Picture this: You sit down to happy hour at your favorite restaurant and a friend to your right orders: “To start, I’ll have the mixed veggies. To drink: a sparkling water with a splash of low sugar cranberry juice and a lime…” Said no one at Happy Hour EVER! Even if these items were on a happy hour menu, who would actually order them? They would subject themselves to a disappointing happy hour and extensive reticule by colleagues and friends. No question, it is difficult to eat healthfully at happy hour while you’re ready to blow off steam from a stressful work week. But it is doable. Here are my top 6 tips for a successful happy hour! These tips will allow you to continue your healthy lifestyle choices while enjoying the experience.
1. Skip the fried food: I know it is hard to find items on a happy hour menu that are not fried but it usually is possible. Mozzarella sticks, potato skins, onion rings, French fries are a few examples of calorically dense foods that have almost zero nutritional value. These options will usually leave you feeling tired and sluggish at the end of the day.
2. Share the Cheese board: Yes, I said it. Cheese is a great source of calcium and has anywhere from ~150-300mg of Calcium per ounce. For 19-50 year olds the recommended amount is 1000mg per day. Eat one ounce and you’re already anywhere from 15-30% there. And 1-2 ounces of cheese daily is considered part of an overall healthy diet. The key here is moderation. Usually cheese boards will come with 3-5 different varieties and about 2-3 ounces per variety. So go ahead go for the cheese but be mindful of portion sizes and SHARE!
3. Stay hydrated – with water: Ask for water before you’ve had a chance decide what you’re drinking. Try to sip throughout the evening. This will help to fill your stomach up, keep you well hydrated and help with that potential headache at 6am Friday morning.
4. Opt for Protein: Usually you can find some type of lean protein on a happy hour menu. Protein rich foods are much more of a nutrition powerhouse even when you add in the extra calories for cooking method (sautéing or breaded and seared).
Top picks: Hummus and pita chips, sautéed shrimp, chicken or beef skewers, edamame, seared ahi tuna, black bean dip, even the hamburger (just ask to hold the mayo and cheese).
5. Look it up!: See if you can get an idea of what the menu looks like and have a few ideas before you show up. If you know what the happy hour menu looks like you can plan accordingly.
6. Don’t go hungry: Do not show up to happy hour running on empty. Our stomachs usually take control at that point and good food decisions are hard to make. It’s like going to the grocery store on an empty stomach – I know I have done it but it’s a bad idea. Instead, grab a snack about an hour before you get off work that has 100-200 calories and contains both carbohydrate and protein. This will help ensure that you are not STARVING by 5:30 and can navigate (with your head not your stomach) wisely through the menu. Good snack ideas: 1 oz. almonds (~12) and ½ apple, handful of trail mix, half of a Luna, Lara Bar, Cliff Bar or other nutrition bar, 4-6 oz. of Greek Yogurt and small handful of granola.
By Abby Dougherty RD, LD/N with The Soul of Health. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org