plane food/brain food.

March 7, 2016


A nice breakfast bar is a special treat for anybody, but for parents traveling with toddlers, especially.

It’s no secret that I like a sweet treat every now and thenday. But in a week with a 6+ hour plane ride to get through with a toddler on our collective lap, I needed something to do a little bit more than only offer a sugar high.

Before we left for California, I riffed on Deb’s brilliant recipe for date breakfast bars and felt very smug when I walked by the counter of brown bananas and strawberry-flavored yogurt on offer at JFK. With a homemade breakfast bar in my pocket, there’s nothing that can get in my way.date_bars_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_5346
I like to think of these treats as providing a little bit of brain food in addition to the sweet. They’re eminently packable and perfect for tucking away for a hangry moment (or ten). Even better: they’re super cheap and easy to make using almost entirely unpackaged goods.

(I used a bit of hazelnut meal in addition to the whole wheat flour that Deb calls for, and I omitted the cloves that Deb uses, just cause I didn’t feel like breaking out my mortar and pestle. Spice as you like, I say.)

Date Breakfast Bars

Here’s what you need:

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups of pitted dates

3/4 cup water

1 teaspoon grated orange zest (i just zested the whole orange and didn’t measure a thing)

For the crumbs:

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/2 cup coconut oil (or a combination of coconut oil and butter, per Deb)

3/4 cup rolled oats

3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (I swapped in hazelnut meal for the last two tablespoons!)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon course sea salt

1/2 teaspoon or so cinnamon

fresh nutmeg, grated to taste

Here’s what to do:

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease bottom of an 8×8-inch pan with butter.

In a small saucepan, combine dates, water and orange zest over low heat. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Set aside while you make the crumbs.

Mix together the sugars and oil. Add oats, flour, spices, baking soda and salt and stir to combine into a course crumbles.

Press half of the oat mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan. Dollop the date mixture over it and spread the mixture smoothly over the crumbs. (Deb reminds us not to worry if the crumbs move around a little underneath. I worried a bit and then got over it.) Sprinkle remaining crumbs over the layer of dates and press lightly to cover.

Bake bars for 25 minutes, or until the edges are light brown. Cool in pan and cut into squares. I kept ours in the fridge overnight and then dipped into them at room temperature for the duration of our flight. (Sorry ’bout the crumblies, JetBlue.)

date breakfast bars | reading my tea leaves

I baked my bars in a circular cast iron skillet, which allows for the very obvious benefit of being able to gobble all the edges that don’t make the cut. If you prefer not to nibble while you pack, use the square pan that Deb recommends instead. 

Date bars, all wrapped up and ready for traveling. (I used one of the Bee’s Wrap sandwich wraps to pack ours for the flight. Not for sandwiches only!)

Favorite travel snack? Go!

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  • Reply W Mom March 7, 2016 at 11:04 am

    These look delicious, but my only word of caution is that sometimes there can be a passenger on the plane with a severe nut allergy. I am the mom of a child who is severely allergic to peanuts, cashews and pistachios, so air travel can be very stressful for us, especially if people bring nut products on board.

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 7, 2016 at 11:08 am

      Good point! Easy to stick the original recipe and omit the hazelnut meal next time.

  • Reply Lydia March 7, 2016 at 11:14 am

    dang these look good! i have so much trouble cooking with that many ingredients, though… grad student budget in NY means grocery shopping is a mournful affair. when i travel, i mostly take almonds in baggies, non-homemade cliff bars (because we’re usually talking 12 hrs of travel between trains, flights, layovers…), banana bread slices in some kind of packaging… if i’m not flying, i actually like to take a whole avocado, a knife, and a spoon, because it’s easy to find salt or little salt packets when you stop for gas.

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 7, 2016 at 11:19 am

      hey lydia, nice ideas. we’re a big fan of the avocado and knife route, too. and believe me: i’ve been on the grad school budget. but just in case it’s encouraging, there’s only a few dollars worth of ingredients in this recipe. definitely nothing more than you’d find in your average banana bread (and probably less!).

      • Reply Lydia March 7, 2016 at 11:23 am

        fair enough! 🙂 at any rate i’ll pin it and maybe when my brother comes to visit next week, we’ll give them a shot!

  • Reply Kristina March 7, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Cliff bar, dried apricots and cucumber slices. As simple, yummy and nourishing as possible…it least in my opinion 😉

  • Reply Meg March 7, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Wow! That recipe looks delicious. For long trips, I love making my own trail mix. Its super easy to pack and always comes in handy.

  • Reply Caitlin March 7, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    My favorites are homemade popcorn, clementines, a small bar of good chocolate, and an Amy’s frozen burrito. I’m usually in a rush before a big trip, so grabbing one of these burritos and letting it thaw in my bag for a reasonably healthy and filling meal makes it worth the $3 expense. I also love peeling a clementine in mid-air. The scent is so refreshing!

  • Reply Audrey @ The Thrifty Traveler CA March 7, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    I would love to see a post on kid-friendly snacks for when you are on the go. I’m never fully satisfied with the options we end up settling on. We get fig bars from our local market, fresh muffins/scones when I bake and fresh/dried fruit, but there has got to be something more exciting out there that is relatively easy to prepare and can be eaten when we are walking to school, in the car, at the park etc…

    • Reply Audrey @ The Thrifty Traveler CA March 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      UPDATE: I made these last night and they are soooo good! Both my kids and my husband were asking for seconds. I forgot the orange zest and didn’t have enough dates, so I mixed in half dates and half dried apricots. I am planning on trying the recipe with no substitutions next 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

      • Reply Erin Boyle March 11, 2016 at 12:38 pm

        YAY! So adaptable—best part!

  • Reply Kate March 7, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I make fried rice with whatever vegetables need to be used up. Pretty god at room temperature!

    • Reply Kate March 7, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      *good. Sheesh!

  • Reply Lissa March 7, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Weird question for you 🙂 My beeswax wrappers recently came and I love them. Are they supposed to come with that cute
    bee tie? haha

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 10, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Just the sandwich wrapper comes with the little tie!

  • Reply Karen T. March 8, 2016 at 4:36 am

    These breakfast bars look good. . . I’ll try them. For traveling we like to take some cubes of cheese, a hard boiled egg, a few almonds, an apple or a couple of clementines. Healthy and yummy.

  • Reply Cherrie March 8, 2016 at 10:01 am

    I just have to try this recipe out,looks delicious!

  • Reply Mary Kate March 8, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    These look amazing. I don’t even have a kid, will be making for myself 🙂

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 10, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      As you should 😉

  • Reply shannon March 8, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    I like to get a snack size bar of cheddar cheese and a pack of Justin’s peanut butter cups at one of those airport snack stands. Packing from home I like to take a piece of fresh fruit (clementines are the best!) and a tea bag or two…then when the beverage cart comes you ask for hot water to make fresh tea. I also take my bkr bottle through security and then fill it up at a water fountain before boarding because those teeny cups of water they pass out are not enough!

  • Reply Alexis March 8, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Been wanting to find a simple recipe like this for our upcoming trip to Seattle (also a 6 hr flight) so thank you for posting! What will you do on your way back for snacks? This is always my issue – I’m all set for the trip out because I’m in my home kitchen. On the way back though it’s harder and I usually resort to toddler food pouches for my guy 🙁

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 10, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      We stopped at a delicious bakery in Venice and took home slices of their mushroom pizza! A few bananas. An orange! We were good to go!

  • Reply Alexis March 8, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    For my last trip I fried some empanadas in the morning (I have a bunch of pre-made frozen ones in the freezer that I prepared, with different fillings). They’re still good at room temperature. For the kid I usually pack a version of his trail mix: Cheerios, Goldfish/cheddar bunnies, dried fruit, pretzels. I’ll also pack a small tub of Nutella for dipping as well as cheese and fresh fruit. I have some little bento boxes with tops that can be frozen to keep food cool.
    My partner loves to get to the airport early to eat the crappy airport food! Which I don’t mind too much. It’s just so expensive. But in flight we need the snacks to keep the little one happy.

  • Reply Debbie D. March 11, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    a coke and the Oriental rice snack the airport sells…hello vacation! 🙂

  • Reply Tiara March 22, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Those bees wax wrappers are so cute! I’ve been trying for at least a week to find something to wrap my homemade granola bars plastic free. Glad I stumbled upon this!

  • Reply Heidi March 23, 2016 at 6:22 am

    Those look delicious!
    I always take my remaining brown-ish bananas and make a banana bread before I travel – two birds with one stone! 🙂

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