How To Eat At A Buffet
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | March 2005

One of the most challenging things we face as we try to lose weight is getting enough variety. Let's face it-turkey or tuna on whole wheat gets old fast when you eat it every day. But don't despair. You can still eat healthy and get a lot of variety by eating at a buffet.

That's right-at a buffet. I'm not talking about the high-fat buffets offered at places like Pizza Hut or Kentucky Fried Chicken or even some Chinese restaurants. I'm talking about basic-food buffets like Ponderosa, Sizzler, Ryan's Steak House, or the weekend buffet at your local hotel. I ate at a Ponderosa recently just to see how things have changed in the last few years, and I was pleasantly surprised.

For the Foundation or Optimal Meal Plan to work well, you want to focus on protein and vegetables. Here's the strategy to use:

When you order an entrée with the buffet, choose one lower in fat such as sirloin steak, broiled fish, or broiled chicken. If you want a potato as a vegetable, get it baked and skip the fries. Sour cream is okay, but no butter.

Next, hit the salad bar. Just be cautious of hidden fat in the grated cheese and bacon bits. All other veggies are fine-as much as you want. But don't waste space on iceberg lettuce. It's the styrofoam of lettuces-almost no nutritional value, not even fiber, but it lasts for weeks in the fridge. Look for romaine or fresh spinach. Watch the salad dressings. I prefer to have a real-fat salad dressing, but I put it on the side and dip my fork into the dressing first, then stab some salad. If you like dressing, use low-fat but remember, while it's low in fat, it still has calories.

Then, hit the veggies. I was surprised at the choices. They weren't the boiled-in-the-steam-table-all-day, limp-as-a-rag veggies. String beans. Baked beans. Cabbage. Broccoli. Carrots. Load it up! If you're in a stuff-your-face fever, this is the place to do it. Avoid the cheese sauce-if you want something on it, try the plain tomato sauce you'd normally put on pasta. Excellent. And, men, the lycopene in the tomatoes will keep your prostate happy.

Speaking of what to avoid, skip the deep-fried vegetables and the pasta bar. To your body, the carbs in the pasta are just like sugar-same with the bread and rolls. Skip them, or choose just one as a treat. I usually indulge in one thing, and my weakness is mashed potatoes with gravy-I'd rather have that than any dessert. So when my entrée arrived, I had one reasonable-size helping, and I felt satisfied with a normal portion-amazing, considering that in the past, a normal portion for me was an entire plateful!

For dessert, there are all types of fruit. If you want to indulge, have a small serving of the soft-serve ice cream with your fruit. Just avoid the nuts and sauces where a lot of the calories lurk.

Remember: no one ever got fat eating fruits and vegetables. So keep that the focus of your buffet experience, and you'll get over those woe-is-me-turkey-sandwich-blues that hit you now and then.

Stay on the Meal Plan. You'll be your own best testimonial in a matter of weeks.
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