+ My Epic Showdown with a Parade Balloon
~ These energy balls are filled with protein and whole grains to keep you full and power you through whatever the day might hold! Our Crunchy Granola Snack Bites are easy no-bakes that freeze beautifully for busy days. They’re crunchy, chewy and satisfyingly delicious! Perfect for snacking or breakfast on the run! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less • Freezable • Make Ahead • Vegetarian •
When I got the chance to participate in some of the headliner events of this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival, I had no idea how it all would end …
… in a showdown battle of determination …
… between me, and a giant, inflatable Popeye parade balloon.
He was clutching a helium-filled can of spinach in his oversized fist. I had two tiny Crunchy Granola Snack Bites. Might not seem like a fair fight, but (spoiler alert) Snack Bites always save the day!
Here’s how it all went down …
Scott’s company is a big supporter of Canton’s Football HoF Week, and they always have several tables at the Gold Jacket Dinner, when the inductees receive those fabled jackets in an evening literally filled with legendary personalities. In a stroke of luck, we scored three tickets to one of the premier tables, right by the stage, so Ty eagerly joined Scott and me for the evening.
My kiddo was absolutely starstruck as football’s greats paraded past, just inches from where he stood. Memories of a lifetime, for sure.
An enthusiastic NFL Channel cameraman even hoisted his camera onto Ty’s bony, teenage shoulder. Laughing, Ty told us later that he almost dropped it. (Note to self: feed child power Snack Bites before he attempts to hold behemoth camera costing more than the mortgage.)
Luckily, no cameras were dropped, and the evening far exceeded our expectations.
My favorite pic of the night? We weren’t allowed to approach the players and ask for photos or autographs, but Brett Favre’s salad was fair game. You’ll note: even his salad is handsome!
So far, so good. Right? Still no hint of the showdown to come …
For the next night’s festivities, Scott and I had been generously given tickets for the Tim McGraw concert. Tim McGraw!! It was a fantastic event – from the fun preconcert activities with friends in HoF Village, to an outstanding performance by one of my absolute fave country stars.
Still all good … but here’s where things got just a little off kilter …
As we’d looked ahead to the big HoF week, we’d seen this part coming … the part where we went to an amazing concert and didn’t get to bed until about 1 a.m., only to sleep for three hours before we had to drive back to Canton to meet … here it comes … Popeye the parade balloon. (Cue the sinister dunh-dunh-dunh music.)
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m really not at my shiny best on three hours of sleep. My college roommate used to call me her “black bear” because I’m pretty into hibernating, napping, and sleeping in general.
But, hey – these HoF opportunities were too good to miss! Three hours of sleep?!?! No problem!
Besides, I had my Snack Bites and a cup of coffee. What more could I need?
So, Scott and I mustered our fortitude and drove through the predawn darkness back to Canton for the huge HoF parade. Scott’s company had gathered volunteer “balloon wranglers” to hold the strings for the Popeye balloon, one of the many parade balloons that would float over the crowd along the morning’s parade route.
How hard could it be?, we thought.
A few years ago, we’d taken the kiddos to watch the Macy’s Parade in NYC on Thanksgiving Day. Those balloon wranglers looked like they were having the time of their lives. This would be fun!, we thought. We’d even get team Popeye shirts and (ahem … we’ll call them “jaunty”) sailor caps! What a hoot!
The parade route was only about 2 1/2 miles long – an easy little stroll, we thought. We’d both actually considered just wearing flip-flops since we knew it would be a steamy, sunny morning. (Through some stroke of prescience we both opted for sneakers. Little did we know, this was NOT going to be leisurely stroll …)
When we arrived, the balloon corral was literally joyous.
Huge, colorful, happy balloons were half-filled and tethered low, as each team of wranglers gathered, laughing and pointing when they recognized the other balloon characters … Nemo! Angry Birds!! Awwwwww … Super Elmo! Kung Fu Panda! Plus, a football player (of course!), sliver stars, Miss Muffet’s spider, and an American flag. The list went on and on.
And there was our guy – Popeye! He was impressive – probably the biggest of them all, with muscly sailor biceps.
And that’s when we got that first, niggling little warning of impending doom. The balloon company staffer assigned to our group told us that is was great we’d all done this before, since good ol’ Popeye was their hardest balloon.
Ummmmmm … what? None of us had done this before. Swell.
And so it began. After a brief and generally confusing explanation of how to wrangle a giant, helium-filled parade balloon, we took to our posts … and then stood in uneasy formation under Popeye for about the next hour, waiting our turn to escort our guy out onto the parade route. Unless everyone balanced the weight juuuuust right, the simple act of holding Popeye in place was tiring. My arms were already getting weary, and we hadn’t even left the corral. (Again … cue the diabolical dunh-dunh-dunh.)
We watched the “easier” balloons leave the corral, with the delighted parade crowd chanting “Spin It! Spin It!” as the wranglers spun their more maneuverable balloons round and round as they floated down the parade route.
Oh, Popeye. There weren’t going to be any gleeful spins for you. We’d be lucky to get you to the end, still in one, fully inflated piece.
Finally, it was our turn. Excited to be moving, we nervously worked our way out onto the route.
And then, we began the epic battle to keep Popeye as high up in the air as possible, without letting him blow into signs, buildings, or traffic lights … all with the added fun of knowing that, every time we’d successfully gotten him to full cruising altitude, we’d only be rewarded by having to desperately reel him back in again to shimmy underneath some low-hanging obstacle.
Dripping with sweat, but trying to smile and look pleasant, we called out warnings of trees and poky signposts – anything that threatened to deflate a helium-filled bicep or slash at the cursed can of spinach.
We didn’t stroll down the parade route. We trudged, jamming one foot after the other ahead on the pavement to gain a little leverage to drag Popeye forward.
It was hot, thirsty, hard work.
I’m not going to lie. I’m glad I did it. Truly. In memory, it’s a super-fun story. Probably another once-in-a-lifetime thing.
But honestly, I’m not sure what I would have done, if not for those Snack Bites I’d had for breakfast, early in the morning, before I’d even realized what lay ahead. I needed that energy more than I’d realized, and I was so glad I’d had those Crunchy Granola energy balls stashed in the freezer, waiting to propel me through three measly hours of sleep at the end of a busy week … and totally able to keep me “strong to the finish.”
Perfect Make-Ahead, Grab-and-Go Snacks (or Breakfast!)
I’m not kidding when I say that Snack Bites will save the day. They’ll also help you defeat Popeye … or any other parade balloon you happen to meet. And believe me, if they could get me through that, I absolutely know they can get you through an endless meeting or power a kid through a tough soccer practice. I’ve been there, too.
You might remember that Snack Bites also practically saved my marriage (well … ok, that’s an overstatement, but it sounds fabulously dramatic), by finally proving me right and convincing Scott to eat breakfast. He now swears by Snack Bites as pretty much the only breakfast-on-the-go worth eating … the only thing that can keep him fueled up all morning long without even a twinge of hunger ’til lunchtime.
So simple, yet totally power-packed. They’re literally energy balls – jam-crammed with complex carbs and whole grains, plus loads of protein and a bit of heart-healthy fats (that absolute trifecta for a keep-you-full-and-energized food).
Snack Bites are basically the whole reason we started this blog. Whether you call ’em Snack Bites or energy balls or energy bites … no matter. They’re magical things. And after more than three years of THK’s healthy recipes, they’re still the truest embodiment of grab-and-go nutrition at my house. This is our eighth (eighth!) Snack Bite recipe – just proves how much we love ’em and how many of ’em we eat!
Like all our different Snack Bite flavors, these new Crunchy Granola energy balls are so supremely easy to make (no-bakes!) that even kiddos can throw them together. They stock beautifully in the freezer, pre-portioned and ready to head off any nutritional disaster that might arise.
And, they’re really and truly delicious.
Mix and Match for Your Perfect Flavor … and the Energy You Need to Prevail!
With these Crunchy Granola Bites, you can mix and match any flavor of granola you like, along with add-ins like different dried fruits, or even a few mini chocolate chips for a little decadence. You pretty much can’t go wrong.
Even after they’ve been frozen, they still have a wonderfully satisfying crunch from the granola. Chewy, crunchy, hearty and just a tiny bit sweet. Totally perfect.
And as I sat in the big field at the end of the Hall of Fame Parade route, guzzling water and watching as Popeye was deflated and put away, I couldn’t help thinking that those tiny, unassuming little Snack Bites had saved the day again.
Mwah-ha-ha-ha, Popeye! I prevailed! My Snack Bites and I were victorious!
And Popeye was now just a crumpled pile of fabric.
Snack Bites for the win, friends. Works every time.
- 1 cup granola (see note)
- 1/2 cup natural, creamy peanut butter
- 1/4 cup quick oats
- 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal
- 3-4 teaspoons honey (see note)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 3 tablespoons dried fruit (we used dried cranberries) or mini chocolate chips (see note)
- In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except dried fruit/chocolate chips, breaking up any really big chunks of granola.
- Stir very thoroughly to combine.
- Add dried fruit/chocolate chips to mixture and gently stir again, just until combined.
- Using your hands, press firmly to form one-inch balls.
- Place in air-tight container and (for best longer storage) refrigerate until serving.
Granola and honey: You can use any granola you'd like, including homemade granolas like our Easy, Healthy Applesauce Granola. If you purchase store-bought granola, be sure to read the nutrition labels carefully, as various brands and varieties differ significantly in their ingredient lists, amount of fats and sugars, etc. The exact amount of honey you'll want to use may vary depending on the granola you've chosen. For example, with the purchased cinnamon or fruit and nut granolas we've used, we find that 3 teaspoons of honey is plenty. But, with the less sweet dark chocolate granola we've tried, we find that we like the final taste of the Snack Bites a little better if we increase the honey to 4 teaspoons. We recommend starting with 3 teaspoons of honey, mixing everything together, and then tasting your Snack Bites to determine if you need to add just a little bit more honey.
Dried fruit and chocolate chips: Feel free to use whatever mix-ins you'd like, varying them for your preferences or the type of granola you've chosen. For example, we sometimes pair a dark chocolate granola with mini chocolate chips, or granola flavors like cinnamon or fruit and nut with dried cranberries for the mix-in.
What to do if you're having trouble shaping the balls (or are making these partially ahead (UPDATED 9/27/16): With many of our Snack Bites recipes, we note that we love to make big double- or triple-batches (or more!). With most of our other recipes, you shouldn't worry if you don't have time to shape all the balls right after you mix the ingredients together – just cover the mixing bowl and refrigerate for several hours or even a few days, until you have more time to finish shaping the energy balls. (You can also just grab little portions straight out of the mixing bowl for emergency snacking.) However, with this particular recipe, the granola really soaks in the moisture, and if the mixture sits too long (for example, if you're shaping balls for a triple-batch, or if you run out of time to finish and need to refrigerate it for a few hours), these can be more difficult to shape. What I like to do if I'm having trouble is pop the bowl with my mixture into the microwave and microwave VERY BRIEFLY (in about 10-second intervals) on 50% power – just until the mixture is SLIGHTLY warm. Be very careful not to COOK the mixture or get it too hot. This will make the balls much easier to shape again, as they were when you first mixed the ingredients together. Note, however, that if you're mixing in chocolate chips, they will, of course, melt a bit depending on how warm the mixture gets (which isn't really a problem in terms of flavor and actually can help the balls bind together, but can make the process just a bit messier).
Storing and freezing: If your peanut butter is one of the natural brands that needs to be refrigerated, then so do your Snack Bites. Actually, regardless of the peanut butter you use, these will keep much better in the refrigerator, for longer storage. These also freeze very well. To freeze, store the Snack Bites in a zippered freezer bag. Even better, you can portion out three or four balls into individual snack baggies, all ready for grab-and-go – then seal all the snack baggies inside a larger, gallon zipper bag.