Rock a Lunchbox |Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars

Even though I try to eat with my health in mind, I don’t always say “no” to sweets – but I do try to clean them up a bit. For example, instead of a bowl full of cold, creamy ice cream topped with crumbled cookies, I eat plain Greek yogurt that I’ve sweetened with stevia and topped with a crunch protein-based chocolate cereal (Power Os from Love Grown Foods). I also top that with mini-chocolate chips, it’s my go-to bedtime snack – it’s still sweet, but more balanced with protein to boost my workout recovery and make muscles while I sleep!

Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars make a healthier lunch box treat.

I also like to implement my “protein-hacks” in my kid’s lunchbox desserts as well. A study has shown that children ages two to 18 years old get 40 percent of their daily calories from junk foods like sugary sodas and fruit drinks, cookies, donut, candy, fried foods and more – that’s unconscionable. Kids of all ages want sweets, I get it – believe me I GET IT! I would try and trade the raisins my health-nut mom would pack in my lunch for a friend’s Hostess Cupcake – she never would trade, but started bringing me an extra cupcake on the sly.

So, as a parent myself now for more than 18 years, I’ve allowed my kids to eat sweets so that they don’t feel deprived but talked about limits and the effects of eating too much “less than quality food” – but that a small amount also be fine occasionally in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle. I also like to make our cookies and cakes at home, so I know exactly what is going into the recipe and into our bodies – choosing more nutritious alternatives when possible. Like heart healthy fats, sugar swaps, no chemicals or preservatives, organic when possible – you get the drift.

Caramel Banana Mighty Cereal Bars made with Love Grown Mighty Flakes make a healthier lunch box treat.

Caramel Banana Cereal Bar Today I’m sharing a healthier version of classic crispy yet chewy cereal bars. They are perfect for lunch boxes, backpacks, after school snacks, picnics, and pot lucks and bake sales! I used less butter and marshmallows than the traditional “crispie” recipe and supplemented with a reduced-sugar caramel and dried fruit for sweetness. For long-lasting energy, I threw in some nuts and a bean-based cereal for extra protein. Enjoy!
Caramel Banana Cereal Bars using Reduced Fat Caramel from Litehouse Foods makes a healthier lunch box treat.

What was your favorite treat to find inside your lunchbox as a kid . . . or today? Please share in the comments below – XOXO, Jennifer

Caramel Banana Cereal Bar
Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Caramel Banana Cereal Bar
Caramel Banana Protein Cereal Bars
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Servings Prep Time
18 servings 15 min
Cook Time
0 min
Servings: servings
  1. Add banana chips and walnuts to medium bowl and lightly break up into coarse chunks with mallet or back of spoon.
  2. Add cereals to bowl with banana walnut mixture; toss to combine. Set aside. In large microwave-safe bowl, add marshmallows, caramel dip and butter. Microwave on 50% power for one minute, stir until creamy. Return to microwave and cook at 50% power for additional 1 minute; stir until creamy. If marshmallows aren’t completely incorporated, continue and stir in 20 second blasts.
  3. Add dry cereal mixture to caramel mixture and stir with spatula until everything well coated.
  4. Line 8” x 8” baking pan with wax paper or spray with oil.
  5. Press mixture down firmly into pan. Let cool for 5 minutes and then cut into 9 bars, or size of your preference.
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Skinny Blackberry Nectarine Margarita and Virgin Smoothie Option

Skinny Blackberry Nectarine Margaritas are perfect for Cinco de Mayo or hot summer happy hours.Cinco de Mayo is almost upon us and soon a symphony of blenders will be whirling up my favorite adult beverage – margaritas! Margaritas are sweet, tart and refreshing, but all this slurp-worthy goodness comes with a couple downsides – lots of sugar (and therefore calories) and the potential to cause a nasty headache.  That’s why I like making my margaritas at home – I have more control over the ingredients.

Low Calorie Blackberry Nectarine Margaritas

My recipe for Skinny Blackberry Nectarine Margaritas uses fresh fruit with no simple sugar syrups or limeade concentrates – just water and a splash of stevia for sweetness.  I also use only one-half ounce of tequila (preferably 100% agave) ather than a full ounce or two that most single-serving recipes call for – this creates a further reduction in carbs along with lessening the chance of getting a hangover. Usually, I can only handle one margarita – but with my lightened version I can handle two! Whoohoo, it makes me want to leap for joy!

jennifer fisher

If you’d prefer to skip the alcohol all together, just omit it and you now have a virgin margarita or healthy smoothie!

Skinny Blackberry Nectarine Margarita for Cinco de Mayo

Skinny Blackberry Nectarine Margarita Recipe (with Virgin Smoothie Option )

For nectarine layer:

  • 3 large nectarines, peeled and pitted
  • 10 ounces sparkling or regular cold water
  • 2 large limes, juiced
  • 2 – 4 packets stevia, depending on ripeness of fruit and sweetness preference
  • 1 cup frozen blackberries
  • Ice, as needed

For blackberry layer:

  • 3/4 cup frozen blackberries
  • 4 ounces water
  • 1 juice of large lime
  • 1 – 2 packets stevia
  • Ice as needed

Add ingredients for nectarine layer in blender, pulse for a minute or two until well blended and smooth — adding as as needed. Sugar or salt rims of margarita glasses, if desired. Divide this mixture among two glasses. Next, add ingredients for blackberry layer into blend are blend until smooth. Pour blackberry mixture on top of the nectarine mixture already in glasses. Garnish with fresh blackberry and lime slices, if desired.  Serves 2.

Do you prefer traditional lime margaritas — or do you have a favorite flavor? Let me know in the comments!

Skinny Mama Beef & Veggie Manicotti Recipe Makeover

Beef & Veggie Manicotti Pasta

I’m always looking for a way to lighten comfort food because, I’ll admit it; emotional eating is a friend of mine. Whether celebrating or wallowing in sorrows, getting my mouth around a good meal always makes things better.  Everyone at my house agrees that pasta is a go-to comfort food; spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, raviolis – you get the picture! This carb and cheese fest doesn’t really fit my higher protein day-to-day diet, typically if we’re doing spaghetti, I just take a taste of the noodles and a heaping helping of the sauce.

Man, oh man; wouldn’t it be comforting to have some manicotti for dinner tonight? These long tubes of pasta stuffed with meat and cheese — the word is derived from an Italian diminutive for “sleeve,” which is exactly what they are! At restaurants, I’ve had “manicotti” wrapped in zucchini and eggplant instead of a noodle, but I didn’t want to scare the kids off immediately. Instead, I stuck with a traditional recipe and made some healthy swaps. For example, I chopped up zucchini and other veggies into almost a mince so they would be discretely hanging out in the filling – like, “who me, a piece of squash? Ya, no big deal.”  I also substituted the heavy ricotta cheese with low-fat cottage cheese and kept the mozzarella to a minimum –just a skosh in the filling and a bit sprinkled on top. And, of course, our family favorite lean ground beef (more nutritious than ground turkey, people) was the meaty, mouthwatering source of protein.

The recipe makeover turned out scrumptious. The kids ate some unchartered-territory vegetables (red bell pepper) with nary a complaint – even from my youngest who likes to share his disgusted opinion about everything!  The other beauty of this family meal is that you can make ahead – or double the batch and keep one in the freezer for next month!

Healthy Manicotti

Skinny Mama Beef & Veggie Manicotti Recipe

  • 1 8-ounce package manicotti (14 tubes)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef sirloin
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups finely chopped veggies of your choice (I used sweet onion, red onion, red bell pepper, and zucchini)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 16 ounces low-fat cottage cheese*
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 6 ounces low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
  • 1 16-ounce jar marinara sauce
  • Garnish: red bell pepper rings.
  1. In large pot, bring water to boil. Carefully add manicotti tubes and boil for approximately 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef in skillet over medium heat, drain off any liquid. Set beef aside and add olive oil to skillet. Sauté chopped veggies until soft-crisp, approximately 3 minutes. Add in garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper and continue to cook for 1 more minute, stirring continuously.
  3. In large bowl, add cooked ground beef, sautéed veggies, 16 ounces cottage cheese, whisked egg, and 3 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Spread approximately 2/3 cup sauce in bottom of 9”x13” baking dish.  Carefully, stuff each tube with beef and cheese mixture using a teaspoon. Line up stuffed manicotti in baking dish. If any mixture remains, spoon it into sides of baking dish.
  5. Top with remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Garnish with red bell pepper rings, if desired.
  6. Bake in 350 F degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is bubbling on top.Serves 7 (2 each)

manicotti nutrition

Since this was a makeover recipe, I ran the nutrition information — my version cuts the calories in half with 326 calories per a two manicotti serving versus 668 for traditional manicotti! Plus, 12 grams of fat is totally reasonable for a recipe so gooey and comforting. Plus, with everything I’ve learned about protein consumption, the 29 grams of protein is in the optimal range amount for any given meal.

chop onion

If you’re using onions as one of your veggies in this recipe (or any recipe), check out this video from Cooking Light that shows how to easily chop an onion. I never thought to slice an onion lengthwise first – genius!  Now, my tip on chopping onions is to dip your knife in water with every few slices – this will cut down on the noxious fumes that make eyes water. Yay, no more crying!

beef checkoff


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