5 Tips for Surviving the Holiday Buffet

Going to a holiday party anytime soon? Here’s how to navigate the buffet line while minimizing the impact on your waistline.

Go With the Small Plate

Women preparing Christmas dinner table
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Pick up the smallest plate available, and use only that for your buffet choices. Portion sizes do matter, and a smaller plate size will automatically help you limit your portion.

Pile on the Vegetables First

Vegetable platter
Pile on the vegetables, but skip the sauce. Garry Gay/Getty Images

Small plate in hand, head next for whatever vegetables and fruits may be on offer. Vegetables will fill you up without adding many calories, and fruits are a source of natural sugar, rather than added sugar, to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Try to avoid any sauces, dips or dressings; let the flavor of the fruits and vegetables speak for itself—without the added calories of creamy dressings or sides.

As an added bonus, both fruits and vegetables can provide dietary fiber and are a source of essential vitamins and nutrients. Fill up your small plate with these, and you’ll have little room left for the more calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods like chips, dips, and pastries.

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Skip the Puffed Pastry

Ciabatta, puffs and fruits
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Speaking of pastries, you’d be amazed how many calories are packed into those little-puffed pastries, whether they are stuffed with meat, cheese, or sweets. Those unnecessary calories come in the form of refined carbohydrates that are turned quickly into sugar by your digestive system.

Some of the pie shells and crusts that are used in these pastries can also contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which are trans fats. The partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils is a process that converts these oils into semisolid fats that can then be used in manufacturing, commercial cooking, and margarine production. The food industry has found partially hydrogenated oils to be attractive due to their ability to extend product shelf life, their stability for deep-frying, and their semisolid nature, which allows for flavor and palatability enhancement of baked goods.

Due to this, trans fats can be found in pastries such as doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and pie crusts--ever wonder how a pie crust can last for a year on the shelf? They can also be found in biscuits, crackers, cookies, pizza crusts, premade dough, deep-fried foods, certain popcorns, and many, many other food products.

According to a wealth of research, trans fats are linked to a number of related maladies, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and sudden death from cardiac causes. Trans fats have even been found to cause molecular changes at the level of the fat cell, or adipocyte, itself.

Splurge Only on Your Favorites

Tray of cupcakes
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It is the holidays, and special occasions abound. If you are going to splurge on desserts, make sure you are saving those “splurge calories” for your very favorite item. Maybe it’s that slice of red velvet cake. But be sure it’s your absolute favorite—otherwise, why waste the calories and risk the potential weight gain?

According to a key paper from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), grain desserts like cookies, cakes and pies were found to account for 12.7% of Americans’ overall added sugar intake. All the more reason to limit your intake, even during the holidays. Again, save your special splurge for your one favorite item.

Go Through Only Once

Family watching boy (10-12) filling plate with green beans
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Don’t go back for seconds. Go through the buffet line one time and one time only. This, along with the small plate recommendation above, will help you limit your portion sizes and ultimately your overall calorie intake.


Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, et al. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med 2006; 354:1601-1613.

Drewnowski A and Dehn CD. Consumption of added sugars among US children and adults by food purchase location and food source. Am J Clin Nutr July 16, 2014.

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