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18 Low-Calorie Mini Meals

The secret to losing weight isn't necessarily eating less. It may be eating more -- mini-meals, that is.

By Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.

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First things first: I'm not saying you can slim down by eating as much as you want whenever you want. What I am telling you is that if you choose the right foods—and that includes everything from waffles to homemade pizza— you can eat up to six times a day and still shed pounds. The secret? Eating mini meals. Unlike the snacks you probably nosh on (like an apple or walnuts), which have individual benefits, mini meals provide a balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. This powerful trio keeps you feeling satisfied and full of energy. You'll be less likely to reach for junk food, and your body might even burn fat more efficiently.

To get you winning at weight loss—minus the starvation—I've created a menu of snacks-with-benefits that you can graze from throughout the day. If you're not exercising a few times a week but hope to drop pounds, aim for 1,200 calories, which means you'll need about four mini meals daily. If you're moderately active, you can aim for a range of 1,500 to 1,800 calories, or six mini meals each day. Get ready for surprising flavors, delicious indulgences and a whole new take on weight loss that lets you eat almost around the clock.

5 Must-Knows About Mini Meals
True or False

  • Mini meals contain less than 100 calories.
  • Mini meals are only eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • It takes no planning to prepare a mini meal.
  • Chips and salsa make a balanced mini meal.
  • It's best to skip mini meals—snacking leads to weight gain.

Answer: They're all false. Mini meals weigh in from 100 to 400 calories each and they're not just "three squares"—or meals you squeeze in between them. Instead, they're enjoyed every three or four hours. These nutritional powerhouses do take some planning, so be sure to shop ahead for the foods you'll need. You might even find it easier to prep some dishes ahead of time. And they should always include a protein to best curb hunger and inspire weight loss.

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Breakfast Burrito

Stuff a La Tortilla Factory Smart & Delicious Low Carb, High Fiber tortilla with 1 scrambled egg, 1 slice extra-lean turkey bacon, 1/4 cup chopped red, green and yellow bell peppers and hot sauce. 249 calories

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Sweet Potato Smoothie

Blend 1/2 baked sweet potato, 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup skim milk and ice cubes. 210 calories

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Cinnamon Waffle

Toast an Eggo Nutri-Grain whole wheat waffle and top with 2 tablespoons low-fat cottage cheese, 1/2 pear, sliced, and cinnamon. 159 calories

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Sunshine Pudding

Combine 1 cup vanilla soy milk, 2 tablespoons chia seeds, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, a pinch of cinnamon and 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries. Let sit in fridge overnight. 257 calories

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Chocolate Oatmeal

Swirl 1 tablespoon almond butter and 1 tablespoon sweetened cocoa powder into 1 packet plain instant oatmeal. 250 calories

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Nuts and Berries

Top 1/2 cup dry high-fiber cereal with 2 tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup frozen raspberries (warmed in microwave) and 1 tablespoon chopped nuts. 174 calories

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DIY Pizza

Top a whole wheat pita with 2 tablespoons marinara sauce, 1 shredded Mini Babybel mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms. Place in toaster oven until cheese melts. 250 calories

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Stuffed Bell Pepper

Slice a large red or yellow bell pepper in half and seed. Mix 2 ounces chopped grilled chicken, 1/4 cup shredded carrots, 1/2 small chopped apple, 2 tablespoons Craisins and 1/4 avocado. Stuff mixture into pepper halves. 289 calories

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Mandarin Chick'n Salad

Place 1 serving Gardein Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick'n on a bed of spinach leaves with cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup mandarin oranges, 1 tablespoon sliced almonds and 1 tablespoon sauce. 291 calories

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Beef-and-Veggie-Packed Soup

Add 1/2 cup canned, rinsed chickpeas and 1/2 cup frozen veggies to 1 serving Campbell's Healthy Request Vegetable Beef Soup. 235 calories

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Mexican Baked Potato

Top 1 baked potato with 2 tablespoons salsa, 1/2 cup black beans, chili powder, cilantro and 2 tablespoons low-fat Greek yogurt. 264 calories

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Spicy Turkey Wrap

Roll 2 slices turkey, arugula, 1 sliced heirloom tomato and 1 teaspoon horseradish sauce in a Flatout wrap. 209 calories

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Shrimp Stir-Fry

Saute 2 ounces fresh shrimp, 3/4 cup frozen veggies, 10 pods shelled edamame, 2 tablespoons crushed pineapple and 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce in 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil. Serve over 1/4 cup cooked quinoa. 357 calories

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Beef and Veggie Kabob

Skewer lean beef (2 ounces total) with cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and peppers (1 cup veggies total) and brush with 1 tablespoon pesto sauce. 198 calories

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Hot Enchilada

Add a side of 1/2 cup sliced baby carrots and 1/4 cup salsa for dipping (not shown) to Kashi Frozen Entrees Spicy Black Bean Enchilada. 306 calories

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Deviled Eggs

Mix yolks of 2 Eggland's Best hard-cooked peeled eggs with 1/2 cup chopped veggies and 1 tablespoon light mayo. Stuff into whites and add 5 multigrain pita chips. 278 calories

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Tuna Salad

Top 2 cups mixed greens with 1 single-serving pouch tuna, 1/2 cup shredded carrots, 1/2 cup fresh chopped beets, 1/4 avocado and balsamic glaze. 282 calories

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Turkey Meatloaf Muffin

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups chopped mixed vegetables with your favorite seasonings (garlic powder, onion, etc.), 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg and 1 pound lean ground turkey. Coat muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray, fill each cup 3/4 full and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 20 muffins. Serve 3 with 1/2 an oven-roasted potato and 1/2 cup veggies. 311 calories

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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