The Question I Always Got Asked As A Health Coach About Nutrition Bars

By Sara McGlothlin

When I was health coaching full-time, I constantly got asked for packaged snack suggestions, particularly nutrition bars. This question came in response to when my clients shifted to a more real food and blood sugar balancing way of eating. With a turn towards whole foods, many of my clients discovered that the processed packaged foods they had been eating previously no longer served them. When you read the list of ingredients of those foods found on the market, you will find so much sugar, processed unhealthy seed oils, soy, additives, preservatives, and other inflammatory ingredients. This includes most of the packaged bars on the market. Even if a bar has “clean ingredients,” (i.e. dates, nuts, nut butter etc.), they either (a) spike your blood sugar and make you feel “hangry,” (b) don’t keep you full for very long, (c) have an unappetizing texture, which makes you feel like you are eating fake food, or a combination of all three. So when I would get asked this question, there really wasn’t a bar I could recommend with conviction.

So I created one.

I created the bar I would most want to see at the market. This is the Empower Bar as you know it. In these early stages, it took the form of a recipe I would bake in my own kitchen. Using pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and shredded coconut, I created a blood sugar balancing, grain-free base that was full of healthy fat, plant-based protein, vitamins and minerals. With the addition of organic pea protein, eggs, and nut butter, the protein and blood sugar balancing benefits were amped even more. Cinnamon contributed to taste; home baking ensured the texture.

Friends, family, clients loved them. The caveat however, was the convenience factor. I would share this recipe and people would prefer I made the bars for them, after which they would gladly purchase them. This led to a discussion my husband and I were having in a hot tub one December day. My cookbook was wrapping up, and 2018 was quickly coming to a close. As the new year was approaching, we were discussing our career dreams for the future. As I told him how much I had loved working with food while writing my cookbook, he suggested we turn the bars I had created into a product to share on a larger scale. At first I was reluctant. The nutrition bar market is a saturated space, and I knew it would be a long road ahead. But I felt the fear and did it anyway. I told myself that if this was meant to be, I would “follow the unfolding” so to speak. I would let go, surrender, and would see what happened. And I would do this in the exact opposite way I have done everything else. There would be no attachment to outcomes, no hustling or grinding or perfectionism, pressure, or beating myself up.

I also told the universe (and my husband) that if I was going to do this, my nutritional values would remain in tact. I had been learning and teaching so much in the realm of blood sugar balance, and I couldn’t un-know everything I had learned. The nutritional tenets would not be sacrificed. I also wanted our products to foster positive food relationships; because they are so blood sugar balancing and fill you up for hours, this helps to reduce food anxiety and hanger. I am so happy to say that today, these values have remained a cornerstone of our mission and products.

There are a couple of ways a company can bring a food product to fruition. The people in the company can either make the product themselves, or hire a third-party manufacturer (called a co-packer) to make it for them. The former is most likely done in a commercial kitchen setting; the latter increases the chances the company can grow and scale as the co-packer likely has more efficient equipment. Most packaged products that you purchase are made by a co-packer.

Early on, I couldn’t find a co-packer that could make the Empower Bars while maintaining the integrity of the nutritional profile, taste, and texture. I am very stubborn, and I had my heart set on my original recipe. Eggs are a tricky ingredient for any co-packer to work with – it is why you will find a lot of egg white powder in nutrition bars, but not whole eggs. After a few months of searching, we decided to go the commercial kitchen route and make the Empower Bars ourselves. For months I would get to our kitchen around 5AM, bake a bunch of batches, then work on the business side of things in the afternoon. The response for this product from the get-go was so positive, and the word quickly began to spread. I think the Empower Bars became so popular was because they were so different than any of the bars on the market. You could taste the difference, and because they are so blood sugar balancing, they kept people satiated so much longer than any other bar. Not to mention they were nutritious and delicious. All of these factors set them apart and made them special.

Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances created major headwinds (the global pandemic, labor market shortages, and increasing input costs). Last spring, we made the difficult decision to close down our commercial kitchen operations, and the production of the pre-packaged Empower Bar went down with it. But I was determined to keep going. We still had our amazing Oat Bars and Granola Clusters, and I was convinced these products were (and are!) still some of the best on the market as well.

One day, I was driving in my car, thinking about our story and how the Empower Bars were originally made. I missed the bars I would bake in my 8×8 baking tin. And then it hit me. I might not be able to offer pre-packaged Empower Bars, but I could create a baking mix that would still make it so much more convenient for people to make their own healthy nutrition bars at home. There were many baking mixes out there – pancakes, waffles, muffins, cupcakes – but not one baking mix for nutrition bars. Gratisfied would be the first.

After a couple of months of recipe testing, I finalized what is now the Empower Bar baking mix. Selfishly, I am so grateful (gratisfied!) for this product because I always have it on hand. Sometimes it is the only breakfast my toddler will eat, and they continue to fuel busy mornings, workouts, road trips, and travel. The Cacao Empower Bars satiate my sweet tooth every day in a blood sugar balancing way, and can even be a “good mood food” option in the mornings. Given that you only need one bowl and ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen, it really is so easy to make.

I have always said I am not just selling food products; I am sharing something that benefitted my blood sugar and honestly my life (bold statement, but it’s true) in the hopes it might benefit yours. If you have been around for while, thank you for sticking with me. If you are new to this community, this is our story. Know that every time you order, I say “thank you,” even if I don’t get to tell you myself. Your support will always be appreciated, and when I hear how much you love the products, it keeps me going. Happy small business Saturday!