While buffets are rich in choices, some of the offerings aren’t always the healthiest choices, especially if you’re trying to stay on track.
To get a better understanding of what to choose and what to skip, as well as strategies on the best ways to navigate the food buffet, Fox News Digital spoke with food experts.
For starters, don’t show up to the buffet starving, because that makes it harder to make careful choices, said Jessica Cording, MS, RD, a dietitian and health coach who practices in New Jersey and New York.
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And, choose your moments to indulge.
“Know what’s valuable to you and what’s not, so you have some internal guidance on which treats to enjoy and which to skip,” Cording added.
Read on to learn more about how you can kill the buffet.
Why is the buffet a challenge for those who want to stay on a healthy path?
A buffet can present several challenges for someone trying to stay on a healthy path because of the abundance of food choices, the self-serve nature and the potential for overeating, said nutritionist Nikki Kuhlmann, RD, LDN, of the Anne Till Nutrition Group in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Here are a few reasons why buffets can be a challenge to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Unlimited options. Buffets often offer a wide variety of dishes, including many that can be high in calories, fat, and sugar. “Too many choices can make it difficult for someone to stick to a balanced and healthy meal,” Kuhlmann said.
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Lack of portion control. Buffets usually allow people to help themselves which can lead to larger portion sizes.
“This lack of portion control can lead to overeating, as individuals may be tempted to try a little bit of everything or serve themselves larger amounts than they would with a plate meal,” Kuhlman said.
Social pressure. The social dynamics at buffets can contribute to unhealthy eating habits, Kuhlman noted.
“People may feel the need to eat more to keep up with others or to try different foods, even if it goes against their health goals,” she said.
Hidden ingredients. It can be challenging to know the exact ingredients and nutritional content of each dish on a buffet.
“Some seemingly healthy options may contain hidden sugars, fats or other less nutritious ingredients,” she also said.
Mindless eating. Buffets can encourage mindless eating. Individuals may continue to eat without paying full attention to hunger or satiety levels, Kuhlman noted.
What are some healthy choices at the buffet?
When navigating the buffet with the goal of making healthy choices, look for options that are high in nutrients and low in added sugar and saturated fat.
Also, choose foods that provide a good balance of macronutrients.
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Here are some healthy choices Kuhlmann has curated for you to consider.
- Grilled chicken or turkey breast
- Baked or baked fish (salmon, tilapia, etc.)
- Lean cuts of beef or pork
- Tofu or other plant-based protein options
- Fresh salad with various colorful vegetables
- Vegetable-based dishes, such as French fries or ratatouille
- Steamed or roasted vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc.)
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- brown rice
- Whole grain pasta or couscous
- Whole grain bread or rolls
- avocado slices
- Nuts and seeds (in moderation)
- Dressings based on olive oil
- Fatty fish like salmon for omega-3 fatty acids
- Fresh fruit salad
- Whole fruits such as berries, cantaloupe or citrus
- Fruit-based desserts with minimal added sugar
- Clear soups with vegetables and lean proteins
- Tomato-based soups with whole grains and vegetables
Dairy products or dairy alternatives
- Low-fat or Greek yogurt
- Skimmed or low-fat milk
- Cheese in moderation
What are some strategies to better navigate the buffet?
Focusing on health when choosing a buffet requires careful and smart strategies to avoid overeating or choosing the wrong foods, Kuhlman said.
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Here are some healthy strategies to help you navigate the buffet.
Examine the options first. “Walk around the buffet to see all the choices available before making any decisions,” recommends Kuhlmann. “This will allow you to plan a balanced and nutritious meal.”
Use a smaller plate. Opt for a smaller plate to help control portion sizes. Research suggests that people tend to eat less when using smaller plates, she noted.
Start with a salad or vegetables. Start your meal with a generous serving of fresh salad or vegetables, suggests Kuhlmann. “This can help you fill up on fiber and nutrients before moving on to other meals,” she added.
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Choose lean proteins. Prioritize lean protein sources, such as grilled chicken, fish or tofu. Protein helps you feel full and satisfied, she suggested.
Limit fried and creamy foods. “Cut down on fried foods and dishes with creamy sauces. Opt for grilled, baked or steamed instead,” Kuhlman told Fox News Digital.
Choose whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates.
Be picky with your carbs. Choose whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates.
“Look for options like brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat pasta,” she said.
Control your dessert intake. “If you want dessert, choose smaller portions or share with someone and opt for fruit-based desserts or those with less added sugar,” Kuhlman explained.
Take care of the drinks. Kuhlmann suggests choosing water, herbal teas or other low-calorie beverages and being careful with sugary drinks and alcohol, which can add extra calories.
What about safety tips?
Buffet safety is key to preventing foodborne illness and ensuring a positive dining experience.
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Here are some safety tips, courtesy of Kuhlman.
Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water before entering the buffet.
If hand washing facilities are not available, use hand sanitizer.
Practice good dish hygiene. Use the provided serving utensils, tongs or spoons to handle the food. Avoid touching food with your hands and never use your personal utensils to serve yourself.
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Avoid cross contamination. Be aware of these risks. Use separate plates and utensils for different foods to prevent the transfer of bacteria.
Aim for fresh food. Choose foods that look fresh and well-maintained. Avoid items that look wilted, discolored, or have an unpleasant odor.
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