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11 Ways to Navigate a Buffet Like a Boss

Healthy eaters are the ones who make the best choices when faced with a buffet packed with carbs, desserts and heavy-sauces. We've asked nutrition experts for their best tips to slay the all-you-can eat buffet.

Prep before you go

Have a “buffet policy” in place when going to a buffet, says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, associate clinical professor, Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “Don’t arrive in a starving state,” he says. “Remember it’s not the first time you’ve eaten and it won’t be the last. Make it about the socialization, not the food, especially if the food is fairly standard, and it often is at a buffet.” Also, stay hydrated—here are some clever ways to get more fluids—which helps keep your hunger in check.

Survey the buffet

When assessing the choices on the buffet, walk entirely around it, to make informed decisions. “On the survey, look for all the favorite low-calorie foods you do like,” says Ayoob. Maybe there are steamed shrimp or smoked salmon, sweet grape tomatoes or grilled veggies. “Those will be your priority choices, “he says. “If you get second helpings of anything, these are the foods to choose.”

Let others ahead

Ayoob advises to be the last one in line. “When you’re the first one, everything is more appealing because it may not have been touched yet so it all looks pristine and inviting. Also, if you’re first in line, you’ve eaten your plate before others even get their food and you may end up tempted to return for seconds very early,” he says.


Pace yourself

Slow down—buffets bring out the competitive eater in many people, adds Ayoob. “Sprint-eating almost always results in overeating and feeling overstuffed at the end—not pleasant,” he says. Here are more reasons to slow down and enjoy your meals.


Use the salad plate

By choosing a smaller plate, you will eat less and control portion size easier. “I use this tip often with my clients,” says Autumn Ehsaei, a registered dietitian/nutritionist in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We tend to always want our plates to look full and appetizing, and then we tend to eat everything on our plates so we are members of the ‘clean plate club.’ If you are using a large plate, you are already increasing your portion sizes without even noticing.” Here are more ways to keep over-indulging in check.


Eat in courses

Start your meal with a salad course which serves as a healthy foundation for your meal. “Always start with a full plate of salad before hitting up the rest of the buffet line,” advises Samantha McKinney, RD, LD, CPT and program manager of Life Time Weight Loss. “Think of a hefty pile of fresh leafy greens, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber slices topped with some red onion slices and olives.” Leafy greens are also packed with fiber which offers lots of healthy benefits beyond this meal.


Map your plate

Following your salad, for your main entrée, mentally divide your plate up into sections, says McKinney. “Half should be covered with steamed, roasted, fresh or grilled vegetables. Include a baked, sautéed, or grilled protein to cover another quarter of the plate, and seek out real-food carbohydrates like wild rice, sweet potato, beans, lentils for the last quarter of the plate,” she says.


Take a rest

If you finish your plate and want more to eat, McKinney says wait to see if the cravings pass. “Set a 15 minute rule before going back for seconds. You may find that your hunger cues feel satiated in that time. If you truly are still hungry, fill up on another round of veggies and lean proteins,” she adds.


Keep your distance

According to Chelsea Gloeckner, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Wisconsin, a good strategy to minimize temptation is where you pick your seat carefully. “Sit farther away from the buffet, in a booth, with your back or side to the buffet,” she advises. That way you won’t be scanning for your next plateful before you’ve finished what’s in front of you. And if you need to manage food temptations, check out these strategies.


Pick items that you don’t have all the time

Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD, a Dallas-based eating disorder dietician, says her personal strategy is for buffet success is to pass by the things that she can make at home. “I select the fancy items that have either a million ingredients or special skills to prepare,” Setnick says. “That way I really savor and enjoy the cream of the crop of the buffet and leave the blasé items.”


Pick desserts smartly

Don’t deny yourself—there are at least eight legitimate reasons you should eat dessert. When choosing, try and finish your main meal before venturing back to the buffet. By the time you’re done, you’ll be fuller and will be less likely to overdo it, according to experts at the article from the Mayo Clinic. They suggest splitting it with one of your companions or picking healthy dessert options like fresh fruit or sorbet.

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