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5 Tips for Navigating a Buffet

Whether you’re facing a table full of treats at a party or dining at an all-you-can eat restaurant, buffets can be dangerous to your waistline and health. Navigate your next buffet like a pro with these tips from LeAnn Heise, MS, RD a connected care manager at H2U at Medical City North Hills in North Richland Hills, Texas.

1. Be Careful What You Eat
If the food looks like it’s been sitting out for too long, think twice before putting it on your plate. If not kept at the appropriate temperature, either hot or cold, it can grow bacteria that can make you sick, warns Heise.

Pro Tip: If you’re eating out and a certain dish doesn’t look fresh, ask the staff to bring out a replacement, suggests Heise. Or if you take a bite and the food is cold when it should be hot or it’s lukewarm or room temperature when it should be cool, don’t eat it, she says.

2. Walk the Perimeter
When you’re at a buffet, it’s tempting to top your plate with every food in sight, but your plate may become too full before you’ve reached the third or fourth dish. Not only does this encourage you to go back for seconds to get the food you may have missed the first round, but it’ll also distort any sense of portion control that you would otherwise practice. Before you grab a plate, scope out all of the offerings and plan what you want to eat, says Heise.

Pro Tip: When you’re ready to dig in, grab a smaller plate. You’ll be more strategic with your food choices since you have less space to fill. Even if you do go back for seconds, you’re more likely to eat less if you are filling a smaller plate.

3. Play Favorites
Once you’ve perused the buffet, pick out your two favorite foods to add to part of your plate and then fill the rest with vegetables that are prepared as simply as possible, such as steamed veggies and undressed salad. “Having one fried cheese stick won’t make or break you,” says Heise. Just make sure you mix in the healthy with the not-so-healthy foods for a balanced meal.

Pro Tip: When Heise is at a buffet, she fills one side of her plate with non-starchy vegetables like steamed broccoli and salad, a quarter of the plate with a lean protein and the other quarter with a carbohydrate, such as a sweet potato.

4. Indulge a Little
Desserts aren’t off the table as far as Heise is concerned. “A few bites of a dessert can be satisfying if you’re mindful and enjoying the food,” she says. If you’re worried you’ll want every last crumb of that chocolate cake, try splitting a piece with friends to reduce the temptation to lick your plate clean.

Pro Tip: If you’re interested in something a little less decadent, fruit is a sweet way to end any meal, suggests Heise.

5. Pick a Corner Table
“Position yourself far away from the buffet, or at least turned away from the [buffet] so it’s not in your sight,” suggests Heise. If a buffet full of tasty temptations is in your view, you’ll trick yourself into thinking you need more and go back for seconds or even thirds.

Pro Tip: If you’re still hungry, go back for seconds, Heise says. Just choose vegetables!

See More from LeAnn Heise, MS, RD:
Why can a restaurant buffet be a risky place to eat?
How do I control my food portion sizes at restaurants?
What are some ways I can make healthy choices at a buffet?