Passing the Bar


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IncrEdibles thankfully didn’t last long, but their blip of an existence makes a point: if a food product as extremely stupid as this can make it to market, that says a lot about our, well, stomach for convenience foods. Basically, we eat a lot of them. And while one might hope that the belt-tightening from the recession steered us away from them, it might be pushing us to eat more: In mid-2009, Mark Bittman and Kerri Conan wrote on the Bitten blog about how, while people are eating out less, Kellogg’s CEO David Mackay has claimed that people are actually turning more to packaged foods instead of cooking.

I’ve had both Kellogg’s and convenience foods on my mind recently because of the new year. See, it’s resolution time, which means all across America, people have promised that they’ll eat better in 2010.  For many, part of that promise is that they’ll finally start eating breakfast. And for a section of those people, that breakfast will be Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars. The first of the modern “cereal bars” on the market back in 1991 and still one of the most popular brands today, Nutri-Grain bars are like a gateway breakfast — easy-to-access and not too threatening for people who usually skip the meal.

But eating a Nutri-Grain bar for breakfast is also like smoking fewer cigarettes: it’s better than nothing, but geeze, you really should just quit smoking. By which I mean a Nutri-Grain bar is really not a great breakfast on its own, and Kellogg’s knows it. While advertising phrases like “Sets you up to eat better all day” can lead consumers to believe that Nutri-Grain bars are meant as breakfast replacements, Kellogg’s Web site refers to the bars as a “mid-morning snack.” At only 130 calories and 37 grams, it’s unlikely that a Nutri-Grain bar is going to fill you up until lunchtime. Not only that, but while the bars do boast whole grains, they do so with the help of high fructose corn syrup and things like “propylene glycol esters of fatty acids,” which seriously sounds like a fake food additive someone made up as a joke.

As a breakfast lover, I’d like to encourage everyone to sit at the breakfast table each morning with a big bowl of fruit-filled oatmeal, but I know that’s not reasonable. We have busy lives, and if your life is set up in such a way that you have to make a serious resolution in order to just get a morning meal in your mouth, convenience can be the difference between eating and not. So yeah, I’ve included a recipe below for breakfast bars that you can make over the weekend and grab in the morning just like you would a pre-packaged bar. But if you can’t take the 15 minutes in your morning to sit down with a bowl of cereal, maybe your New Year’s resolution shouldn’t be to eat breakfast, it should be to reconsider how you schedule your life. Because while Nutri-Grain bars can be a gateway food to a nice full breakfast, they can also be a gateway to chowing down on more convenience foods and thinking less about what you eat.

And that, friends, is a slippery slope. One with IncrEdibles at the end. • 11 January 2010




Cherry-Apple Breakfast Bars
breakfast barsWhether you’re eating them for breakfast or your “mid-morning snack,” these bars are great. They’ve got your whole grains, plus some fruit and and a little jam to taste sweet but not too sweet. I browsed through and tested a few different Nutri-Grain knock-off recipes before landing on this one, which is adapted from one I found on Carrie’s Cooking. If you make a batch of these over the weekend, they can last you a week or two; just freeze half to keep them fresh.

Oat mixture:
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup apple juice

1/3 c cherry jam
2 T water
1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another. Mix the two together; set aside. Mix the cherry jam with the water. Coat an 8” x 8” pan with cooking spray and press half of the oat mixture into the bottom of the pan. Spread the jam on top, then top with the apple slices in a thin layer. Press the rest of the oat mixture on top, then bake until golden, approximately 40 minutes. Cool on a rack and then slice into 12 bars.

If you’d like to up the protein content in these babies, toss a 3/4 cup of chopped nuts in to the oat mixture before pressing it into the pan.



Meg Favreau is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Big Jewel, The Huffington Post, Table Matters, and The Smew. Her book with photographer Michael Reali, Little Old Lady Recipes: Comfort Food and Kitchen Table Wisdom, was released in November 2011 by Quirk Books. She's currently the senior editor at the frugal living and personal finance site Wise Bread, and a regular guest on American Public Media’s Marketplace Money.