How to enjoy a healthier happy hour

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate to the beauty of happy hour: getting home early enough to have a good night’s sleep so I can wake up to be productive the next day. It’s also a great way to bring together a random mixture of friends who live in the area and catch up for a few hours after a long week at work. I generally only do this once a week, but I have a lot of clients in their 20s or 30s who have several work happy hours each week, which provides a challenge when trying to keep to a healthy routine.

As a dietitian and a happy hour aficionado, I have learned simple tricks to keep to a healthy lifestyle while still being able to partake in social activities and even, yes, consuming alcohol! Here are my top tips:

  • Work out in the morning! I cannot stress this enough with my clients. You are much better off working out in the morning if possible; because you kick start your metabolism, and tend to be more energetic the rest of the day after exercising. Plus, at 6 a.m., nothing tends to pop up last minute (like happy hour!) to derail your exercise plan.
  • Have a healthy dinner ready to go for when you get back from happy hour. If you already have the fish thawed and the salad made, you should feel more obligated to eat that when you get home instead of ordering appetizers while you’re out. If you can keep happy hour to two hours (say 5-7 p.m.), there is no need to eat dinner when you are out. That leads me to my next tip…
  • Eat a well-balanced snack prior to happy hour. This way, you will go into happy hour with food in your stomach so you won’t be starving and give into the fries. Sometimes before I head out, I’ll eat cottage cheese/plain yogurt and fruit, an apple and some nuts, veggies and hummus, or a hardboiled egg and some whole grain crackers.
  • My rule: never drink alone. If you arrive before everyone else does, order a water and wait for your friends to come. If you start drinking by yourself, you may end up consuming at least 100 calories before anyone else even arrives.
  • When it comes to alcohol, here are my recommendations:
    • Light beer! It’s one of the lowest calorie alcohol choices and filling, so you won’t be inclined to eat a lot. If you don’t want to order a “light” beer, try to go for beers with the lowest %ABV - this is where most of the calories come from. Do not order ciders as these generally are higher ABV (>5%), plus they have a ton of sugar.
    • Vodka & Club: It’s all about increasing volume for the fewest amount of calories. Really any type of liquor will work here, since most straight liquors have about 7 calories/gram.
    • Wine spritzer: Again, trying to maximize volume for the fewest calories. Wine is over twice as calorie dense as a light beer, so try to limit the density of the calories. If you are anti-spritzer (wine snob!), keep it to one glass of wine. Wine calories add up very quickly, and in my experience with my clients, tend to make people lose their ability to eat mindfully.
  • If you are planning to be out for an extended happy hour and must order food, there are generally healthier options available, if you look for them! If you’re ordering as a group to split food, try to stick to raw or grilled fish (i.e.: tuna tartar, shrimp cocktail, grilled calamari, etc.), veggies & hummus with pita (limit the pita intake as it’s generally a refined grain, and be cautious of how much hummus you eat… those calories add up quick!), chicken satay, raw fish sushi, or roasted veggies. Worst-case scenario, most bars have a basic garden salad you can throw grilled chicken on (get a vinaigrette on the side), or a grilled chicken sandwich (opt for whole wheat bread or no bun) and steamed veggies.

The bottom line: Happy hour does not have to be unhealthy if you’re armed with good advice and a little willpower. Try to limit your alcohol intake by consuming water with and in between drinks (or even better, don’t drink at all!), and try not to eat the unhealthy appetizers your friends may have purchased. Happy hour should be enjoyable and focused around socializing, not drinking a ton of booze and eating greasy foods.

Kelly Strogen, MS, RD, LDN is the owner and registered dietitian at Wayne Nutrition LLC in Wayne, Pa. where she counsels clients on varying health topics (weight loss, vegetarianism, pregnancy, cholesterol lowering, diabetes, sports nutrition, etc.) as well as provides lectures to local corporations, clubs, and sports teams. She writes a blog “Kelly’s Pantry” and contributes a monthly recipe to Wayne Living Magazine.

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