Cooking over the holidays has most of us to closing our home kitchens for a few days to recuperate. If you’re still entertaining family and friends, hitting up the local buffet may seem like the best way to keep everyone fed without spending an arm and a leg. Buffets are also great for New Year’s hosts who want to set up a variety of food options for people to munch on as they count down the last hours of 2013.
Whatever your reasoning may be, buffets seem like an answer to many holiday eating conundrums. However, they can create more problems than they solve, especially when it comes to your waistline. We’ve got tips from Brian Wansink, PhD, of the Cornell Food and Brand lab, as well as ideas of our own to help you navigate buffet-style eating.
Choose a smart seat
Where you sit can have a big impact on how much you eat. By sitting with your back to the buffet, you are less tempted to go up and grab another dish. You also may want to consider choosing a booth over a table. Wansink found that slimmer individuals tend to go for booths. This creates a more comfortable seating arrangement like what you would find at a sit-down restaurant, and can discourage you from eating more than one plate of food.
While on the subject of plates, the size you use does matter. It’s fairly simple, the smaller the plate is, the less you can put on it. Do you need to pile your meal on a plate the size of a serving tray? No, you don’t, and you’ll save yourself a lot of calories if you opt instead for a salad-size plate. When serving a buffet-style meal at home, only offer guests smaller plates. If they want more food, they can always go up for seconds.
Take a lap
Before picking a plate and filling it up, walk around the buffet. Look at what foods are offered and think about what you really want. Wansink believes that giving some thought to your food choices can help you decide against the less healthy food options and encourage you to choose something healthier that you actually want.
Eat your veggies
One healthy habit from growing up that I still follow today is eating a salad before anything else at a buffet. By filling your first plate up with a healthy salad, you will be less likely to overeat entrees later. If you’re at a buffet where salad isn’t an option, still try to make your first “course” full of vegetables.
Try new things
Often buffets offer a mix of comfort food favorites and uniquely local dishes. Make the most of the new offerings by only eating those. Avoid common foods like pizza, burgers, pastas and fried chicken. Not only will you possibly find a new favorite, you will avoid the extra calories many buffet staples contain.
Keep it balanced
Eating at a buffet is like eating anywhere else. The most important part is to keep it balanced. Keeping a mix of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates on your plate can turn what seems like an indulgent meal into a relatively healthy choice. When it comes to desserts, pick one you most want to try, or better yet, pick a couple to sample and split them between friends.
Take your time
A meal should be something you take the time to enjoy, especially during the holidays. Take the time to enjoy your meal and the company that surrounds you. According to Wansink, author of the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, slowing down your eating habits can stop you from mindlessly overeating.
A buffet doesn’t have to be your healthy-eating enemy. By following these tips, you’ll be sure to start off on the right foot for any health or fitness related New Year’s resolutions.