All you can eat buffets may seem like the perfect meal option. Everyone can get satisfied (even the pickiest eaters), and buffets are usually economical. However, getting through a buffet without consuming hundreds of calories is near inevitable, especially with all those delicious looking desserts! If you are watching your weight or simply want healthier choices at your next visit to a buffet, follow these simple steps to healthfully enjoy your meal.
Healthy tips to navigate the buffet table
Survey the area
When you walk into a buffet, the first thing to do is walk around, without a plate, to scope out the options. Make mental notes of things that look really good and things you can live without. Be sure to survey the desserts, as well, and if something looks irresistible, be sure to save room for it. Now you can grab a plate and choose only the things that you really want, and not the things that are there just for the grabbing.
Go for the greens
Make your first stop the salad bar (be sure to read Tips to navigate the salad bar). Pile your plate full of leafy greens, colorful vegetables, and a non-creamy dressing such as oil and vinegar or a light vinaigrette. If you need some extra crunch, add a few whole grain croutons and a couple spoonfuls of nuts. Having a salad as your first course can keep you from overeating the entree choices, which tend to be higher in calories.
Choose only one high-fat treat
To reduce the risk of overeating, only choose one high-fat, high-calorie favorite. If you can’t live without that cheesy pasta tossed in cream sauce, have only one modest portion and then opt for grilled or baked meat or fish and steamed vegetables to fill the rest of your plate. A good calorie-control rule is to keep your plate balanced with 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbohydrates, and 1/2 vegetables.
Avoid these foods
Some foods are overly high in saturated fat and calories and may not even taste as good as you hope they might. These items include foods that are fried or have a crispy coating, cream-based soups and salad dressings, and creamy cheese sauces and gravies.
Opt for broth-based soups (preferably with lots of vegetables), vinegar-based salad dressings, and tomato sauces. If you must have a cheese sauce or gravy, limit your serving size to one small ladle and spoon it over healthier options, such as grilled turkey or whole-wheat pasta.
Only choose things you can never eat
Don’t choose the usual foods you eat on a regular basis, such as burgers, pasta, or chicken. Use the buffet to feed the adventurous eater in you. Try foods you rarely, if ever, eat. Try grilled mahi-mahi or steamed dumplings or some other unfamiliar dish. If you are at a buffet out of your area, give the signature dishes of the new locale a taste.
Keep portion sizes small
Keeping your portions small will allow you to eat a wider variety of foods, yet minimize the number of calories you consume. Volume-wise, a typical stomach can only hold four cups of food at a time, so visualize four cups of food as you are navigating through the buffet and don’t exceed that amount.
Also, most people tend to eat the amount of food that is on their plates – the more food they pile on, the more they eat. To avoid overeating, only fill your plate half-full on your first pass down the buffet line. Eat slowly, and if you are still hungry, then go back for more.
Eat only three plates of food
Three plates of food may seem like a lot, but if you have one plate for a salad, one for a main course, and one for a dessert, then you are eating a typical three-course meal. Just be sure not to pile the food too high!
Keep beverages to a minimum
If the buffet includes beverages, like soda, iced tea, lemonade, or alcoholic drinks, only have one glass and drink water the rest of the time. Colas, juice (unless 100 percent fruit juice), and alcoholic drinks are typically empty calories. And keep in mind, alcohol can cloud your judgment regarding your food choices and the amount of food you eat.
Don’t forget about desserts
Desserts can easily be a diet downfall. That doesn’t mean you can’t indulge, but, if you do, indulge wisely. The golden rule is to split your dessert choices with people at your table. You can all have a bite, even of a number of desserts, but still be diet-conscious by not consuming whole servings.
To try a variety of sweets, cut each piece of cake, pie, or cookie in small pieces and take only one piece of each. Then fill half of your plate with your dessert samples and the other half with fresh fruit, which provides natural sweetness and has far fewer calories and fat.
Eat with your stomach, not your eyes
The most important part of eating healthy at a buffet is to eat with your stomach, not your eyes, and consciously choose healthier options. Eating at a buffet is fun and gives you the opportunity to eat adventurously. With these tips, you can truly enjoy your meal and know you are making diet-friendly choices.