How to Navigate a Buffet and Stay on Track with your Health Goals

By Unite Fitness Retreat Dietician, Brooke Bouwhuis, RDN

You’re invited to dinner (at a restaurant!) by your best pal, she picks a buffet.  Heck, Eating out is so nice and for a lot of us, it’s something we’ve missed this past year.  So you say, let’s do it!!  No dishes, no chopping, no cooking, no effort, the food is delicious and it’s very easy and relaxing to eat out.  Unfortunately, it’s also a way to add in a T-rex ton of calories and in portion sizes that you wouldn’t normally eat if you were at home.  You’ve been so diligent with your health goals and you want to keep your momentum going…Fear sets in, “Why did she pick an all-you-can-buffet??”

A buffet wasn’t my first pick, but I can navigate anything, how hard can it be?

When thinking about buffets, Las Vegas is the first place that comes to mind; however, we don’t often find ourselves living it up in Vegas week after week.  The next most common options for most of us are the local Chinese or American buffets we hit with co-workers at lunch, or in this case, dinner with a bestie you haven’t seen in ages.

You’ll be chatting for a while, which equals more temptation.. How do enjoy yourself and still be on track to meet your goals?

Some of these strategies are revealed by Brain Wansink in his book Mindless Eating. He studied normal weight and heavier people to see what approaches they used that didn’t involve willpower.

Here are a few healthy tips when dining at a buffet:

  • Ask to sit the farthest away from the food as you can and sit so your back is to the food – if you can’t see the lemon merengue pie being put out on display you don’t know you need it.
  • Before you place food on your plate, walk the entire buffet so you know what it is that you really want to eat.
  • Eat with chopsticks – next time you are offered chop sticks look around at who is using them, you might be surprised.
  • Use the smallest plate you can find – sometimes the plates in the salad bar are smaller than the ones near the entrees.
  • The longer you stay, the more you will eat.  If you and your friend want to keep chatting, suggest a walk after dinner to let you food digest.
  • Tell the server to leave your dirty plates and it won’t affect their tip – the faster and higher the plates stack the more you think about how truly full you are – the sooner you will pull the plug on going back for one more round.
  • Share a dessert, the best part of a dessert is the first two bites anyway!
  • Ask for a glass of water even if you choose to drink something else.
  • Start with a salad, pile your plate with a gorgeous rainbow of plants. Fork dip the dressing and chew thoroughly and slowly. Our stomach doesn’t have a calculator – filling up on the volume of plant foods is incredibly advantageous calorically and from a health perspective.
  • Enjoy the colorful fresh fruit.
  • Skip the deep fried ___________!
  • Look for roasted meats that they slice for you rather than things layered in cheese and breadcrumbs
  • Eat slowly while mindfully enjoying your meal and…


Enjoy being out with your friend and even if it is a buffet (on occassion), you can still stay on track with your goals.