August 14, 2013
Healthier Happy Hour

Love to grab a 'bite' with friends or colleagues after a busy work day? But looking to avoid the excess calories that can come with the drinks & apps at your favorite hangout? Here are some tips on how to navigate your next happy hour:


Ahead of time:

1. Check out the menu-  Menu available online? Check it out ahead of time. That way you're less inclined to make food choices based on what you see, smell, etc. when you are there.

2. Think about your evening-  Will you be going home after HH? If not, will you need a complete meal or do you have a snack for later on (~730 or so) in case you get hungry again?

3. Think about your week-  How many happy hours or similar events do you have this week? If you have a packed social schedule, and a lot of fun food opportunities, that can change the food choices you make. Ex: social activity 4 times next week, 2 of which I have no control over. So this happy hour I'll stay on track w/food to allow myself more wiggle room later on when I need it more.



1. Stay low-cal: If you do choose to have alcohol, choose lower or no-calorie mixers to save on empty liquid calories. Ex: soda water and lime or lemon, diet cola or just on the rocks.

2. Avoid or limit alcohol: Alcohol will be empty, liquid calories. So it's always a healthy choice to avoid it and opt for unsweetened ice tea with lemon, sparkling water with lime, diet cola, herbal tea, decaf coffee or just plain ol' h20. If you choose to have alcohol, aim for moderation: say, 1 drink then sparkling waters for the remainder of the evening. Hint: tell your bartender & friends that you're DD'ing for less hassle.



1. Avoid basket 'apps': High-calorie breads, chips and similar appetizers will do little to keep you full, and a lot to drive up calories. So they're best avoided as often as possible. Tip: put them on the other side of the table, or ask for none to be brought out, if you have a hard time saying no when they're in front of you

2. Go protein/veggie-centric: Protein-based appetizers are common on happy hour menus. Ex: grilled prawns, chicken skewers, filet bites or shrimp cocktails. These are your best choices because they are more satiating than carb-rich apps (like the bread basket). Veggie accompaniments can help keep the calories within check. Even with high-protein apps, the portion sizes and added fats/sauces can be high. So off-setting this with very filling, but very low cal, non-starchy veggies is your best bet. Ex: side fresh seasonal veggies, veggie crudite (like carrot/celery sticks) or side salads w/o dressing.

3. Customize your order (or order off the menu): If you've checked out the menu, and still feel stuck with making healthy food choices, don't be scared to ask. Almost all restaurants will have some type of grilled protein and vegetable combination (think house salad w/chicken) that you can order to snack on and stay on track. Just tip generously for those kind waiters that help you here! :)



1. Track it: Pre-tracking your plan for happy hour is a great way to make sure your choices are balanced. But if you don't pre-track, know that tracking as you eat or shortly after is key to keeping your meal plan in check.

2. Have a balanced evening snack, if you need it: If you have snack-sized calories at your happy hour event, and are very hungry in the evening, feel free to have a balanced protein + carbohydrate snack (ex: 1 bite-size 20/20 Protein bar or 1 packet 20/20 Dry Powder shake).


Although not ideal to do daily, the occasional happy hour with friends is absolutely reasonable within a healthy meal plan. It just takes some thoughtful planning and savvy menu choices like the ones above to make it happen!


Written by Erika Brown

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