by Chef Dawn Ludwig

So often while traveling or eating out, we encounter the dreaded buffet. The concept of an all-you-can-eat assortment of foods has traditionally been one of the worst places for overindulgence that exist in the restaurant world. Just the sight of endless options and uncontrollable portion sizes can be enough to overwhelm even the most experienced travelers among us. There’s a strong psychological effect on us when we see a buffet: we think we must eat enough to get our money’s worth and we want to try every single thing available. It’s a setup for overeating. You end up not feeling good unless you’ve eaten things you wouldn’t normally eat, and eaten a lot of it.

Treating the Buffet Like a Five Course Meal


The last time I encountered a buffet, I decided to try a new concept. I wanted to treat the buffet as choices for a five course meal. First, I took a small plate and put appetizers on it, such as a quarter cup of hummus with raw veggies or a small amount of tapenade. I knew that if I really enjoyed the food on my plate, I could come back for a second small appetizer course. A great place for building an appetizer is at the salad bar. You can choose a few slices of cheese and cucumbers, or tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil. The possibilities are endless if you know how to look.

We often go to buffets when we are hungry and just pile a mountain of food onto our plate. I decided to make sure I wasn’t as hungry by starting with just a small plate appetizer. You could even start with an amuse bouche, or just one bite to whet your appetite. Just like a fine French restaurant, you’d take your appetizer or amuse bouche back to your seat and fully enjoy it before thinking about the next course. While enjoying these bites, you know that you can always go back for more and you won’t be as hungry when you do.

Choosing an Entree at a Buffet

After my appetizer course, I went back to the buffet for my salad course. I again used a small plate knowing I could always come back for more. If I included protein with my salad, it would only be a small portion of chicken or shrimp since I knew I’d include another protein with my entree course. This way of eating at the buffet shifts our focus since you still know you’ll get to try a little of everything, but it’s been spaced out to provide optimum satisfaction.

After your salad course, you could do a soup course in a small cup. Now you’re already three or four courses into your meal before you even begin on your entree. Before filling your entree plate, scope out the buffet to see what’s there. You might decide to have a first and second entree in small portions. For this course, take a big plate but leave plenty of white space between the various food items. If you decide to do a surf and turf meal, choose 2 or 3 ounces of fish and 2 or 3 ounces of another meat. Then choose a side of veggies to compliment your protein. I like to choose a couple different veggies for added variety. If you are still hungry after enjoying this course, you can come back for a second plate that again has only 2 or 3 ounces of protein.

Can You Eat at a Pasta Buffet? Yes!


I recently went to a buffet with a pasta bar. While this might normally be an anxiety inducing practice in restraint, with this new outlook on buffets, I was able to enjoy the pasta bar without feelings of guilt, shame, or overeating. It’s quite simple. I chose all the different kinds of vegetables that I wanted, added a small amount of protein and sauce, and then had them heat my plate without adding pasta. It ends up being a delicious ragu that could serve as your second plate entree. I didn’t get it at the same time as my first plate since it would not have left enough white space on my plate. This way I know for sure that I am taking enough time for my body to register whether it is still hungry or not.

Dessert at the Buffet


For dessert, I went back to the salad bar for fruit. I then asked the server for cream or half and half from the coffee bar, and drizzled it over my fruit. If they have roasted nuts at the salad bar, sprinkle some on top. By the end of the meal, I was completely satisfied but not uncomfortably full. My body still feels happily indulged and my brain is content knowing that I just had a five or six course meal and definitely got my money’s worth.

This was by far the best experience I’ve had at a buffet. Regardless of what type of food they have, you get to treat yourself without piling a gigantic mountain of food on your plate that will leave you feeling guilty and overstuffed. The key is to take a small amount and remember that you can always go back for more. Take each plate back to your seat and savor every morsel as if you are eating the finest meal you’ve ever experienced. Indulgence comes from enjoying each particular dish in front of you and not the quantity of the food on your plate. This manner of eating could also be applied to parties, catered events, office lunches, or potlucks. This mentality leaves us satisfied in all aspects of our being. We feel happy, content, and deeply satisfied.