Nanaimo Protein Bars

November 12, 2014

in Gluten Free, Protein Bars, Recipes, Snacks

Nanaimo Protein Bars_main

If you’ve never heard of nanaimo bars before, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. They are a Canadian dessert, that was founded in a city called Nanaimo, which isn’t all that far from where I currently live. Nanaimo Bars are very much a Canadian tradition. Typically, people make them at Christmas time, well at least my Mom did. Traditionally the bottom layer is a combination of graham crackers, cocoa and nuts…and loads of butter. The middle layer is a very sweet and rich custard (basically custard powder, icing sugar and more butter). The top layer is chocolate (mixed with even more butter).

Its a very rich dessert, to say the least, so I wanted to come up with a lighter version…more of a snack, but with all the same flavors. So I decided on a Nanaimo Protein Bar, and keep it lower in sugar and fat than the traditional version. I had a hard time deciding on what to use for the middle layer. Traditionally its icing sugar and butter with some custard mix. I knew I couldn’t go that route if I wanted to keep it low sugar, so I decided on making it a creamy coconut layer.

I think the coconut layer is perfect, as it adds richness, but its not overly sweet.  You also get all the health benefits of coconut and coconut oil! I made the coconut layer from scratch, but a great shortcut would be using jarred coconut butter, which is not the same as coconut oil since its whole coconut flesh that’s been pureed (1 cup coconut butter should suffice in this recipe). With the coconut butter, you’d mix in the other middle layer ingredients (honey, vanilla, whey protein). A reader also made a great comment that I wanted to add. If you want the middle layer to be mint flavored, just add some peppermint extract!

Nanaimo Protein Bars_2

If you’re a nanaimo bar fan or not, I hope you give these a try. Even though there’s a few layers, it comes together quite quickly, and will satisfy your sweet tooth.

Nanaimo Protein Bars
Prep time
Total time
Recipe type: Snack
Yield: 16 bars
For the Bottom Layer
  • ½ cup graham cracker crumbs (I used gluten-free graham crackers)
  • ½ cup whey protein, chocolate (I used Jamie Eason's Lean Body For Her)
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened coconut
  • 2 Tbsp walnuts, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted (or coconut oil)
  • 20 drops vanilla stevia
For the Middle Layer
  • 2 cups unsweetened coconut
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp sugar-free honey (could sub for regular honey)
  • 2 tsp coconut oil
  • ¼ cup whey protein, vanilla (I used Jamie Eason's Lean Body For Her)
  • 2-4 Tbsp milk (I used almond milk)
For the Chocolate Top Layer
  • ½ cup stevia chocolate chips
  • ½ tsp coconut oil
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together all the ingredients in the bottom layer, drizzling in the melted butter last. Press into an 8x8 pan misted with oil. If your mixture seems to dry/crumbly, add a bit more butter or coconut oil.
  2. Next, assemble the middle layer. Combine the coconut, coconut oil, vanilla and honey. Blend it all together in a blender or food processor until its a paste consistency.
  3. Once the coconut mixture is blended, fold in the whey protein and almond milk, add the milk a little at a time to get it to a spreading consistency.
  4. Spread the coconut mixture over the bottom layer in the pan.
  5. For the top layer, melt together your chocolate chips and coconut oil. The coconut oil helps to thin the chocolate a bit. Warm over the stove until melted, or I use the microwave in 30 second increments.
  6. Spread the chocolate over the coconut mixture.
  7. Place in the fridge until the chocolate is set (about 30 minutes).
  8. Cut into 16 bars and store in the fridge or freezer.
Serving size: 1 bar Calories: 176 Fat: 13 g Carbs: 12 g Sugar: 2 g Sodium: 72 mg Fiber: 4.3 g Protein: 5 g


  • Angie

    I changed out the bottom layer with walnut brownies and the middle layer with sugar free pudding or Carmel because it is hard to find custard here

  • Christina

    Nice idea! I think these look super tasty, especially because I like coconut. However the coconut layer would certainly differ in taste/texture from a traditional Nanaimo bar. Perhaps a custard powder instead of the coconut would make for a more traditional bar? I would also always opt to make a base from scratch (rather than store bought sweet cookies) – I look forward to trying this recipe out and playing around with it. Thanks Kristine 🙂

    • Kristine Fretwell

      Yes, the coconut layer is not the same as a traditional nanaimo bar. I have custard powder (as I do make regular nanaimo bars just for the holidays), and the ingredients aren’t so healthy…a lot of additives.

      I haven’t yet made a homemade graham cracker yet, as I believe for it to taste really graham-like, they contain wheat. But maybe someday I’ll come up with a gluten free alternative!

      Thanks and if you make it, would love to know how it turns out!

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