Six Tips to Stay on Track During the Holiday Party Season


Calories in drinks can add up.

Happy hour can result in many more calories than most dieters assume, but that doesn’t mean you need to skip it altogether. With a little calorie control, you can get through happy hour without blowing your diet.

Happy hour is the dieter’s perfect storm. The combination of inexpensive cocktails and often free snack foods also brings a deluge of calories—before you’re even aware of how much damage you’ve actually done. While you enjoy unwinding with friends, the alcohol might start to loosen your determination to keep your calories in check. Then there are the snacks, which are plentiful and readily available—and often salty enough to fire up your thirst, which is then quenched with another drink.

How to Control Your Calories at Happy Hour

Happy hour is never just an hour. Many bars and restaurants host longer events—extending the hours just long enough to entice you to stay for dinner. So, by the time you sit down for a meal, those happy hour cocktails and appetizers could already have set you back by 1,000 calories or more.
It’s easy to lose track of how many calories you’re taking in at happy hour. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid socializing with friends, but it does help to have a strategy for handling happy hour.

Here are some tips to help you.

Snack before you go. With so much inexpensive, high-calorie food that’s often served up at happy hour, the last thing you want to do is to arrive with an empty stomach. Have a high protein snack late in the afternoon to tide you over until dinner—some Greek style yogurt, a protein shake, a few slices of turkey with some whole grain crackers or a bit of cottage cheese and fruit should do it.

Choose appetizers wisely. The snacks and appetizers that are typically offered at happy hour tend to be greasy, salty and high-calorie. And since the foods aren’t “plated up” like a meal, it makes it more difficult to keep track of how much you’ve eaten and how many calories you’ve put away. Get acquainted with the calorie counts of happy hour items (see the list below). Look for lower calorie items—like some raw veggies and hummus dip, some edamame (green soybeans) or maybe a shrimp cocktail. If you want to dig into the snacks, it’s best to ask your server for a small plate and portion out a few items for yourself. When your plate is empty, you’re done!

Know the calories in your drinks. If you are planning to drink alcohol, your lowest calorie choices are beer and wine. A bottle of light beer or glass of wine has around 100 calories—far and away a better choice than many mixed drinks (see calorie chart below). That’s because hard alcohol has over 100 calories per shot, and the mixers and add-ins (like sodas, fruit juices, syrups and cream) can drive the calories sky high.

Establish a limit before you go. Establish a budget ahead of time. Know the amount of calories you have to spend, and how you will spend them on your cocktails and appetizers.
Alternate your drinks. Once you’ve had one alcoholic beverage, switch to something that’s calorie-free, like some sparkling water, iced tea or a diet soda with a twist. Some people feel that having a drink in hand makes them appear more sociable—but that doesn’t mean that the drink has to have alcohol or calories!

Focus on the fun. If your happy hour is mainly focused on food and cocktails, it’s time to shift your attention to the quality time you’re having with your friends. Being sociable doesn’t require that you have a cocktail in your hand or plateful of snacks in front of you.

Calories in Typical Happy Hour Food

Serving sizes and preparation techniques vary a lot from place to place, so it’s difficult to place an exact calorie count on the items you might find at happy hour. I used online information from several restaurant chains to come up with a range of calories—per order—for these typical happy hour treats.

Chicken Wings with ranch dressing:
800–1,200 calories

Egg Rolls:
4 egg rolls = 750–1,200 calories

Fried Calamari with cocktail sauce:
1 average order = 750–900 calories

Fried Mozzarella Sticks with marinara sauce:
8 sticks with sauce = 800–1,100 calories

Fried Zucchini:
8–12 pieces = 400–600 calories

Onion Rings:
5– 6 onion rings = 1,000–1,200 calories

Sliders (mini hamburgers):
2 sliders = 600 –1,000 calories

Soft Pretzel Sticks with Cheese Sauce:
1–2 pretzels with sauce = 750–1,200 calories

Spinach Dip with tortilla or pita chips:
1/2 cup (120 ml) dip with 3 chips = 800–1,400 calories

Calories in Beer, Wine and Hard Liquor
Beer: 12 oz (24 0ml) = 150 calories
Light Beer: 12 oz (240 ml) = 110 calories
Dark Beer: 12 oz (240 ml) = 170 calories
Wine (red, white): 6 oz (180 ml) = 120 calories
Hard Liquor – 80 proof: 1 shot (1.5 oz, 45 ml) = 100 calories
Hard Liquor – 100 proof: 1 shot (1.5 oz, 45 ml) = 125 calories

Calories in Mixers
Cranberry juice: 8 oz (240 ml) = 160 calories
Cream: 2 tbsp (30 ml) = 75 calories
Coffee, club soda, plain seltzer, diet soda: any amount = 0 calories
Orange juice: 8 oz (240 ml) = 120 calories
Soda (cola, ginger ale, tonic, etc.): 8 oz (240 ml) = 100 calories
Tomato juice: 8 oz (240 ml) = 60 calories

Calories in Mixed Drinks
Not all bars and restaurants pour the same size cocktail or use the exact same ingredients, but these calorie values represent typical drinks.

Bloody Mary: 10 oz (300 ml) = 180 calories
Cosmopolitan: 4 oz (120 ml) = 215 calories
Gin and tonic: 8 oz (240 ml) = 215 calories
Long Island Iced Tea: 8 oz (240 ml) = 800 calories
Mai tai: 8 oz (240 ml) = 600 calories
Manhattan: 3 oz (90 ml) = 200 calories
Margarita: 8 oz (240 ml) = 700 calories
Martini: 3 oz (90 ml) = 180 calories
Mojito: 6 oz (180 ml) = 160 calories
Mudslide: 12 oz (360 ml) = 820 calories
Piña Colada: 6 oz (180 ml) = 600 calories
White Russian: 5 oz (150 ml) = 425 calories

Written by Susan Bowerman. Susan is Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a board-certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.