When it comes to overeating, holiday potlucks and buffets are the ultimate danger zone. The temptation of a buffet, of course, is to taste everything. Keeping in mind these two steps (practiced for centuries by Europeans and gourmets) can help you navigate the buffet minefield and come away from parties satisfied, yet without the customary side dish of guilt.
STEP ONE: APPLY 3 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
If the event is casual enough, get up frequently from the table and return to the buffet for each “course.” For example:
1. 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
2. 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.”
3. 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!
4. 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)