How to Eat at an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet on a Diet

It is possible to eat at an all-you-can buffet from time to time and still lose weight–I know because I’ve done it. However, eating healthily at a buffet is not easy–it takes planning and some sheer will power. Below are five detailed tips to help make your next trip to the buffet a healthy and rewarding (rather than guilt-laden) experience.

Tip 1: Plan Ahead.

Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast or lunch if you’re planning to eat at a buffet for dinner! If you go into the restaurant starving, you’re likely to throw your diet to the wind and overindulge. In fact, if you’re feeling really hungry before leaving to go to the buffet, don’t hesitate to eat something like a piece of fruit or a fiber bar to help take the edge off your hunger. The less you eat at the buffet, the better. That said, it can be a good idea to stick with low calorie meals and snacks on the day of your planned buffet meal to give you a little bit of wiggle room at the restaurant. It can also be very helpful to work some extra exercise into your schedule on days that you have big meals planned. You don’t have to do anything extreme, just try adding ten minutes to your workout or walking around the block an extra time or two.

Tip 2: Once you get to the all-you-can-eat buffet, order a zero-calorie drink.

Water is the healthiest beverage choice that you can make (it is also usually the cheapest–free). However, if you’re craving something with a bit more taste, choose unsweet tea or a diet soda. Stay away from sweet tea, regular soda, and fruit juices because you don’t want to add any liquid calories to your meal!

Tip 3: When you’re ready to eat, start with the salad bar at the buffet.

I know you’ve heard this one before, but it’s probably the best tip out there. (Sometimes I only eat off of the salad bar when I visit an all-you-can-eat buffet!) Salad bars offer a wide variety of healthy vegetables to enjoy. However, the fact that something is on the salad bar doesn’t mean that it is automatically healthy, so be careful with what you choose. You should avoid most fruits unless they are whole or have a peel (such as grapes, cut up citrus fruit with part of the peel left on, bananas, or melons) because most of the other fruit on salad bars comes from a can. Canned fruits are usually packed in syrup, which means they are very high in calories and sugar and are not a healthy choice. You should also avoid croutons, heavy salad dressings (stick with light or fat free dressings) and toppings such as cheese, bacon bits, and meats which add a lot of calories and fat. If you’re watching your sodium intake, you should also avoid any pickled foods such as pickles, olives, and many types of peppers.

The best way to make a salad: Choose dark leafy greens if they are available. Add as many fresh vegetables as you want (onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, etc.). Choose vinegar or a light or fat-free dressing and use it sparingly. Lightly sprinkle your salad with sunflower seeds if they are available and you like them. It is also okay to add a little bit of egg, some chickpeas, and some raisins if you must, but don’t go overboard as eggs are not low-calorie, chickpeas can be high in sodium if not pre-rinsed, and raisins are very high in sugar.

Tip 4: Limit yourself to one plate of food and make good choices.

Avoid overeating by limiting yourself to one plate of food other than salad. Avoid fried foods and choose baked, grilled, or boiled food instead. You should also try to avoid anything that is breaded beyond the minimum, as well as anything that is swimming in a cream-based sauce (such as macaroni and cheese). If you eat meat, poultry and seafood are usually lower in calories than steak and hamburger. Vegetables are always a good choice and you should try to fill at least a fourth of your plate with them. A baked potato (topped with a tiny amount of sour cream and plenty of chives–stay away from butter, bacon bits, and cheese) can also be a good choice, though you should limit yourself to one. You should avoid any pastas or breads that are available, unless the buffet happens to offer whole wheat bread. Try to load up on healthy foods so your plate will be too full to fit anything unhealthy! If you absolutely must have something like macaroni and cheese or fried okra, limit yourself to one bite. If you feel like it would be wasteful to take one bite of something and then throw it away, try to convince yourself not to take it in the first place.

Tip 5: If you must eat dessert, choose something light.

If you simply can’t go to an all-you-can-eat buffet without visiting the desert bar, try to make the best choice that you can. Many buffets are now offering light options that include low-cal or sugar free deserts to please diners with certain dietary needs. Make use of these options, but stick to one serving (or less) of one type of desert. Whatever you do, do not make multiple trips to the desert bar!

I hope my five tips will help make your next trip to the local buffet a little bit healthier. Eating at a buffet without ruining your diet can be hard, but it is sure to leave you with a real sense of accomplishment!