When it comes to watching what you eat around the holidays, buffets are the ultimate danger zone. But the right approach can help you navigate the minefield and come out without the customary side dish of guilt.
The temptation of a buffet, of course, is to taste everything. Instead, think like a European and apply this two-step technique:
Step One: Approach your food with the right mindset. Apply these three basic gastronomic principles:
1. Enjoy with your eyes first. Appreciating the presentation of a dish (actually looking at your food and admiring it) enhances the taste of the food.
2. Savor each bite. Savor first with your nose by noticing the smell of the food, then with your palate. Vocalizing your appreciation of the food’s qualities will guide your taste buds into noticing each subtle flavor and texture.
3. Take your time. Don’t rush! Pause when you are intent in conversation to avoid mindless eating. Enjoy the atmosphere around you and breathe deeply as you dine.
Step Two: Approach the meal as a series of small courses.
Here’s how it works: if the event is casual enough, get up frequently from the table and return to the buffet for each course.
First Course: Salad and Soup
By beginning with a soup and salad, your stomach starts filling up so the “I’m full” signal gets relayed sooner to your brain. Some tips to remember at the salad bar:
- Start with a solid base of leafy greens
- Add real veggies on top
- Go for a rainbow of dark, bright colors
- Avoid croutons and bacon bits
- Clear dressings (simple vinaigrettes, for example) generally have fewer calories than creamy dressings (like ranch and thousand island)
- Clear soups generally have fewer calories than creamy soups
Second Course: Main Dish
Help yourself to a small portion of one entrée (beef, fish, chicken, pork) and two small sides – you can even have one small portion of bread. Or sample small portions (silver dollar size) of several entrees and sides, but only enough to fill a small plate, not a dinner plate. The key emphasis should be on moderation and the key word should be “small.”
Third Course: Cheese and Fruit
Indulge in a few bites of cheese with crackers, and have as much fruit as you desire. The goal is for you to start feeling full around this point to avoid the grandfather of all pitfalls: dessert!
Fourth Course: Dessert
By the time you get to this course, if you’ve focused on the presentation, smell and taste of your food and gotten up between courses to walk around, you should be filling up. Do a dessert sampler (1 ½ bites of anything that looks good to you or 1 small slice/portion of your favorite dessert; no ice cream unless that’s your whole dessert). Enjoy with coffee or other hot drink.
If you follow these steps, you’ll leave the buffet full but not stuffed. You’ll have exercised self-control but not lost any dining pleasure. You’ll be constantly amazed by the Lord’s creativity when it comes to food, with such a variety of colors, textures, flavors and smells. As the Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)