The Pub Grub Guide

Bar food is notoriously salty, fatty and tasty. Here's how to enjoy the grub without gaining.
The Pub Grub Guide

Most bars and pubs cater to drinkers first and diners second, which often means a limited menu. But between the nachos, potato skins, wings and fries lurk some smarter choices.

"High fat, high calories, big portions—those are big sellers," says D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "It's very tempting. You don't want to sit there not eating while everybody else is."

When deciding what to order, Stokes suggests looking for the lower calorie but filling options, such as big salads, tomato or broth-based soups, and lean seafood choices like shrimp cocktail.

Here are more tips for negotiating the typical fare.

1. Don't drink on an empty stomach
"Alcohol enhances appetite and it also lowers inhibition," says Stokes. So if you intend to eat a meal, it's best to order it right away before the cocktails lower your defenses.

2. Do your homework
If the bar offers its menu online, take a look at it and decide what to order before you get there. That way you won't rushed into making a bad decision.

3. Fill up on fiber
When you choose dishes based on starchy foods, such as bread, pasta and potatoes, go for whole-grain options where possible, for extra fiber.

4. Cut down on salty foods
Avoid salty snacks such as chips and nuts, and heavily salted foods such as bacon, cheese and pickles. And to try not to add extra salt.

5. Make meals low in fat
If you're having a baked potato, ask for a low-fat spread instead of butter or, if you are having pasta, choose a dish with a sauce made from tomatoes or vegetables instead of cheese or cream. Steer clear of bacon, sausages, battered or deep-fried foods and creamy desserts.

6. Choose a dish with plenty of vegetables
A portion is roughly three heaped tablespoons of vegetables. Salads and vegetarian dishes are good options. If a dish comes with fries and vegetables, hold the fries and ask for extra vegetables.

7. Go for grilled, boiled, poached, steamed or stir-fried dishes
These involve less fat in the cooking. If you can't tell from the menu how a dish is cooked, ask your server.

8. Opt for fruit
If you want a dessert, choose a fruit salad or apple crumble.

9. Look for pubs that prepare food on premises
That's where it will be more practical for you to request healthier options.

10. Factor in your drinks
There is nothing wrong with having drinks with your meal—you are in a bar, after all. But alcohol is high in calories, so be sure to keep track. Here's a quick cheat sheet:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer: 5 PointsPlus™ values
  • 12 ounces of light beer: 3 PointsPlus values
  • 5 ounces of wine: 4 PointsPlus values
  • 1 "shot" of 86 proof distilled spirits: 4 PointsPlus values
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