Ask and you shall receive.

It should be that simple, right?

Then how come when I go looking for a “protein bar” in the supermarket every package reveals one of the following scenarios?

  1. A miniscule amount of protein hidden in 200 calories worth of dried fruits and nuts (you know what I’m talking about, and anyone who labels this a protein bar is totally kidding herself. Just saying.)
  2. A good amount of protein swimming in TONS of calories and carbs and sugar. Hey, can you please leave that stuff out? I just want a snack – not dinner and dessert!

I’ll let you have a moment of the obligatory eye-rolling and tsk-tsk-ing. But Cara, won’t protein bars make you *bulky*? And, Cara, don’t you k now you can get all your nutrients from REAL food?And now I’ll have my moment of totally disagreeing with you. First of all, any food will make you bulky if you eat too much of and don’t move around at all. Even eating lots of protein and lifting heavy things (ie, something heavier than a soup can or soda bottle) has questionable impact on female “bulkiness” as demonstrated by my non-Arnold-like self. Secondly, I have yet to come up with a completely unprocessed pre-workout snack that gives me enough protein (aka, fuel), tastes sweet and chewy like a candy bar or granola bar (no, I don’t want to snack on a chicken breast thankyouverymuch) and can be eaten in the car on the way to the gym. (Sad news, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. Even if I was eating dairy right now.) So instead, I try to opt for the least amount of processing possible (judged by the number of ingredients and whether I can read them or not, and whether I want them in my protein bar.)

And sometimes I still come up short. Especially when I decide to consult with an acupuncturist about some health problems and her second order of business is telling me to avoid wheat, dairy, sugar and caffeine.

Oh dear. FML. That was my reaction for about 0.2 seconds, till I decided to make my own protein bars. I always knew that I should do it anyway, to save some money, but this sentencing was the push I needed.

But you guys have it easier than I do. Yesterday, no less than four people asked me to share my recipe for Pumpkin Gingerbread Protein bars, and that was precisely the push I needed to get a new post up. Maybe I should poll you guys more often 🙂

For those paying uber-close attention, you’ll see that I used whey protein powder. What, whey, what? Yes, whey is a form of dairy. But my acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine says it’s a-ok for me right now. Why? I don’t really know. Something about the Chinese medicine view of whey being “different” than other dairy. And it’s not a lactose thing either – nope, people who are lactose-intolerant can’t have whey. I could pry more, but I don’t. Right now, I’m quite satisfied knowing that I don’t need to give up my whey protein – that might pose a lot more problems!

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Pumpkin Gingerbread Protein Bars

Yield: 10

This recipe gets its protein boost from TVP, or textured vegetable protein. TVP is made from soy flour, and it's inexpensive and easy to find. One common brand is Bob's Red Mill (you should see it along with their other products in the natural foods section of your grocery store.) Vanilla protein powder is also included; I use whey protein but feel free to experiment with others, as long as they are composed mainly of protein and are free of artificial sweeteners. To keep this cleaner, I've used brown rice cereal (the brown rice version of "crisp rice cereal.") Erewhon and Kelloggs' both make this.


1 cup (30gm) brown rice cereal
1 cup (85gm) TVP (textured vegetable protein)
3/4 cup (75gm) shredded unsweetened coconut
4 scoops (120gm) all-natural vanilla protein powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
50 drops liquid vanilla stevia


Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line the bottom of an 8x8" baking dish with parchment paper and spray sides of the pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together cereal, TVP, coconut, and protein powder.

In a small bowl, stir together pumpkin pie spice, molasses, pumpkin puree, and stevia until smooth.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix thoroughly. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned and set. Cool completely, then turn onto a cutting board and slice into 12 bars. Wrap each bar individually in plastic wrap and freeze.

Nutrition Facts:

Amount Per Serving
Calories 172.4
Total Fat 5.4 g
Saturated Fat 4.5 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.0 g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 12.0 mg
Sodium 100.1 mg
Potassium 458.1 mg
Total Carbohydrate 15.0 g
Dietary Fiber 3.0 g
Sugars 8.4 g
Protein 14.2 g

This recipe is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays for 1/16/2012 and Allergy Friendly Lunchbox Love #18.