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Five ideas for using peanut butter: sauce, granola bars, smoothies and more

Forget using peanut butter in kids' lunch boxes this week. We have five ideas for the nutty spread beyond PB&J sandwiches.

Michelle Stark, Times food editor

Granola bars

Homemade granola bars are simple to make and convenient to have on hand for on-the-go cravings or less sinful desserts. This one is especially filling, with protein from the peanut butter and lots of fiber from oats. To make: In a large bowl, mix 3 cups old-fashioned oats, ½ cup chopped walnuts and ½ cup ground flaxseed. In saucepan, heat 1 cup peanut butter and ½ cup maple syrup until smooth, then stir into oat mixture. Press into 9- by 13-inch pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes or until set. Recipe from First.

Peanut butter pie

This sweet yet savory pie recipe will trick your senses into thinking it's almost fall. Yes, it's a splurge, but so worth it. To make, buy a 9-inch graham cracker crust from the store or make your favorite recipe at home. For the filling, start by beating 8 ounces cream cheese and ¾ cup confectioners' sugar together until smooth. Add ½ cup crunchy peanut butter, 2 tablespoons milk and ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts and mix well. Fold 2 cups heavy cream, whipped until it's thick, into the mixture. Pour into prepared crust. Place the pie in the refrigerator and chill completely, about 2 hours; you don't need to bake this pie. This recipe makes about 8 servings, which are best garnished with some chopped peanuts and a dollop of chocolate sauce or whipped cream. Recipe adapted from "New New Orleans Cooking Cookbook" by Emeril Lagasse.

Peanut butter dip

A lower-calorie snack option than just eating peanut butter straight from the jar, this dip goes great with graham crackers and apple slices. To make, mix a 6-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, a few drops of vanilla extract and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon.

Peanut sauce

Peanut butter (or almond butter) makes a convenient base for Asian salad dressing or stir-fry sauces. Here's how to make a dressing that works in either hot noodle bowls or cold Thai salads. In a bowl, combine ¼ cup peanut butter, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 teaspoon sesame seeds. Whisk until combined and smooth; thin it out with 1 or 2 tablespoons water if you'd like. Recipe adapted from lovefoodeat.com.

Peanut butter smoothie

Talk about a quick way to start your day with loads of protein: This smoothie combines peanut butter and banana, a classic (and healthy!) combination for breakfast or a late-afternoon treat. Oh, and there's chocolate in there, too. To make, combine in a blender 2 peeled, frozen bananas, 1 cup plain or vanilla almond milk (regular milk works fine, too), ¾ cup ice, ¼ cup creamy peanut butter, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract. Blend until smooth. Recipe from cookingclassy.com.

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