I'm not one to pass up a cool cocktail or cold beer at a summer barbecue or pool party. What can I say? I love a cocktail every now and then! But when I started dieting, I was worried that I'd have to stick to seltzer forever. I already knew to avoid high-calorie, frozen, whipped cream–topped drinks (sayonara, Mud Slides!), but I quickly learned that even a couple of drinks can easily show up on the scale. Luckily I've learned that happy hour can be pretty healthy if I follow a few simple tricks.

Slow down
I used to make a beeline straight for the bar when I arrived at a party or happy hour. I'd get carried away with the festive atmosphere and guzzle down my first drink before my friends even placed their order. That meant I was sipping down 100 to 200 calories before the night had really begun. Some diet plans suggest having one drink then sticking with seltzer for the rest of the night, but that didn't work for me. That first drink put me in a party mood, meaning that I had a hard time turning down a refill. Instead, I start with the seltzer and order my first alcoholic drink when my friends are on their second round.

Think twice about juice
I used to sip cocktails full of fruit juices or premade mixes. If I sipped between two and three drinks in one night, I was adding nearly 900 calories to my daily diet—and it was starting to show! Now I keep the juice light and look for ways to incorporate fresh herbs and other healthy ingredients. I order my margarita on the rocks with a splash of fresh orange juice, and I skip the sour mix. Or I combine flavored vodka with soda water and a small splash of pomegranate juice, which gives my drink lots of flavor and healthy antioxidants without too many extra calories.

Pick whatever you sip the slowest
While I enjoy the occasional cocktail or beer, my go-to drink is white wine because I know I'll savor it and sip it slowly. If I choose whatever alcohol takes me the longest to drink, I wind up saving calories by passing on a second round. If I've already splurged earlier in the week, I'll lighten up my white wine with a splash of soda to cut calories and make my glass last even longer.

Don't start snacking
After a few drinks, I find it really tough to turn down bar snacks. In fact, post-party munching is part of what led to my weight gain. A favorite bar of mine serves super buttery popcorn all night long; I don't really like popcorn, but after a few cocktails it quickly becomes my favorite food! Once I have a taste of popcorn—or pretzels, or peanuts, you name it—I can’t stop myself and end up snacking the entire night. So for me, it's just easier not to start. When I get the urge to dig into that bowl of popcorn, I think of all the unwashed hands that have shared that one bowl. Yuck!

What are your healthy happy hour secrets?

Read Tina's daily food and fitness blog, Carrots 'N' Cake.