An all-you-can-eat buffet by its very nature encourages overeating. It has the potential to be deadly to any diet, and to healthy eating in general.
After all, you pay the same amount regardless of how much or how little you eat. One’s natural instinct in that case is to get more rather than less for their money.
Plus there’s the almost unlimited variety. Even people who aren’t gluttonous enough to want multiple full meals might take half a fried chicken dinner, and 40% of a ribs dinner, and 25% of a fish dinner, and 25% of a sliced turkey dinner, and 20% of a lasagna dinner, and on and on, along with several times the amount of side dishes they would normally consume with an entrée.
“I’m not going to get this; I’m just going to have a little sample” is all well and good, except all those little samples add up.
But just because buffets have the potential to be unhealthy doesn’t mean they have to be unhealthy for you. Just as there is no maximum to the number of different foods you can eat and the quantity of each you can eat, there is also no minimum. No one has a gun to your head saying you must eat until you burst.
A lot of buffets nowadays in fact have added healthier choices, making it easier to eat right if you resolve to. Here are some tips for healthy buffet eating:
1. The salad bar is your friend.
The salad bar has many, many healthy items on it-various greens and vegetables, and usually plenty of fresh fruit-but that doesn’t mean anything goes. There are also plenty of dubious choices at a salad bar. Think of all the fat-laden dressings, for instance. You might feel good about yourself because you’re loading up with salad, but then ruin it by smothering that salad with unhealthy extras. Keep the croutons and bacon bits and such to a minimum. Use only a small amount of dressing, preferably a low fat dressing, or skip it entirely and replace it with lemon.
2. The salad bar isn’t the only place that toppings matter.
A lot of times at a buffet it isn’t what you eat but what you pour all over it. Even the healthiest meal can turn into the opposite if you smother it with gravy, cheese, or some sauce that’s high in salt and fat. Choose items you will enjoy as they are, without having to drown them in other substances.
3. Choose the healthier version of the same item.
Get the baked chicken instead of the fried chicken, or the grilled fish instead of the deep fried fish. Choose the low salt clear soup over the heavy cream soup.
4. Beverages can make a difference too.
If you get a soft drink, and then go back for one or two refills, that item alone might constitute 20% or more of the calories you should consume in an entire day. Replace it with fruit juice (also high in calories, but at least you’re getting some nutrition with those calories), or with unsweetened tea, a diet soft drink, or water.
5. Don’t overdo the variety.
Yes it’s tempting to get a little of everything, but it’s also a terrible idea. If you must do some sampling, shrink the size of your main course to make room. Half a meal along with 10% each of three other meals isn’t so bad, and you’re still getting a chance to taste many more items than usual.
6. Dessert’s not mandatory.
You’ve probably already eaten more than you need to; don’t feel obligated to have dessert just because it’s there. Dessert’s another area where it’s all too easy to fall prey to the “I’ll just sample a little of each but not eat a full dessert” syndrome, where you end up having one-third each of six desserts, which is equivalent to not only a full dessert, but two full desserts.
7. Remember that buffet food generally isn’t even that good.
How can buffets stay in business when their customers eat two, three, and four times as much food as they would at a standard restaurant, and for the same price? Not by serving top quality food, that’s for sure. They’re typically cutting every possible corner in order to keep their costs down, sacrificing quality so you can have all the quantity you want.
Thought of that way, do you really need a lot more mediocre food? When you’re feeling pretty full, and thinking about whether to have dessert, just remember we’re not talking about irresistible fresh bakery items with all the best quality ingredients, but probably something closer to the Hostess products in your refrigerator.
All-in-all, a buffet means a great deal of choice. Given that, there’s nothing stopping you from choosing healthy items in moderate quantities.