A Natural, Nourishing Pick-Me-Up + Lemon Poppy Seed Bites

Lately, I am compelled to stash homemade energy bites everywhere: a couple in my purse as I head off for the day, one or two in the car console for longer bouts in the car, several in the refrigerator and a bag of “backups” safely stashed away in the freezer.

One can never be too prepared.

You see, these new longer work and travel days coupled with home and volunteer commitments can leave me struggling with fatigue. A big glass of water to re-hydrate is often all it takes, but other times my body wants more. Having something quick and wholesome on hand for such moments is key.

My gooey-chewy lemon poppy seed bites do just that. The crunchy poppies on top are an unexpected twist, and then there’s that big zing from a double dose of lemon. They definitely satisfy my craving.

Lemon poppy bites ingredients

I thought this would be a nice recipe to tie into this year’s National Nutrition Month® theme. Making smart nutrition choices is a necessary part of biting into a healthy lifestyle. Just standing in front of the display of artfully-packaged energy bars is overwhelming. Then comes the task of deciphering which are the decent options over those no better than candy bars… I’ll skip the hassle, please.

Although these require some planning and a few minutes of prep, home-making these lemon poppy seed energy bites saves money, reduces waste, and keeps me fully in charge of how my body is nourished and fueled. One nut, two seeds, three fruits and a sprinkle of sea salt — that’s all there is. Seven ingredients and so much natural, invigorating goodness to feel great about enjoying.

What’s in it for me?

Anti-inflammatory omega-3s in the walnuts improve brain functioning, concentration and mood. Poppy seeds are a rich source of calcium (about 13% of your daily rec in 1 Tbsp); while both poppy seeds and pepitas provide magnesium — a mineral involved in more than 300 necessary reactions in the body, particularly important here for taking oxygen to the brain and muscles. As a whole, nuts and seeds are full of healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, antioxidants, B vitamins, protein and fiber, known to provide energy and reduce further cravings between meals.

Soft dried fruits are naturally free of fat, cholesterol and sodium, and bring to the diet essential vitamins and minerals like B6, iron, and more of that magnesium. They are also concentrated sources of carbohydrates that can supply you with quick energy, and also provide a significant amount of fiber — 3 g in a 1/4-cup serving of dates and 2 g for the apricots. In this recipe the moisture added by the dried fruits eliminates the need to turn on an oven, or to add extra fats and liquid sweeteners many bars use as binders.

In addition to its well-known roles for immune and eye health, the vitamin C in lemon improves your body’s ability to absorb the iron from the nuts, seeds and dried fruits. And did you know that just the bright, crisp scent of citrus can boost alertness and increase levels of feel-good serotonin? (In fact, smelling fresh cut lemon is a strategy to ward off morning sickness for some pregnant women!)

What’s not in it for me are partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or other unwelcome additives regularly found in pricey store-bought versions.

Lemon poppy seed bites_with tea

Aside from my on-the-go noshing, I like a couple with herbal tea and lemon in the afternoon, or to provide a burst of energy before a more rigorous yoga or other activity session.

For endurance athletes needing nourishment during long runs, rides, etc., they’re a great source of easily digested carbohydrates, protein, iron and electrolytes — calcium, magnesium, sodium — to quickly deliver oxygen to tiring muscles, help prevent cramps, and keep blood sugar levels from soaring then plummeting. [Learn more about nutrition for fitness in my Fueling a Healthy, Active Lifestyle post.]

I have no doubt that your little eaters will gobble them up as a healthy snack, too!

Be prepared for what comes your way. Keep these wholesome, simple to make bites around for times that call for a refreshing pick-me-up.

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… What’s your favorite invigorating pick-me-up food?

Lemon poppy seed bites
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Recipe Type: Raw, snack, fueling food, sugar-free, grain-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan
Makes: 16 small squares
  • 2/3 cup dates, pitted and soaked in hot water for 10 minutes (reserve soaking liquid)
  • 1 cup raw pepitas
  • 1 cup raw walnuts or cashews
  • 2/3 cup dried unsweetened apricots (unsulfured, if you can find them)
  • zest from 2 large lemons
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice, from about 2 large lemons
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup poppy seeds
  1. Line a 9x5-inch loaf pan or an 8-inch square baking pan with a large piece of plastic wrap or wax paper, with enough to hang over the sides. Set aside.
  2. Put the pepitas and walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to get it going, then process 1 minute or so until finely ground. (Stop before it turns into a nut/seed butter.)
  3. Add the apricots, lemon zest, 2 Tbsp of the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and the dates. Process to combine, turn off and scrape down the sides and top. Process again for 1 to 2 minutes until everything comes together and forms a ball. If needed, dribble in the remaining 1 Tbsp lemon juice (or some of the reserved date liquid, if you prefer) and continue processing another minute or two to help it combine. You may need to scrape the sides and top again, depending on how strong your food processor is.
  4. Turn out into the prepared pan, and press evenly over the bottom and into the corners with wet fingertips or a rubber scraper. Sprinkle the poppy seeds over top, and gently press in. Fold the edges of the plastic wrap or wax paper over to cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  5. Slice into small squares or bars. Wrap each individually in a plastic or wax paper, if desired; or store loose in a tightly sealing container or zipper top bag. Will keep refrigerated 1 to 2 weeks, or frozen 1 to 2 months.
HGN Notes
+ Swap the poppy seeds for chia. They'll have the same crunch factor, but with a boost of protein, fiber and omega-3 fats.
+ Use raw almonds that have been soaked a couple hours to overnight (for softening) in place of the walnuts or cashews; OR sunflower seeds in place of the pepitas.
+ Any other dried fruit can be used to replace the apricots 1:1 -- unsweetened cherries or cranberries, mango would be fun, black or golden raisins, or figs. If your figs are drier, soak them along with the dates to re-hydrate.
+ Stir in 2 to 4 T unsweetened shredded coconut or finely ground coconut right before pressing into your tin. Add even more flavor by toasting the coconut first.
Nutrition Info
Serving Size: 1 Calories: 183 Fat: 11 Saturated fat: 1 Unsaturated fat: 10 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 19 Fiber: 3 Protein: 5

Recipe adapted from Kitchen Vignettes.

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    • Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN says:

      There are several suggestions in the recipe HGN Notes — would any of those be safe subs? The most similar in terms of final taste would probably be the golden raisins. Figs are fairly neutral as well, and I definitely want to experiment with dried mango some day. Let me know if you try one of these, and how the bites turns out. Good luck!

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