The Ultimate Homemade Protein Bars With Hemp Hearts and Pumpkin Seeds

In the seventh grade I had a health teacher who was a vegetarian and who showed us an hour-long video on the evils of slaughter houses. This was back in the early 90s, mind you. It was pre-Michael Pollan, pre-farm to table, and pre-organic everything movement. Some may call her a maverick who was way ahead of her time. I would just call her convincing, because she managed to turn me into a vegetarian (well, I suppose pescatarian is the proper word since I did eat fish) for the majority of high school.

It wasn't until that fated job at In-N-Out Burger during my freshman year of college that I finally relented and started eating red meat again. And boy did it taste good. Not only that, but I also got my first gym membership at that time and began to notice that the combination of lifting weights and eating a steady diet of dorm food (a.k.a salad bar, cereal, and Belgian waffles topped with strawberry sauce and a massive dollop of whipped cream) wasn't serving my body very well. I felt tired and my muscles were always sore, as if they couldn't quite heal and rebuild the way they were meant to.

Once I started eating chicken and In-N-Out cheeseburgers, I could feel the difference. Here was the protein my body had been craving all this time and not getting enough of. Over the years, I have taken this lesson to heart and found that while my particular body and metabolism requires a good amount of protein, I don't always need to search for it in animal products. Hemp hearts and pumpkin seeds are absolutely loaded with protein, as one serving of each contains a whopping 10 grams.

I have also noticed that I'm spending a pretty substantial amount of money on packaged protein bars as a post workout snack -- not to mention that their protein is mainly composed of processed soy, which Dr. Oz refers to as "the number one food women should avoid." Both of these factors encouraged me to start experimenting with a homemade version; however, health food is not my forte. I'm more of a brownie and chocolate chip cookie sort of baker.

The first power bar recipes I tried either tasted funny or crumbled into tiny pieces the moment I tried to cut them. After playing around with binding agents and adding various flavors, I finally reached success and am proud to share it with you.  These bars are jam-packed with natural proteins, they taste great, and miraculously stay together. You can find all of the ingredients at your local Trader Joe's, and yes, it will be a bit pricey to buy all of it at once. But each batch makes around 7 bars, and you'll have enough to make several batches and perhaps experiment with different flavors and add-ins.

For example, you could eliminate the cocoa powder and add more pumpkin pie spice and raisins to create an oatmeal cookie sort of feel. You could also use peanut butter instead of almond butter to give it a different spin, and maybe throw in a few chocolate chips for good measure. If you do end up making them, please leave a comment or post a photo on my Facebook page, as I would love to hear how they turned out!

Ultimate Homemade Protein Bars with Hemp Hearts and Pumpkin Seeds

(Adapted from this recipe and this recipe, except minus some of the wonkier ingredients like bee pollen. Because really, who has the patience to try and track down bee pollen?)

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup hemp hearts
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
10 dates, pitted
1/2 cup almond butter
3 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, shredded coconut, and chia seeds. Grind it all together until it resembles bird food (literally), and then dump it into a large bowl.

Reassemble your food processor (no need to clean the bowl) and then add all of the remaining ingredients. Grind everything into a wet paste and then combine it with the dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly so that everything is moist.

Transfer the mixture to either an 8 x 8" square baking dish, or a bread pan. You won't be baking them, so it only matters whether you want long and thin bars (use the 8 x 8"), or tall and thicker ones that resemble more of the packaged bars you would buy at the store (use the bread pan).

Place a large piece of saran wrap on top of the mixture and use your hands and fingers to press it down into the pan. Once the mixture is firmly compact, place it in the refrigerator for several hours and then slice it into bars.