How to Eat Smart at a Buffet

Young woman at dessert table of resort buffet
Caroline von Tuempling / Getty Images

If you're watching what you eat, buffets are the ultimate in mixed emotions. You're excited, you're determined, and at the same time, you're hungry! I'm here to guide you through the food minefield that is an all-you-can-eat buffet. 

First, Feng Shui Yourself

Picture this: You walk into a room full of tables and the ones without chairs surrounding them are covered in food. There's an entire table of pasta!

What to do? If possible, position yourself at a table far away from the food, in a chair that's facing away from the buffet tables. This way, you'll be less focused on all that food while you dine.  

Take a Lap, Plate Free

The first time you walk around the buffet tables, do it without a plate. Scope out the entire food situation before you grab anything.  Now you can plan what (if anything) is worth splurging on and keep the rest on the healthy side.  

With a Plan Firmly in Mind, Grab a Plate 

Go ahead and plan on taking up to two trips to the buffet line (itt is a buffet, after all, so more than one trip is kinda the point). But here's the catch: On the first trip, fill your plate three-quarters with healthy picks. Use the final portion of your plate for small helpings of your favorite, more-decadent foods. Portion control is so important.

Plan for Round Two

Before you go for seconds, drink a full glass of water and wait five minutes.

Set your phone timer if you have to! You might be surprised to discover you're actually full. Still hungry? Head back up, but stick strictly to the sensible stuff. 

Be Mindful of Danger Zones

Buffets can be a scary place for calorie counters, not only because of their mind tricks (many think, "it's all you can eat, I have to get my money's worth!”) but because of the plethora of calorie-dense foods.

While you can enjoy them in smaller portions if you'd like, resist larger portions of anything fried, avoid the shiny, oily vegetables, walk right past the mayo-heavy side dishes like coleslaw and potato salad, and don't waste your calories on bread and butter. And keep in mind, even salads can be calorie bombs if you load them up with the wrong stuff! Say no to greasy croutons, fried tortilla strips, and excessive amounts of full-fat dressing and cheese, all of which are surprisingly fattening foods.

Choose Your Best Bet

Lean proteins like grilled chicken, smoked salmon, and lean beef are all good options. And remember that one healthy-eating advantage of a buffet is that you can see your food before you order it. Anything that looks like it's floating in butter probably is.

Another point for buffets? They're often loaded with fruits and veggies. Relieve the produce table of its burden and put some of it on your plate.

Broth-based soup is also a strong choice. It's low in calories, filling, and takes time to eat.

Fill Up on Liquids

Take advantage of the unlimited beverages and sip on sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, coffee, and hot tea. Visiting the buffet might be one way to increase your water intake (just kidding!)

Don't Let Your Eating Partners Lead You Astray

This is important to keep in mind any time you're eating with pals, but it's especially key at a buffet. Just because they grab fourths doesn't mean you need to. If everyone else is still eating and you don't want to miss out on the munching, grab some fresh fruit with a cup of coffee. Think about how proud of yourself you're going to be when you're leaving the buffet.

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