The #1 Thing to Never Get at a Buffet, According to Experts

Restaurant concepts can’t survive nostalgia alone – just ask a few legendary steakhouses lost in time. Despite an ingrained sense of comfort and Americana, certain dining styles have waned in popularity over the years, which might explain why buffets have gone the Blockbuster way.

In terms of public perception, they’ve really taken a hit in recent years, seen by many not only as nutritionally unhealthy but also a huge risk during the pandemic. And really, all-you-can-eat waffles aren’t really worth risking your health for.

The outlook for buffets has become so bleak that Golden Corral, America’s king of buffets, has suffered mass closures. Meanwhile, several other buffet chains are on the verge of bankruptcy, and even Popeyes has closed its last buffet.

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Unlike typical full-service restaurants, or even fast-food restaurants, the main difference with buffets is that the food is pre-cooked, set aside, and (hopefully) held at appropriate temperatures for customers to help themselves to. themselves. It’s a longtime staple in American cuisine, but changing public preferences haven’t been kind to the once mighty buffet.

Nowadays, the surviving sideboards have become a nostalgic novelty in their own right. And if you’re visiting a buffet, there are definitely some red flags to look out for and some things to avoid. Namely: items that are likely to make you sick, whether from poor housekeeping or an overloaded plate overflowing with carbs.

“With salad bars, the only thing I avoid is a salad bar that isn’t well maintained,” says Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate in the Penn State Department of Food Science. “That is, cold items are not cold or hot items are not hot.”

Rather than pointing to a particular dish or style of cooking, the food safety expert emphasizes the importance of proper hygiene, cooking and temperature in general. For example, if the food doesn’t look fresh and looks like it’s been out for hours, like limp lettuce or the separation of liquid in a potato salad or tuna, don’t eat it.

Bucknavage also says it’s important to only eat at buffets monitored by serving staff, making sure the bar stays tidy, utensils are in the right place and people don’t get up under the sneeze guard.

Beyond hygiene, the other key factor to consider with buffets is nutrition. As notorious as they are from a public health perspective, buffets can also be a breeding ground for bad decisions. According to dietitian Amy Goodsonbuffets are a tough place to eat because when there is more food available, people tend to overeat.

To counter this, she suggests managing your intake in advance by using smaller plates. “Buffets usually have salad and entrée plates, and a good goal is to use the smaller plate when you cross the line.” Also, watch how many times you go through the line and give your body a chance to digest the first serving before jumping in to help #2. “It takes time for your body to recognize fullness, so after you finish the first plate, be sure to sit still for 15-20 minutes before filling your plate again.” Finally, try using Goodson’s plate rule, which means creating a balanced meal that’s 1/3 lean protein, 1/3 whole-grain carbs, and 1/3 vegetables.

Something Goodson suggests avoiding is protein breading. “Whether pan-fried or fried, it’s the bread that absorbs the oil, resulting in more calories. Look for cooked, grilled, and pan-fried proteins to put on your plate.”

Anything else to avoid? The sauces. Many pasta dishes and stews contain a lot of creamy sauce, which usually means more saturated fat and calories. “Look for lightly sautéed entrees and sides, made with marinara sauce or without sauce to reduce the fat content of your buffet,” suggests Goodson.

And unless you are indeed running a marathon imminently, be careful not to overload the carbs. “Most of the time, buffets are filled with delicious pastas, risottos, casseroles, breads and other carbs,” she says. “Let’s be clear, carbs are good for you and you need them on your plate, but it’s often easy to overdo it. So choose your favorite and eat it first, or have a small amount of a few options. .”

Instead of eating several different types of carbohydrates, add color to your plate in the form of fruits and vegetables, which are not only nutrient-dense, but contain more fiber and fewer calories, which will help you feel full faster. Just make sure none of those fruits and veggies look like they’ll sag at the wrong temperature.

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