Published: Jul 13, 2012 8:59 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 13, 2012 11:01 AM EDT

Entire supermarket aisles are dedicated to snack foods, but cookies, crackers, and candy don’t do much to tide you over between meals—or help you shed pounds. More satisfying (and slimming) mini meals typically include a mix of protein, carbs, and healthy fat, along with real foods, like nuts, fruit, and low-fat cheese. Wink News Fitness Expert Mike Drumm is here today with his snack suggestions for the next time your stomach is rumbling.

What you eat, and when, can make a HUGE difference in the results you see in the mirror, and especially how you feel throughout the day. The following options can help boost energy, enhance performance, and, at the very least, stop your stomach from rumbling.

You’re in front of the TV, mindlessly dipping your hand into a bag of chips during Real Housewives of New Jersey can wreck havoc on your waistline. Instead, opt for controlled portions of crunchy snacks that have less fat plus added nutrients, like protein and fiber. Reach for air-popped popcorn (about 3 cups), just don’t douse your kernels with salt and butter. Keep them low-cal by adding a shake of dried oregano or sprinkle popcorn with chipotle powder for a Tex-Mex treat.

If you’re craving something sweet, give into a hankering for dessert without ditching your diet by indulging in foods that are naturally sweet but don’t contain added sugars. Munch on a dozen frozen grapes or strawberries, or dip a small banana in melted dark chocolate and pop it in the freezer until it hardens. My go to item is good old fashioned Peanut Butter and Jelley (or just dipping apple slices in Peanut Butter)

When you’re rushing out the door, your first thought may be to grab a convenient 100-calorie pack—or two. But your hunger will be better satisfied with more substantial, nutrient-dense foods like sliced vegetables. Dip a sliced veggie like red bell peppers (like vitamin A- and B-rich) or celery into hummus to give you a healthy one-two-punch snack. Hummus is made of chickpeas, which is a good source of plant-based protein, healthy fat, and fiber.

If you’re on a budget, don’t skimp on nutrition just because you’re shy on cash. At less than $2 per serving, you can whip up healthy snacks, like sliced tomato and low-fat mozzarella cheese (97 cents per serving), or try low-fat mozzarella cheese in marinara sauce to satisfy a craving for pizza or mozzarella sticks. You’ll get about 8 grams of protein and roughly 20% of your recommended calcium intake from the cheese. Meanwhile, at about 35 calories per quarter-cup, the sauce makes a low-cal dip.
 
Whether you’re trying to bulk up or want to feel full longer, it’s important to pack protein into your mini meal. Problem is, a grilled chicken breast isn’t the easiest thing to stash in your gym bag or purse. But don’t worry, there are plenty of sources of portable protein, like beef jerky, roasted soy nuts, or pouches of tuna fish.

The next time hunger pangs hit you, resist the urge to dive into calorie-packed and nutritiously void food and pick a snack with a unique taste or texture instead.  Almonds are packed with a potent combination of energy-enriching nutrients and the protein and fiber in almonds stabilizes blood sugar and slows digestion, which helps regulate energy, so you have steady reserves over time. Healthy fats like the kind found in almonds have been found to curb appetite and prevent overeating that can result in weight gain and its accompanying feelings of fatigue.

A bowl of cereal may scream breakfast, but it’s also the perfect thing to eat before moderate to intense exercise. Carbs can help boost performance—just don’t overdo it as some cereals contain more than 50 percent of the calories per serving from sugar! Stick to the serving size, which is usually about 1 cup, and look for “Whole Grain” and “Fiber” for the first ingredients listed... Muti-Grain Cheerios, Shredded Wheat with your own fruit added, Kashi Go Lean, Wheat Chex

Don’t erase your hard work by reaching for a 300-calorie protein bar after a 30-minute workout. A snack is typically warranted after exercise that lasts an hour or longer and should include about 35 g of carbs and 15 g of protein. Try a homemade smoothie with a basic protein powder and add strawberries or a small banana in the blender. Skip the protein and add some non-fat Yogurt.