How to Navigate a Buffet Like A Pro

I really could kiss the mastermind that developed the concept of a buffet. In terms of important inventions, this one may rival running water or air conditioning.

I mean seriously…massive quantities of food from multiple cuisines, already cooked and laid out to be dished up and and devoured consumed in a civilized and ladylike manner? Sheer genius.

It’s daunting – but definitely possible – to pull together a healthy meal at a buffet.

I’m the kind of girl who likes to arrive with a game plan. My offensive playbook maximizes food-samplage while carefully crafted defensive plays prevent against waddling to the car on injured reserve with a food baby.

In the locker room…

  • Some coaches subscribe to the “get your money’s worth” theory; I’d like to rename this “getting your tummy’s worth”. True, you’re paying for unlimited food, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat like it’s your last meal. (Unless, of course, it is, in which case, get your sorry self away from the computer and find something more last-day-on-earth-worthy!) Don’t skip meals leading up to the buffet!
  • If necessary, pop a quick snack a bit before so you’re not tempted to just bring a fork up to the buffet and eat straight out of the serving line.

At kickoff…

  • Take a quick survey of the offerings. This is doubly important if you follow a special diet. I’ve had times when I’m so thrilled to see a good vegan/vegetarian option that I snag several scoops of the first dish I see, not expecting there to be much else available for me to eat…until I get to the next table, packed with bigger and better things, and no room left on my plate. A pre-game go-round lets you prioritize!
  • Beeline for the salad bar. Even buffets I’m not usually impressed by tend to have a fairly hefty selection of leafy greens and toppings!

  • Keep portions small the first time around. Not only does is it reduce waste in the event that you don’t like something you chose, but this way you don’t have to deprive yourself of the more indulgent selections. The beauty of a buffet is that you can always go back for seconds of the good stuff!

For the win…

  • Seek out volume-eating heavyweights (or, more aptly, lightweights!) such as raw, steamed, or sauteed veggies, fresh fruit, and broth-based soups.

  • Watch your sauces. Creamy salad dressings, pasta sauces, and cream-based soups hide a great deal of fat and calories. Meanwhile, teriyaki and marinara varieties are often packed with added sugars.

  • Take advantage of the rotisserie for a smart lean protein option.
  • Splurge smart and maintain common sense. Sure, you can have your cake and eat it too, but make sure it doesn’t follow a slice of pizza, chicken tenders, spaghetti and mashed potatoes! When you make your rounds upon arrival, pick one treat and plan around it!

If there’s a dish that you wouldn’t feel good about ordering or making at home, don’t feel compelled to try it just because it’s available to you. Stick to your guns!

How do you stay healthy at the buffet?


15 Comments on “How to Navigate a Buffet Like A Pro”

  1. excellent advice, i dont have much to add, i think the best thing of your advice is, if you wouldnt eat it at home, or wouldnt order it off a menu, dont splurge on it just coz its in front of you, dont waste your choices on fries etc, only have the treat thats unusual or something you couldnt get anywhere else etc.

  2. It looks like you went to Sweet Tomatoes! Love that place. I don’t go to buffets all that often, but when I do go I put half of what I think I’d usually eat on the plate and save room for dessert. I like to sample lots of foods, so portion sizing is a must!

  3. These are great tips, and presented in such a clever way! I always take the time to survey the whole layout before making a plate, that way I can make educated decisions with my entire meal in mind. The same goes for potlucks!

  4. Katharina says:

    Those tips are awesome! I think a lot of times people leave their rationalizing at home when they go to buffets. It’s this all or nothing mentality, black or white. Buffets don’t have to = hoarding lol. I like to remind myself that the price of the buffet is probably as much as I would be paying for a meal so I don’t feel like I have to eat enough to make it worth it, you know what I mean?

    I usually try a little of everything that interests me. Then I go back for the things that I reaaaaallly really liked lol. The ones that are worthy of second rounds mwahaha. I also check the desserts to see if there’s anything that interests me. Usually the choices are meh and I don’t really care for them though :\ It’d be awesome if buffets got more interesting dessert choices rather than pudding, jello, and angel cake. Actually, I take that back. The Indian buffets I’ve gone to (my favorite cuisine and favorite kind of buffet) all have great dessert choices!


  5. Great tips!!
    When I go to a buffet, I usually don’t get anything that I make at home, unless it’s supposed to be super good or has an unusual twist! I probably wouldn’t get pasta or pizza for that reason. Salad doesn’t apply to that rule though 🙂
    I don’t usually go to buffets- unless it’s Indian- so I don’t have that much experience with it.

  6. love these! especially surveying the buffet first. I think that’s the best buffet advice. i also like to SKIP drinks (if they’re not included). that’s just added calories and tummy room I dont want to spend!

  7. I am horrible at buffets because I load up on all the foods I usually don’t allow myself to eat…argh!

  8. Great tips! I like what you said about having a snack before. A buffet is not the place where you want to get your money’s worth. My game plan is to eat light, so I have enough room for the ice cream!

  9. Faith says:

    Great tips! I usually go for the grilled chicken breast with salad bar at buffets. Then a little ice cream and I’m good to go! 🙂

  10. Awesome buffet tips! Unfortunately, most buffets aren’t “vegan-friendly”, so I pretty much take what I can get (it’s just the truth…) but I also tend to scoop stuff from the back where people haven’t touched/coughed/gotten their germs on the food haha

  11. kaztronomic says:

    Absolutely! I feel sad when I see people stuff their faces to get their “money’s worth”. Seriously? I wouldn’t make a fool of myself in any other restaurant for a ten dollar dinner, so why are people making themselves sick in buffets?

    Good tips! I do the same thing — as I build my salad, I scout out what else is available. I generally love buffets, since they have tons of gf/cf/sf veggie options. After my salad, I zero in on a plate of whatever was calling out to me, then I finish up with fruit to kill the initial sweet tooth, then I take a slightly different route than you: I pile my plate high with dessert, any that looked good, and take a bite off each (totals about 1/2 of a whole dessert, total, maybe), then call it a night. 😀

  12. Lol love this post! I always try to go veggie heavy when I’m at buffets, but I love my veggies so it’s not really anything different for me. I also try to get things that I know I can’t make as well myself or things that are particular to that buffet itself.

  13. I tend to overeat at buffets, especially on our Helsinki-Stockholm ferries where there’s a price for unlimited eating AND drinking. You can guess how the dinners usually end?! 😀 anyway, they have shrimps there and I LOVE to eat shrimps, especially those which you have to “clean” yourself (I have no idea what the proper word is for that, anyway you take the skin off!). Mmmm!

  14. Sarah says:

    Good advice! I like the last part about how, if it’s not something you’d make at home, don’t try it at a buffet.

    I don’t do buffet restaurants but that’s only because all the ones in my town are super gross. I have always wanted to try the ones in Vegas though.

  15. At buffets I taste a bite of anything that looks good, but only go back for more if something is OUTSTANDING. I don’t waste time or calories on mediocre food.

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