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Have you ever been to the buffet and seen rows of steaming, mouth-watering foods of all kinds like chicken—six different kinds of chicken, actually— pizza, shrimp, noodles, rice, soup, and almost anything else you can think of. Then, have you ever eaten so much that you were too full to stand from the table? I’m not going to lie, I’ve done that many times and I just can’t help but think afterwards like, ‘Oooh! I am soooo full!’

We have to be careful of the words “all you can eat” because it plays tricks on our minds and makes us think we have to take our share in an abundance. After the first plate, I feel like I should go get seconds, you know, get more stuff that I like, other stuff that I missed, or anything else in between. At that point, eating healthy isn’t what’s on my mind because I’m focused on taking advantage of all the food that’s in front of me. It’s not until afterwards that I realize that I’m stuffed and I haven’t eaten a single vegetable the whole night. You may have heard that eating out isn’t good for you, but what if I told you that there are healthier ways to enhance your experience when you are at the buffet. It all starts with being mindful of what you eat.

Do you remember all of the food groups (fruits, grains, vegetables, proteins, and dairy)? These are going to help you when you are making your own plate. Let’s discover ways to make healthier decisions when you’re at the buffet.

1) Incorporate all of the food groups into your plate.

Fruit: Take a look amongst the fruits. You might see grapes, oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, peaches, and other fruits. It is good to eat fruit with your meal to get all of your nutrients. There’s one thing to be careful of, though, fruits like the peaches, pears, and oranges may have come out of a can, which means that there’s extra sugars in those. Go for the fresh fruits instead.

Vegetables: Vegetables at the buffet may include corn, green beans, carrots, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, or cauliflower. Vegetables are important to eating healthy. Make sure you put a good amount of vegetables on your plate, and don’t be scared to add more than one kind of vegetable. Making a salad is also a good option.

Protein: Proteins are usually found in meat. The buffet might have chicken, ribs, meatloaf, pork chops, steaks, and fish. Protein is good for your muscles, but when you’re choosing a meat for your plate, a small or medium-sized cut of meat will do.

Grains: Grains are in rice, pastas, breads, and oats. Carbs is roughly another name for it. There are good and bad carbs. At the buffet, that might be dinner rolls, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, alfredo, pizza, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or fries. The foods listed are the bad carbs, but I would suggest eating smaller portions of these things if you can’t find it in your heart to eliminate them.

Dairy: After the challenge of finding healthier food options, you can reward yourself to *inserts drumroll* ice cream! After your meal you can get an ice cream cone to count as your intake of dairy. If not ice cream, you can find dairy in cheese, yogurt, and most products made from milk.

2) Ask for water instead of soda

When the waiter seats you at the table and asks, “Can I get you anything to drink?” it may be tempting to ask for juice or pop. Don’t do it! Instead, ask for water. Get a little fancy with it and even ask for water with lemon slices.

3) Challenge yourself to not go back more than 3 times

Here’s a tip, when you sit back down at the table with your food, have control over how fast you eat it. People tend to eat fast when they’re really hungry or when their food tastes good, but when you eat fast you don’t allow your brain to process how full you are. Try to eat slowly, or in other words, savor the flavor. If you still feel hungry after your first plate, get fruits and vegetables when you make your next rounds or decrease your portion each time.

4) Avoid the dessert table

It takes a lot of willpower, I know, but you have to stay strong and stay away from those sugary sweets. Even taking as small a step as not eating candy for a few days or so can benefit your health.
Food is an important part of everyday life, and it is important to make sure the foods we eat set us forward to a healthy future. There is temptation to eat junk food in a lot of places, especially at the buffet, but turning a cheek to unhealthy eating is really worth it in the long run. You’ll be rewarded with more energy to play longer, fewer health problems, and a growth of mindset to make healthier decisions—if you ask me, those are some of the most important things one can possess. Also, it may even be tempting to eat poorly when your family or friends are eating poorly. To fix this, you should try to set an example for them of what it means to eat healthy and make good lifestyle choices. Encourage them to learn what you’ve learned about staying healthy. It is important to correct unhealthy eating because although I only listed a few, there are countless ways eating healthy is good for you. Eating right literally benefits every part of your body. I want you to remember this one thing before you go: eat well, live well.

Keyaira McKell