How to Eat at a Buffet

While any diet expert will tell you to avoid a buffet, there are times when that is just not possible. Whether it is a wedding, a holiday business function, or just a bunch of friends who all want to try the new Chinese buffet place, there are ways to minimize the damage you can do to yourself. If you approach a buffet with a plan, you can eat well and not feel like your stomach is going to explode afterwards.


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    If at all possible, do a preliminary scouting of the buffet. This will allow you to plan your meal and make the best choices.
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    Make a plan in your head on how you want to eat. Do you want to do it section by section - or course by course? Is there one section that interests you more than others - where maybe you want to concentrate most of your eating? Think about what you want to eat - don't just go up and grab food blindly.
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    As you go up to get food, approach the process like a mission. Talk to yourself (not out loud!) about what would be the healthy choices or convince yourself that some really bad choice doesn't look all that good. It may not work but the guilt may help you follow the next steps.
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    The most important part of the process - MINI TASTING PORTIONS. When you go up to get food, take only a teaspoon or tablespoon-sized portion of each choice. Your goal is to taste everything you want - just not in huge portions. With buffets, the desire to taste everything combined with taking "regular-sized" portions is what will do you in.
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    Make a couple of trips to get your tasting portions. As you taste, decide if the item really merits getting more. For example, let's say the macaroni and cheese looked great - and tastes terrible! You won't be going back for that. On the other hand, the General TSO chicken is delicious and worth getting another taste.
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    If you get a tasting portion and hate the food, don't feel like you have to finish it. Too many people were brought up to feel bad about "wasting food" because of all the starving children in some country. Because you took mini-portions, you aren't wasting that much food.
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    When you identify the really, really great items, go back and get a little bigger portion to enjoy it. Be as tough as a food critic on this. Don't waste your time on mediocre food items - your health is more important than that.
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    When moving on to the dessert items, follow the same plan! People will sometimes be really good on the appetizers and entrée items then go completely nuts when they see mounds of desserts.


  • While the make-your-own omelet and waffle stations look good, try to avoid these since you will typically get a huge portion. Unless they are putting caviar in the omelet, chances are it isn't anything better than you can make at home. If you must get one, see if you can split it with someone else in your group.
  • BE CHOOSY! - Many times, it is our curiosity that makes us take so many items. By sampling, you get to satisfy your curiosity without stuffing yourself. Don't waste your time on questionable food items - if it looks bad, it probably is.
  • Not only do the mini portions allow you to try a lot of items, the process can slow your eating enough that you feel full when it comes time to go back for the bigger portion.
  • If you are getting soup, don't be afraid to take only a couple of tablespoons in a soup bowl. It may look weird but you won't be stuck with a giant bowl of soup that you may not like but feel compelled to finish.
  • Don't be afraid to leave food on your plate. Don't force yourself to finish food if you don't want to. You are too old to be a member of the Clean Plate Club.
  • Don't be afraid to ask what is in a dish. Hearing there is something you don't like in a dish will make you inclined to pass it by.
  • Don't be afraid to cut portions up. If the item is a boneless chicken breast, saw it in half and leave the rest for someone else.
  • If you feel full then stop eating. Just because it's a buffet doesn't mean you have to gorge yourself.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the carving station person for a tiny slice "just to taste it". If you don't speak up, they will cut a "regular-sized" portion and stick it on your plate.
  • Try not to go to a buffet when you are REALLY, REALLY hungry. If you know you will be going to one, eat something ahead of time. Have some soup or a bowl of cereal. This will take the edge off your appetite and allow you to be level-headed when faced with mounds of food.


  • If you have serious health issues, the best plan of all is to NOT GO to a buffet. If your friends harass you about going after you tell them you have a serious issue, they are not your friends.
  • You can tell them that you are not feeling good to go for buffet dinner so they can shift to another normal dinner plan.

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Categories: Eating Techniques