The Chocolate Quinoa Protein Bars that Cured My Pop-Tart Addiction

My name is Christine, and I have a Pop-Tart problem.

Ever since I discovered these accidentally-vegan goodies in the vending machine at law school, I can’t seem to get my dollar in the slot fast enough.  That wouldn’t be a big deal every once in awhile, but the vending machine seems to call out my name every time I’m heading to the gym.  My banana just looks so blah next to the shimmering strawberry-frosty goodness!  And yes—by “goodness,” I’m mean 10% strawberries, 90% flavored corn syrup.

Besides packing extra coins for the vending machine, I’ve also started carrying around ibuprofen.  It worked for Matt during his 50-miler, and I count on it for my killer 3:00 headache.  But you know when these headaches started?  Right about the time I started a daily 40-grams of sugar ritual with these damn Pop-Tarts.

I knew I had to break this sugar-rush-crash-medicate cycle, and vowed to make a batch of my Homemade Energy Bars to satisfy that starchy-sweet craving.

Lo and behold, for maybe the first time in NMA-kitchen history, the pantry was out of beans.  Not a legume in sight.  But, times of crisis have a knack of spurring creativity—with a deep pantry rummage I pulled together ingredients for some awesome quinoa energy-protein bars.

With over 7 grams of protein per bar (more if you use nuts!) and about a third of the sugar in Pop-Tarts (from energizing dates and agave nectar instead of corn syrup), the case of the addictive pop-tarts is officially closed.   Enjoy!

Chocolate Quinoa Protein Energy Bars

  • 3/4 cup dry quinoa, or about 2 cups cooked
  • 1/2 cup dates, pitted
  • 3 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup protein powder (I used an unsweetened hemp-based version)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup stir-ins like dry fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, or vegan chocolate chips. (I went for half chocolate chips and half coconut)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 8×8 baking dish lightly with baking spray.

Rinse the dry quinoa in cold water, then let sit in a bowl of water for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, bring 1 cup of water to boil.  Drain the quinoa and add to the boiling water.  Cover, and reduce heat to simmer for about 12 minutes.  Let cool enough to handle.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cooked quinoa, dates, agave nectar, vegetable oil, flaxseed, almond extract, and salt.  Process until relatively smooth (the quinoa is so small it stays slightly lumpy).

In a small bowl, stir together the protein powder, flour, and stir-ins.  Fold this dry mixture into wet mixture with a spatula.  The dough is very thick, like cookie dough, so use the spatula to press into prepared pan evenly.

Bake for about 22-25 minutes, until firm.  Let cool, then slice into a dozen bars.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition facts (with chocolate chip and coconut option): Calories: 184, Total Fat: 5.4 g, Saturated Fat: 3 g, Cholesterol: 0 g, Sodium: 37 mg,  Potassium: 113 mg, Total Carbs: 29 g, Fiber: 3 g, : Sugars: 16 g, Protein: 7.3 g.



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  1. Chrstine this is too funny!

    I have a poptart addiction!!! All through college I would make pit stops at the vending machine when I was stressed and buy a pack! I could never rationalize buying a box at the grocery store so instead I would race to the vending machine at midnight. Not good. I have decided that nothing good has ever come from a poptart but still…they are good!

    Soooo excited to try this recipe!

  2. Awesome! I just did a whole post on Quinoa yesterday ( so I will definitely be trying these. Thanks for the recipe. Pop-tarts were my weakness for so many years, and I still salivate at the thought of them.

  3. This sounds delicious; how many servings does this recipe make?? I’m glad you found a pop-tart substitute! Those things are dangerous and would give ANYONE a headache!

  4. yuummmm! those look great! way better than poptarts-thanks for sharing the recipe!

  5. Score I have all the ingredients and am always looking for a tasty hemp protein bar. Thanks can’t wait to try them this weekend!

  6. These look and sound great! Can’t wait to try them

  7. Yum! I can’t wait to make those!

  8. Any good substitutes for vegetable oil? Olive oil…??? Or…???

  9. Yum- what a fab idea for using quinoa. I only tend to use it for savory dishes but I suppose like oats and other things they can be flavoured sweet too. Love it!

  10. i will be making these! and hey, i manage at great sage now, come visit. i’m so happy! hope you are well.


  11. Elizabeth Stolle says:

    Awwwww… poptarts. They will always hold a special place in my heart. One summer when I was in college I ate a poptart and a peach every night for my dinner. Fortunately I’ve moved on to healthier eating. I just made your chocolate quinoa bars and they are delicious! Thanks for a great recipe. Your bars (in the photo) looked like you used chocolate protein powder so I used my chocolate Vega protein. They really turned out great.

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Actually, the chocolatey appearance is due to my impatience– the warm quinoa melted the chocolate chips in the batter!

      Thanks for the heads up, I will edit the recipe to say I used regular, unsweetened protein powder.

      I’m happy you tried the bars and enjoyed them; now I’ve gotta try a flavored protein powder (and maybe cut back on the agave nectar if the powder is sweetened).

      THANKS! Christine

  12. What can be used as a substitute for protein powder? I don’t like protein powders. Can the portions of some of the other ingredients be increased, if so, what would you recommend?


    • The simplest solution is just increase the whole wheat flour to 1 cup total, or you could replace the protein powder with 1/2 cup of an alternative flour like buckwheat or chickpea flour.

      You could also make a 1/2 cup of powder in the food processor by pulsing oats/dried coconut/nuts/some flaxseed, or any combination of these, until very fine.

      • I replaced the protein powder with 3/4 carob powder and the rest dried shredded coconut, and used chopped almonds and cocoa nibs for the stir-ins. Delicious, though they haven’t cooled yet..

  13. I am definitely going to make these… I’ve gotten into eating my morning pastry again and I need to break that! By the way, have you ever cooked anything with amaranth seeds? They’re used for everything from brewing beer to using for rouge for cheeks, but they’re high in protein and other nutrients, and are gluten-free. They can be ground into flour or popped like popcorn. I’ve only recently heard about amaranth but have no idea what it tastes like nor how to cook with it.

    • Gramma Kaye says:

      Hi Vickie, You can buy amaranth already ground. I think Bob’s Red Mill makes it. I am actually looking for the seeds, which I can’t find. I hear they make an excellant popcorn substitute when popped. Wow, just notices how old thiese posts were. You may be using it already lol.

  14. These look like a great alternative to Pop-Tarts and ibuprofen. I can’t wait to test these on a son who thinks he hates quinoa.

  15. looks awesome! thanks for the recipe 🙂 used to love chocolate pop-tarts but gave them up when I cut hydrogenated oils from my diet

  16. These look so awesome and I’m completely obsessed with quinoa recipes at the moment as well. I will definitely be trying these out.

  17. I’m always looking for alternative to store-bought protein bars, and these sound fabulous. Any recommendations for making gluten-free?

    • Replace the whole wheat flour with a 6 tablespoons rice/bean/buckwheat/almond flour, 2 tablespoons of corn/potato/tapioca starch, and a 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum.

      If you don’t have the gum, it won’t be a big deal in a dense bar like these.

      Also, double check your extract to make sure it is not from grain alcohol.

      Thanks! Christine

  18. This sounds great. It actually gives me an idea for creating a raw quinoa energy bar with cacao. I’ve been needing inspiration for a new bar! 🙂

  19. Carly Pastore says:


    Its nice to know that I’m not alone out there. I thought I was one of the only marathon runners that had a problem with pop-tarts. Thank you for posting a really healthy alternative to the packaged corn syrup pastries! Can’t wait to make these tomorrow!

  20. YUM!
    Do you think coconut oil would work here?

  21. They are in the oven right now and smell delicious!!

  22. Whoa, these sounds great, gonna try these tonight I think. I like the idea of coconut oil and maybe leaving them a bit more bitter and leaving out the agave (too much fructose for me!) but dates themselves are usually enough for these types of brownies!


  23. To be honest I never made energy bars at home but after reading your great recipe I’ll start to make them:)
    They look really yummy.
    Thanks for sharing!

  24. I made these this past weekend. I loved them and so did my 15 year old son. He still doesn’t know there is quinoa in them. He took three with him to school today to have before his soccer game this afternoon.

  25. Can these be made with a non-gluten flour? I am gluten intolerant but these sound amazing!

  26. This recipe is truly addictive. It takes more like a brownie, but is packed with nutrition. I am sure to make it every week, and I make sure to have one with me at all times, whether at work or school. I am forever grateful to you for this!

  27. Hey, just so you’re aware… the frosted strawberry pop-tarts (Kellogg’s Pop-Tart brand) are actually not vegan at all… the frosting contains gelatin, which is made from animal collagen derived from skin and bones. Depending on your definition of the diet, you might not even consider them to be vegetarian. The unfrosted kind are safe for vegans though, as they don’t contain any gelatin. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. These chocolate quinoa bars are definitely an improvement over pop-tarts though!

  28. I always have quinoa on hand and loved to find new ways to use it in my diet. Thanks, can’t wait to try these!

  29. Christine,,,do you have a tasty energy bar that is high in protein low in sugar…I bought these pure protein bars and they are super tasty
    But expensive full of ingredients that I cannot pronounce!

    Supposedly they have 20 grams protein and 2 grams sugar,,,
    I think that is low because they use sugar alcohol but they don’t
    Count that!!!

    Mmmmm,,I would love a recipe..

  30. Joy caamano says:

    Sounds so delicious. Question; how can I increase the protein so each bar would have about 15 grams and not ruin the taste?

  31. Yummy! I just made these and they are delicious. Didn’t have agave so used brown rice syrup, which is less sweet, but then I used sweetened coconut so I think that compensated. Also used chocolate chips, chopped cashews, and threw in a couple Tbsp of cocoa powder because that’s how I roll. Great recipe!

  32. Hahah I had a horribleeee pop tart habit too! Wild berry pop tarts pretty much got me to class every morning in college… then back into bed right after the sugar crash! Love these quinoa bars! I’ve trying to make quinoa a lot more at home, I’ll have to give these a try too!

  33. so i thought i had quinoa on hand, but alas as i already had the food processor ready with the dates, etc. i decided to use amaranth instead. talk about tasting like brownies. i love amaranth and now i love it even more in these bars. thank you for the recipe!

  34. They are in the oven right now, I used coconut flour and spelt in place of protein powder. I had chocolate almond bark that I chopped up added dried apricots,and cranberries. Let you know in a hour how they are.

  35. They are out of the oven and I coukdn’t wait they are very tasty. Will made them again for sure

  36. I’m anti-agave since I’ve read over and over that it’s as bad for you as HFCS (possibly worse) and not a natural sweetener at all. I struggle when I see it in recipes. I’m not a great substituter. Suggestions? I assume leaving it out would make them dry. I am envious of those of you who are so good at experimenting with recipes! This sounds so yummy!

    • I use maple syrup when I see agave syrup called for in a recipe. (FYI dates are very high in fructose.) Depending on how sweet you like things, the dates might be enough. You probably would need to add some water or milk of choice to compensate for the liquid. (Start with 2 tbsp and increase gradually by tiny bits if the dough seems too dry.)

  37. Clean Cook Lily says:

    How I made mine- (sorry, some of the brand names may be unfamiliar to you)

    I used quinoa flakes, which has a texture similar to oatmeal. I mixed all the dry ingredients together, using finely chopped almonds and brazils for the ‘stir ins’ . I don’t really use protein powder, but I had a breakfast shake mix called Get Up And Go by Patrick Holford. I din’t have enough dates to hand , so used half dates, half figs. I blitzed them up with some Sweet Freedom honey substitute, some strawberry flavouring instead of the almond extract and the water that meant to cook the quinoa. I added this the dry mixture and cooked as stated.
    The verdict ? They turned out fine, but not especially sweet. I don’t particularly have a sweet tooth, but next time I would add more sweetener . I like the idea of using chocolate, but my theory is this- if I’m going to cook with chocolate , I’m going to make a big, fudgy , tooth rottingly sweet cake. If I’m cooking using a nutritious shake mix, I’m content to use fruit/nuts and keep it all wholesome.Hope that make sense! I’ve called my ware, Get Up And Go Breakfast Bars.

  38. Thanks for the recipe…very cost effective. I used olive oil then currants and dark chocolate pomegranate arils. I think the calorie count came down to 151 calories.

  39. Ironmaiden60 says:

    Tried these, but substituted 3 Tbsp. coconut flour instead of whole wheat and used peanut butter in place of oil. Absolute awesome. Thanks for the great recipes!

  40. I’m wondering how these are chocolate if you don’t use chocolate chips as an add-in. And interested in opinions for what to substitute for protein powder. These look like a good alternative to the bean-based bar recipe. Thanks!

  41. Hey there I baked these tonight! and yes delish but I def. had to make some changes to the recipe.
    substituted vegetable oil for coconut oil
    The wet mixture was def not enough for the dry mixture in order to make dough so I had a little splash of almond milk to get it to the dough texture.
    added cranberries, dark chocolate chunks, cashews, and almonds for the mix-up part
    I also put in mango slices after I put the batter into the pan.
    I also only baked them for 20 mins (that was plenty i think one more minute and they would have been burned).
    They came out great though! SO DELICIOUS! Thank you so much for sharing!

    p.s. would be great if you added photos more photos of what the mixtures look like throughout the process (I was doubting myself on the quinoa, flaxseed, oil, etc mixture part).

  42. Just made these with chocolate/coconut/goji berry mix in. I found them to be a bit bland; I think with a little more salt or a hit of almond butter they’d be a little more interesting. Will try that next time around!

  43. These look great! Just wanted to let you know that Pop Tarts are not actually vegan – they have gelatin in the icing. The only ones that were truly vegan were the apple cinnamon ones and they stopped making them!

  44. onefishtwofish says:

    What is a good temperature to cook at?

  45. What a great idea to use quinoa for a protein bar! Not only do these have a good amount of protein, they are packed with nutrients from the quinoa! Thanks for the tip!

  46. Do you think it would work with a gluten free flour?

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