Pumpkin chocolate chip oat bars are a whole-grain, feel-good snack

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oat Bars. Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Gina Nistico for The Washington Post
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Oat Bars. Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post; food styling by Gina Nistico for The Washington Post

It's truly the little things in life that bring the most joy - an unexpected, bite-size treat tucked into a lunchbox; the comforting aroma of cinnamon, ginger and cloves wafting through your kitchen; the unbeatable freshness of a homemade snack, which holds the loving care of the person who made it.

Those are the kinds of pleasures, small but potent, that this recipe brings.

It's a sweet - but not too sweet - treat that's quite nourishing, and miles better-tasting than any packaged bar I've ever tried. For all those reasons I've been making some version of these bars for years.

The bars freeze so well, I typically make a batch or two, wrap individual servings in wax paper, and pop them into a freezer bag so they're ready to grab whenever I need one. To eat immediately, I'll microwave one for 20 to 30 seconds, otherwise, when I put one in my lunchbox it's thawed by the time I am ready for it.

This take on the recipe brings comforting pumpkin-spice flavor to the mix, along with chocolate chips, tipping them more toward dessert or afternoon treat than breakfast. But if you are hankering for some chocolate first thing in the morning, I wouldn't argue against it.

Made nutrient-rich with a mix of rolled oats, whole-wheat flour, pumpkin puree, egg and walnuts (if you want them,) and lightly sweetened with maple syrup, these bars aren't just better-for-you, they're packed with the goodness of small pleasures.

PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE CHIP OAT BARS

16 servings

Active time: 10 mins; Total time: 1 hour

These bars are a sweet treat made nutrient rich with whole grains, pumpkin puree, egg and walnuts (if you want them). Lightly sweetened with maple syrup, wafting with comforting spices and studded with chocolate chips, they are miles better than any packaged bar you'll find.

Storage: Store covered, at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

Nonstick cooking spray

1 cup (90 grams) rolled oats

3/4 cup (100 grams) whole-wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon fine salt

1/2 cup (110 grams) pumpkin puree

1/3 cup (90 grams) maple syrup

1/4 cup (60 milliliters) neutral oil, such as avocado or canola, plus more for brushing the pan

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup (120 grams) mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup (60 grams) finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and line it with a piece of parchment paper long enough to have a generous overhang on both sides.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt until well combined.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, oil, egg and vanilla, until well combined. Stir in the oat mixture, then stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts, if using.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely in the pan. Use the parchment overhang to transfer the slab to a cutting board and cut into 2-inch squares.

Substitutions: No whole-wheat pastry flour? Use regular whole-wheat flour or oat flour.

Nutrition Per serving: (one 2-inch square): 131 calories, 18g carbohydrates, 12mg cholesterol, 6g fat, 2g fiber, 3g protein, 2g saturated fat, 43mg sodium, 8g sugar

From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

Krieger is a registered dietitian nutritionist and cookbook author who hosts public television's "Ellie's Real Good Food." Learn more at www.elliekrieger.com.

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