sunlight in your home or apartment? Add a simple grow bulb to one of your lamps to give your plants some extra rays!

CompostFoodWasteGreenEarthBegin a Compost Pile:

Compost feeds your soil and helps provide nutrients to your plants. And luckily, compost is free if you make it yourself.  (Plus, it helps reduce waste.) Start a small compost container in your kitchen next to your trash bin, and collect items such as banana peels, egg shells, vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, and pulp. Learn more about composting here

Be Realistic About Your Space:

If you have a small yard, you can’t grow the same amount as your friends who have farms.  Determine how much space you have and do some research to see how much room the plants you want to grow need. Iowa State University has a great guide for planning your garden space. Tight on space?  Container gardens or small aquaponic systems are a fun and easy alternative.

Know What You Can Actually Grow:

If you live in Maine, it’s going to be hard to grow mangoes. Weather patterns, seasons, and climates impact what grows where. It’s important to know what grows in your neck of the woods by doing some research before you plant. This regional gardening guide is a good start.

basil sunlight grow indoors plant

Pick the Right Spot:

This may sound obvious, but once you’ve planted it’s not easy to relocate so make sure to plant your garden in a place that gets lots of sun. Observe the sunlight in your desired planting area at different times of the day to make sure your spot will actually be getting the recommended number of hours of light.  You should also have healthy, moist, rich soil (this can be aided by your compost or by adding nutrient-rich biochar). If your yard’s soil isn’t ideal for planting, container gardening or a building raised bed is a good idea.  For ease of maintenance, make sure a hose or other water source is easily accessible.

Allow for Some Trial & Error:

Nature may throw some forces your way that you can’t control and may affect the success of your garden (think fruit flies, deer, or frost). Your first crop may not be as perfect as you’d dreamed, but remember that gardening, like many things in life, is a learning process and exercise in patience. (And actually reduces stress if you hang in there!) Enjoy the trials and stick with it—the satisfaction, taste, and health benefits of fresh, homegrown food is worth it!

There is a lot more to know about gardening —explore these resources for more great tips!

Better Homes and Gardens Gardening Videos

Kitchen Gardens International

Home and Garden Television

Buzzfeed’s 23 Diagrams That Make Gardening So Much Easier

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Bring Old News to Life, Literally.

garden brown green compost nature soil

Back to the Roots was born from the simple idea that mushrooms could be grown on recycled coffee waste. While the company has evolved to take on more than just mushrooms, core to our mission to Undo Food™ is still our focus on reducing our waste. Organizations we love like Food Shift are devoted to reducing food waste, but there’s a simple way to do this yourself right from your kitchen…compost! Composting is turning organic matter (like your food scraps) into rich soil.

According to the Environmental Protection Agencyfood scraps and yard waste make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away.

Composting your food scraps instead helps reduce waste and keeps them out of landfills where they can release methane and take up room. 

Composting may sound like a big commitment but, in reality, nature does most of the work! As long as you do some prep work and can manage a bit of maintenance, you can help save the planet one eggshell or apple core at a time. Some towns and cities have compost bins that the city or state trash service will pick up, but compost also makes a great soil supplement that you can toss in  your garden!

CompostFoodWasteGreenEarth

Step 1: Know What You Can Compost

Many things can be composted, but it’s important to know what can and cannot be added to your bin. 

A few things on the compost-friendly list include items such as:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Shredded Newspaper
  • Cotton and wool rags

A few things not to compost:

  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs*
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps*

Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s full list of “What To Compost“and “What Not To Compost and Why on their website.

Step 2: Start A Bin

kitchen compost bin cute gardening

Despite common public opinion, composting can be cute! Look around your house and yard for a fun container that you can recycle and transform into your kitchen compost. Make sure it’s small so you remember to empty it often, and so it doesn’t start to smell. Empty the small bin into an outdoor pile where heat, worms, and bacteria will turn it into soil. There are a few options for piles: you can buy a container, a stand-alone mound, or you can build a more sophisticated bin with a small fence or barrier. If animals such as deer frequent your backyard, a container might be a good investment!

 

Step 3: Get Your Browns and Your Greens

It’s important to have a combination of “browns” (materials such as dead leaves, pine needles, hay, cardboard, and twigs) and “greens” (grass, weeds, kitchen waste) for composting.  A compost pile should have a 3:1 ratio of “browns” to “greens”.  Shredding or chopping these piles will help them decompose faster. The third ingredient in your compost recipe is water. The pile needs to remain moist to keep breaking down, so put your pile or bin somewhere near a water source.

Step 4: Care For Your Pile

Like most things, your compost pile needs to be shown a little love to get moving. “Turning” your pile will help it decompose more quickly. A tool called a “turning” fork will help you stir ingredients more easily, though you can do this with a shovel, too. Too much work? Look into a tumbling composter to help mix your compost for you!.

If your pile is a free-standing mound, layer the greens and browns with soil or compost that is already finished. Your pile should be three to four feet tall. Make sure to wet any dry materials that are added. Adding a tarp on top can also help keep it from drying out.  

 

Step 5: Patience, Composting Grasshopper!

Composting doesn’t happen overnight. It can take two months to two years for a pile of compost to turn into ready-to-use soil.  Make sure to turn your pile every week or two to expedite the process!

Find more composting tips and tricks here.

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Teriyaki Mushroom Lettuce Wraps

mushroom lettuce teriyaki wraps tofu vegetarian

mushroom lettuce teriyaki wraps tofu vegetarian Make this week’s Taco Tuesday guilt-free—swap out the tortilla and usual meat selections for fresh oyster mushrooms, tofu, and a fresh, crispy leaf of lettuce. In 20 minutes you’ll be enjoying some tasty Teriyaki Mushroom Lettuce Wraps full of fiber and omega-3 fats!

Prep Time: 20 minutes 
mushroom lettuce teriyaki wraps tofu vegetarian Makes: 6-8 lettuce wraps

Ingredients:

Mushroom Filling

  • 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
  • 3 cups oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 7 oz firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds

 Toppings

  • 6-8 Romaine or Bibb lettuce leaves
  • 3 tbsp carrots, shredded
  • 3 tbsp purple cabbage, shredded
  • 3 tbsp broccoli, shredded
  • 1 scallion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp cilantro
  • 2 tbsp dry unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped

Sriracha Yogurt Sauce

  • 2 tbsp plain greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp Sriracha (or to taste)

Directions:

1. Heat sesame seed oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat. Add mushroom lettuce teriyaki wraps tofu vegetarian
mushrooms when the oil is hot and sauté for 4-5 minutes or until the water released by the mushrooms is evaporated.

2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add tofu, garlic and ginger. Stir well. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the tofu is lightly browned.

3. Add teriyaki sauce and soy sauce to the mushrooms and tofu and stir to combine. Sauté on medium heat for 3 minutes. Stir in the sesame seeds, mix well, and cook for another minute.

4. In a small bowl, mix together plain greek yogurt and Sriracha sauce until well combined.

5. To serve: fill each lettuce leaf with the mushroom tofu filling and top with shredded carrots, purple cabbage, broccoli, scallions, cilantro and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Top with Sriracha Yogurt sauce as desired and enjoy!

mushroom lettuce teriyaki wraps tofu vegetarian

Grow your own! Harvest fresh oyster mushrooms with our Mushroom Farm—just water and grow!

Make it vegan: Substitute greek yogurt with a vegan plain soy yogurt.

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6 Awesome Organizations Bringing Real Food (and Fish!) to Your Kids’ Classroom

At Back to the Roots we’re passionate about getting kids excited about the food they eat and the food they grow. We love seeing our Garden Toolkits and curriculum used in classrooms, and seeing the growing interest and efforts to bring farm and garden education into schools. Check out some of our favorite community organizations also working to Undo Food™ and the fun ways you can get involved.  

foodfight kids organization food wellness health nutrition education schools classroom1. FoodFight

FoodFight helps teachers, students, parents, and school staff make healthier choices “and become role models and agents of change” for their community.  The organization promotes health through cafeteria reform, cooking classes, fitness breaks, and gardening. (FoodFight uses Back to the Roots Ready To Grow gardens in their schools!) FoodFight solidifies healthy role modeling in school through their Teacher and Parent Wellness Programs which educates adults about healthy living so they can best pass information and habits to children.  

Get involved! Intern or volunteer with FoodFight — email  info@foodfight.org.

2. Food Shift

Food Shift focuses on reducing food waste by working with communities, businesses, and governments. They believe that by reducing food waste, we can feed the hungry, create jobs, and cultivate more sustainable communities. The organization does work in the Bay Area and teaches businesses  how to reduce food waste in their workplaces and even at large events like multi-day conferences.  Their work with governments focus on reducing waste in their municipalities and counties.

Get Involved! Food Shift accepts volunteers from high school-aged students to professionals with skills in management, editing, strategic planning, and more.  Food Shift is also currently hiring.

edible schoolyard kids gardening food grow learn

3. Edible Schoolyard

Edible Schoolyard was founded in Berkeley (our neighboring city!) and promotes edible education first by growing and harvesting food in a garden, and then by cooking it. The Edible Schoolyard was started by renowned Chef Alice Waters, of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse (Fun Fact: Back to the Roots founders brought their very first batch of homegrown oyster mushrooms to Alice for their first taste test!). Alice is a strong proponent of cooking with fresh, local, seasonal, and sustainable foods. Her interest in education led to the creation of the Edible Schoolyard kitchen classroom where students and their teachers learn about food science, history, culture, and more with curriculum linked to the common core.

Get Involved! The Edible Schoolyard has frequent educational and hands-on events. Bay Area locals can attend Edible Education 101 classes on Tuesday Evenings at UC Berkeley. Attend a monthly tour of garden and kitchen observation and school lunch discussion.  Teachers, administrators, food service professionals, and advocates can apply to train with Edible Schoolyard.

 

4. Sitka Conservation Society

This Alaskan organization works to protect the rainforests of southeast Alaska.  And they have something a little less common than a typical farm to school program – a “Fish to Schools” program. Sitka Conservation Society helps kids understand local seafood resources by serving local seafood at school lunches and teaching about local fishing cultures through “stream to plate” curriculum.

Get Involved! Keep up with Sitka’s Action Alerts and help advocate and petition for environmental causes, such as the current one to protect Wild Tongass Salmon. Sign petitions on their petitions page, and learn how to write letters to leaders.

 

 

5. SchoolGrown

We think using aquaponics is a really cool way to grow food. If you’ve used our Water Garden then you
classroom kids water garden grow learn school education curriculum know a little bit about aquaponics already and you know that
the fish feed the plants and plants clean the water. The Water Garden in your kitchen or classroom is small.  The organization SchoolGrown is bringing big, classroom-sized aquaponic greenhouses to schools. These greenhouses teach students about biology, nutrition, agriculture, ecology, where food comes from, and more.

Get Involved: Volunteer with SchoolGrown by planting seeds, harvesting crops, and building greenhouses every Tuesday. Donate building and growing materials from lumber yards, hardware and plumbing suppliers, pool and aquarium shops, and local nurseries.

6. Whole Kids Foundation

The Whole Kids Foundation was founded by Whole Foods Market but is a separate non-profit organization.  From increasing access to healthy foods by providing schools with salad bars to providing grants for school gardens, the Whole Kids Foundation is dedicated to helping kids eat better. The foundation also offers cooking and nutrition education classes to teachers and staff so they can have a strong knowledge base to pass onto students.

Get Involved!  Apply for a salad bar grant or a school garden grant for a school that needs it. Or, donate to help other schools.

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What is stoneground whole wheat?

stoneground whole wheat grain kernel healthy benefits nutrition refined

What is whole wheat?

There’s a whole lot of confusion around the names “whole grain” and “whole wheat”, and these names can even be misleading. For something we eat so much of every day, we think it’s important to understand what exactly we are putting into our bodies.

Whole wheat is a type of whole grain, meaning that it contains all essential parts of the original kernel – the bran, germ, and endosperm. For a food product to be considered whole grain, the FDA says it only needs to contain 51 percent of whole grains by weight. That means that the other 49 percent could be refined bleached flour, and the product could still be labeled as “whole wheat”!

Even the whole grains that make up the 51 percent might not be completely whole. They could be – and often are – reconstituted in standard milling processes, meaning the wheat kernel is separated into its three parts and pieced back together. The FDA allows for grain to be milled and separated this way, as long as the three are later mixed in proportions similar to the intact whole grain. Compared with intact grains, processed whole grains often have lower fiber and nutrient levels – not to mention less flavor!

So when shopping for whole wheat products, look for labels that say “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” to get the most gain from your grain.

stoneground whole wheat grain healthy benefits nutrition refined

What does it mean when a grain has been refined?

Refined grains have been stripped of their bran and germ, as well as their nutrients. Without the bran and germ, about 25 percent of a grain’s protein is lost and at least 17 key nutrients are significantly reduced. Processors add back some vitamins and minerals to make enriched flour, but whole grains are still healthier, providing more protein, more fiber and many important vitamins and minerals.

stoneground whole wheat grain healthy benefits nutrition refined

Why stoneground?

The way wheat is processed determines how nutritious it is, and in general, more processed foods are less healthy. Compared to refined or even whole wheat flour, 100% stoneground whole wheat has more nutrients and more taste. The stoneground way of milling wheat keeps the entire grain intact, preserving the integrity of the whole grain. No reconstitution, or separation of the wheat kernel, is involved. Nothing is added, nothing is removed. 

Stonegrinding wheat has been traced back to the third century B.C., and even though most stoneground flour produced today isn’t actually rubbed against stone, the nutritional and flavor benefits over wheat processed through steel rollers are still widely recognized.

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5-Minute Breakfast: Purple Parfait

Take our Organic Purple Corn Flakes beyond the cereal bowl with this quick (5 minute!) recipe for a parfait with a healthy, crunchy twist.

Purple Parfaits bring a fun, colorful, and customizable way to mix up your breakfast and snack routine. Organic Purple Corn Flakes are 100% stoneground, offering a crunchy twist that is low in sugar and packed with fiber and whole grains. Mixed with cool Greek yogurt and our Organic Breakfast Topper blends, purple parfaits create the perfect balance of nutrients, texture, delicious flavors. Enjoy!

Prep time: 5 minutes
Serving size: 1 parfait

Ingredients:

healthy purple corn cereal parfait fruit breakfast yogurt quick recipeDirections:

  1. In a small mason jar or container of your choice, add 1/8 cup vanilla yogurt
  2. Layer 1/2 tbs. of Organic Breakfast Toppers
  3. Layer 1 tbs. of Purple Corn Flakes
  4. Layer 1/8 cup vanilla yogurt
  5. Layer 1/2 tbs Organic Breakfast Toppers
  6. Layer 1 tbs. Purple Corn Flakes
  7. Add blackberry garnish (also great with raspberries and blueberries!)

Extra hungry? Double the recipe for larger, bowl-size servings.
Switch it up: Swap in Cocoa Clusters or a different flavor of Organic Breakfast Toppers for a new parfait each day of the week!

 

healthy purple corn cereal parfait fruit breakfast yogurt quick recipe

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Kale Basil Pesto

Toss a few ingredients into a blender, and voila! You have Kale and Basil Pesto – a delicious way to add some leafy greens into your diet. Add it to whole wheat pasta for a healthy dinner option, and freeze leftover pesto for nights you want dinner on the table fast!

Ingredients:

2 packed cups kale, chopped
2 packed cups fresh basil
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
4 garlic cloves
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil

  • Note: You can substitute olive oil with 1 whole avocado to keep it low fat

Directions:

1. Add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until nice and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

2. Toss a few tablespoons of pesto with some whole wheat pasta and enjoy!

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Tomato Garlic Chutney

tomato garlic chutney naan indian food cuisine recipe spices

Sweet, tangy, spicy, and aromatic, chutney is a delicious condiment with Indian spices that works well to complement just about any food. Try it as a spread on sandwiches or burgers, or serve with pita, roti, chips, salads, or rice. The possibilities are endless!

Ingredients:

2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
1/4 tsp paprika
salt to taste

Directions:

1. Harvest fresh cherry tomatoes from your Self-Watering Planter. Blend into a puree and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a medium skillet on medium heat. Add cumin and mustard seeds. Once the mustard and cumin seeds start to pop, add chopped onion. Saute until onions start to brown slightly.

3. Turn heat down to low and add garlic. Sautee for 1 minute.


4. Add cherry tomato puree and mix well. Saute for 1 minute.


5. Add turmeric, red chili powder, and paprika and mix well. Simmer the chutney for 5 minutes on medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. You should be able to run a spoon through the mixture and leave a trail.

6. Add 1/4 cup of water and mix, allow the water to evaporate as well. Repeat this step one more time. This helps the flavor deepen.


7. Once the second addition of water has mostly evaporated off, spoon into a bowl and let cool. Serve and store in refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

tomato garlic chutney naan indian food cuisine recipe spices

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Tropical Wheatgrass Smoothie

tropical wheatgrass smoothie quick healthy breakfast greens fruit mason jar

tropical wheatgrass smoothie quick healthy breakfast greens fruit

In the mood for summer vibes? Start your day with this superfood smoothie made with wheatgrass and tropical fruit! Grow and harvest your own fresh wheatgrass at home with our Water Garden, and mix up this smoothie for  a quick summer blast you can drink on the go.

tropical wheatgrass smoothie quick healthy breakfast greens fruit

Ingredients:

3 tbsp wheatgrass, chopped
1 kiwi, peeled
1 banana
1 cup pineapple, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup coconut water
2 tsp lime juice

Directions:

1. Add all the ingredients to a blender and blend until nice and smooth. Pour into a large glass and enjoy!

 

tropical wheatgrass smoothie quick healthy breakfast greens fruittropical wheatgrass smoothie quick healthy breakfast greens fruit mason jar

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Caprese Skewers

CapreseSkewers cherry tomato basil balsamic fresh easy appetizer party

Salty, savory, and sweet come together in one bite with these Caprese Skewers, made with organic sweet cherry tomatoes and fresh basil that can be harvested at home. These skewers work well as light appetizers for a party and can be made ahead – just drizzle with balsamic vinegar right before you serve!

 Ingredients:

  • 8 oz ciliegine mozzarella balls (herbed or plain)
  • 15-20 basil leaves
  • 15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • balsamic vinegar
  • toothpicks

 

Directions:

  1. Harvest fresh cherry tomatoes from your Self-Watering Planter and basil leaves from your Garden-in-a-Jar or Garden-in-a-Can.
  2. Skewer half a cherry tomato onto a toothpick. Wrap a basil leaf around a mozzeralla ball and skewer it onto the toothpick. Add another half of a cherry tomato. Repeat until all the mozzarella balls have been used.
  3. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve!

 

 

CapreseSkewers cherry tomato basil balsamic fresh easy appetizer party mozzarella cheese

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Blood Orange Tart with Coconut Whipped Cream

blood orange tart cereal pie crust organic stoneground flakes recipe yogurt

Whip up this vegan Blood Orange Pie for a healthy but decadent dessert! The pie has a crust made from organic cereal and is served with delicious coconut whipped cream. Put your own twist on this recipe by using seasonal fruit of your choice in place of blood oranges and adding a teaspoon of cinnamon or other spice to the crust for extra flavor.

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Ingredients:

Crust

Coconut Whipped Cream

  • 2 cans full fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Topping
sliced blood oranges OR fruit/berries of your choice

blood orange tart cereal pie crust organic stoneground flakes recipe yogurtDirections:

 Crust
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
2. Blend Stoneground Original Flakes until the crumbs are fine.
3. Mix cereal crumbs, coconut palm sugar and melted butter into a bowl until it resembles wet sand.
4. Press the crumb mixture into a 8 inch parchment-lined springform pan making sure to pack it down and press crumbs onto the sides to create an even edge.
5. Bake crust for 10 minutes and let cool completely.

Coconut Whipped Cream
1. Refrigerate cans of coconut milk overnight. Turn the can upside down and open. Tip out the clear coconut milk into a bowl, you won’t be using this so you can save it for a pina colada smoothie or another recipe. Spoon the thick cream into a large bowl. Repeat with the second can.
2. Add maple syrup and vanilla extract to the thick coconut cream and whisk until nice and fluffy. Keep refigerated until you’re ready to assemble the tart.
3. Pour coconut whipped cream into the cooled crust and spread evenly. Top with blood orange slices or your fruit of choice. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Save money? Swap in seasonal fruits.
Switch it up: Swap in a different flavor of Organic Stoneground Flakes Cereal or Organic Breakfast Toppers for a variety of tarts!

blood orange tart cereal pie crust organic stoneground flakes recipe yogurt

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Almond Butter Chocolate Nut Bars

cereal Almond chocolate nutbutter bars treats snack dessert healthy easy lunchbox recipe

cereal Almond chocolate nutbutter bars treats snack dessert healthy easy lunchbox recipe

Chocolate and nuts make the perfect protein-packed combo in this sweet snack! Pack these Almond Butter Chocolate Nut Bars for a healthy lunchbox treat or breakfast on the go. You can customize this recipe by swapping out the almond butter for your favorite nut butter.


Ingredients:cereal Almond chocolate nutbutter bars treats snack dessert healthy easy lunchbox recipe

  • 2 cups California Whole Wheat Stoneground Flakes, crushed
  • 1/2 cup quick oats (not steel cut!)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 oz dark chocolate, melted

cereal Almond chocolate nutbutter bars treats snack dessert healthy easy lunchbox recipe

Directions:

  1. Add all the ingredients, except the chocolate, into a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Press the mixture into a 8×8 parchment-lined pan. Make sure to pack it down real nice!
  3. Drizzle melted dark chocolate on top and freeze for 1 hour. Cut into squares and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week. Enjoy!

 

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