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Collegiette Eats: The All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

Sick of eating cereal and ramen for lunch and dinner? Want to spend less money eating out and finally start cooking for yourself? Put down that frozen pizza, because HC’s Health Editor, Sammie Levin, is here to share her daily eats so you can get ideas for healthy, satisfying meals that are easy enough for any time-strapped collegiette to make. After you read Collegiette Eats, your taste buds, wallet and waistline will thank you.

My family has eaten at a ton of buffets on this trip to Thailand. In fact, yesterday, all three of our meals were at buffets. Buffets can really tax your willpower. The options are seemingly endless, and the portions are literally endless if you’re at one that’s all-you-can-eat. It can be hard to reach for the salad when the fettuccine Alfredo is seducing you with its creamy deliciousness. 

After tackling several buffets over the past few days, I’ve come up with a few tips for how to eat healthily in these situations, whether at a hotel, a restaurant or your campus dining hall.  

Take a lap

Survey the scene first before jumping right in. If you start filling up your plate before knowing all the offerings, you’re more likely to overload (“oooh, waffles-I’ll have two of those, oh, and eggs, and that Danish looks good, and some yogurt can’t hurt…”). Before even picking up a plate, take a lap and see what your options are. Take note of what looks good, and then put together a balanced meal with your top few choices instead of getting everything.

Fill up on veggies and fruits first

This one is pretty simple: if you fill your plate with vegetables and fruit first, you’ll have less room for the less healthy stuff. You’ll also ensure that you actually get a substantial serving of fruits and veggies, rather than saving them for last when you may only have space on your plate for half a spoonful. 

Wait before round two

Freshman year, when I lived in the dorms and ate in the dining halls, and sophomore year, when I lived in the sorority house and had a meal plan there, almost all of my meals were all-you-can-eat affairs. This proved to be a huge problem for me. My self-control withered in the face of endless freshly baked cookies.

Often, I would get up for round two before I even finished swallowing my last bite of round one. Not because I was still hungry (I didn’t even give myself enough time to see if I was), but simply because I wanted more of what I had just eaten and it was available to me just a few feet away. It’s a sad, sad feeling when you finish eating something delicious and there is nothing left on your plate but the streaks of sauce reminding you how good it was. You may feel overcome with loss and yearning. I’m kidding, but only a little bit—the struggle is real.

Don’t play it like Louis C.K.

However, instead of immediately getting up for more just because you can, wait. Drink some water, talk to your friends and distract yourself from the urge to get more. If you give yourself time—at least 10 minutes—you’ll more often than not find that the craving has passed and you’re full. When it comes to buffets, it’s even more important than usual to eat mindfully and to really pay attention to your portion sizes and hunger level.

Share desserts

Buffets usually kill it with the desserts. There is always something (if not a hundred things) that looks too good to pass up on. Rather than stacking a plate full of desserts for yourself to sample, split a plate with your friends or family or whoever you’re eating with. That way, you can get a little taste of what you want without going overboard. Most buffets also have fruit, so you could also have that for dessert. When you have a hankering for something sweet right after finishing your meal, sometimes the natural sugars in fruit will actually do the trick.

Now that you know my game plan for when I show up at a buffet, here’s what I ate at the three buffets we hit up yesterday.

Breakfast

At the breakfast buffet yesterday, I had scrambled eggs, a few slices of different cheeses, a mini bowl of Bircher muesli topped with a some extra almonds and raisins and two slices of dragon fruit. The eggs were excellent (eggcellent), and eating them with the sharp cheeses was a perfect combo. This was my first time trying dragon fruit, and I have to say it’s not my favorite. It has the same texture as melon, but no distinct flavor in my opinion. But you never know if you’ll like something until you try it!

Lunch

For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant in between sightseeing stops for the second buffet of the day. I served myself a helping of pad Thai, to which I added more bean sprouts and chili flakes and a helping of sea bass and vegetable sauté. It was all okay, not great, but at least it hit the spot. I followed it up with a plate of watermelon and pineapple and a cup of coffee.

Dinner

At the third and final buffet, there was a sauté station where you could choose your ingredients and sauce. I got a mixed seafood and vegetable sauté with cashews in a spicy garlic sauce. Yum. I like ordering fish a lot on vacation since I don’t make it as often at school. Plus, it’s good for you! Here are 10 health benefits of seafood

I think it’s safe to say my family is all buffet-ed out after yesterday. We’re sticking to menus today.  

What are your strategies for eating healthily at buffets and in the dining hall? Share in the comments! 

Sammie is a student at the University of Michigan where she is pursuing a BBA. A foodie since birth, she enjoys cooking, eating, smelling, looking at, photographing, reading about, and playing with any and all types of food. Her idolization of culinary delights is complemented by her active spirit- she enjoys running, swimming, barre classes, and even spontaneous bursts of interpretative dance if the mood strikes her. She has completed two triathlons and a half-marathon and plans to tackle more races in the future. She also dreams of traveling the globe, saving the world, and marrying James and/or Dave Franco. 
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