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The Matisse and Jack’s vs. Alton Brown Energy Bar Showdown

As I mentioned in my post “Eating Frugally vs. Eating Healthy” there exists a tension between being frugal and eating well. When it comes to spending a little more in favor of being healthy, or spending less for unhealthy products, I tend to side with the former. But I still want to be thrifty where I can.

I am a believer in the concept of eating every 2-3 hours, or 6 small meals a day. Scientific research supports this dietary method and shows that it helps speed up your metabolism and burn more fat. And research aside, I can personally attest that this really does work. Basically because your body is being fed regularly it never goes into “starvation” mode and slows down the rate it is burning calories. If you have packed on the pounds this holiday season you should give this method of eating a try.

Eating six small meals a day is not easy. Therefore I often make a few of those “meals” an energy/protein bar. But here is the problem: energy bars are almost without exception expensive and not really that good for you. Packed with corn syrup and artificial crap, they amount to little more than protein infused candy bars. And they cost $1.25-$2.50 each. Ouch!

So recently I began to look for a healthier and cheaper alternative. At Lifehacker I came across this post for DIY energy bars. It mentioned a box mix that you could use to bake bars at home. I was intrigued. But the post went on to say that surely there were less expensive methods out there. Commenters pointed me to Alton Brown’s recipes for homemade protein/energy bars. This seemed like the more frugal alternative and I set about to test the recipes. I made both the protein bars and the granola bars and then painstakingly added up what the bars cost. Here is a break down of the Alton Brown protein bars:

4 ounces soy protein powder, approximately 1 cup-(I buy whey protein in bulk on ebay)-96¢
2 1/4 ounces oat bran, approximately 1/2 cup-20¢
2 3/4 ounces whole-wheat flour, approximately 1/2 cup-10¢
3/4-ounce wheat germ, approximately 1/4 cup-60¢
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces raisins, approximately 1/2 cup-56¢
2 1/2 ounces dried cherries, approximately 1/2 cup-$1.75
3 ounces dried blueberries, approximately 1/2 cup-$3.00
2 1/2 ounces dried apricots, approximately 1/2 cup-$1.00
1 (12.3-ounce) package soft silken tofu-$1.99
1/2 cup unfiltered apple juice-
4 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/2 cup packed-16¢
2 large whole eggs, beaten-25¢
2/3 cup natural peanut butter-50¢
Canola oil, for pan

The serving size is supposed to be 24 squares, but that is really small, half the size of a normal store bar, so I divided them into 12. Each bar costs .96¢. Cheaper then store bars, but not by much. Plus, and here is the clincher-they taste bad and they aren’t easy to make. The texture is moist-too moist actually. Ewww moist. After the first batch I tried to spice up the next batch by adding zucchini and spices in an attempt to make “zucchini bread” protein bars. The bars turned out with the texture and appearance of meatloaf. They tasted okay, but the meaty and fleshy nature of them gave my husband dry heaves. Truly.

And they take more than an hour to execute! This includes cleaning the multitude of bowls and utensils it takes to make them. Now if you are like me and wish to eat a couple of bars a day, and you have a husband that eats a couple too, then you have to make them every few days. Who has an hour to devote every other day to making bars?

Making the granola bars turned out pretty tasty but involved even more time and mess and were more expensive. I was not pleased.

So I went back to investigate the box mix that was mentioned. It turns out they are made by a company called Matisse and Jack’s. They advertised their bars as simple, healthy, and thrifty. Bingo, just what I was looking for. I emailed the good folks at M&J’s and they graciously agreed to send me a free sample to try out myself. I was pretty psyched about it. But I also approached the product with an open mind….would these bars taste good? And most importantly-were they cheaper than Brown’s bars?

The answer is yes and yes. I am extremely pleased with the Matisse and Jack’s bars.

First, they are very simple to make. The box comes with a dry mix all ready to go. You just put the dry mix into a bowl and then add a wet ingredient. I chose the “less sweet” option and used plain yogurt. But you can also opt for applesauce and vanilla yogurt. Or soy yogurt if you are a vegan. Then you stir, pour the batter into a pan, and bake. That’s it. They go from box to oven in less than ten minutes. And clean up is a snap. You only dirty one bowl and a couple of spoons. It is dreamy!

And they taste delicious. Because we used yogurt they had just a hint of sweetness-which was perfect. They are moist (but not meatloaf moist), chewy, and every bites tastes like wholesomeness. Amazingly, my mom, who turns her nose up at any and all energy bars, thought they were wonderful. It was a true breakthrough.

And talk about healthy-there’s no junk in there at all- just organic oats, protein, flax seed, and other good for you ingredients. There are two flavors-cranberry walnut and chocolate chip. I enjoyed both equally. The chocolate chips taste like quality chocolate.

And of course, most importantly-how much does each bar cost? Here is the breakdown:

Box mix: $4.99

1 cup+3 Tb plain yogurt-70¢

This makes 9 bars at 63 cents each. This is a great price, half of what you’d pay for a store bar. I added one scoop of whey protein to each mix to boost the protein content. So mine were 67¢ each. Which is still great.

My only caveat is that I think they should make a whey protein version too. The protein in the mix is soy, and while I believe a little soy is good for you, I try to avoid too much.

The Bottom Line: These are the best energy bars I have ever found. Do yourself a favor and check them out on the Matisse and Jack’s website. You can order them online and if you buy 5 or more boxes you get free shipping. Sweet!