The Skinny on Buffet Dining

The Skinny on Buffet Dining
To eat or not to eat, that is the question

By Debra L. Karplus

It’s Friday evening after a grueling week at work. The kids are whining; they’re famished, and you are, too. Plus, you’re exhausted and emotionally drained. You open the refrigerator, the freezer, and the cupboards, and realize that a trip to the supermarket is badly needed, but who has time to shop for groceries during such a demanding week! What to do?

Friends and neighbors have raved about the all-you-can-eat buffet near the mall. A hungry family of four can eat unlimited quantities of food, prepared for all tastes, for under thirty dollars; “kids eat free” is a sign you often see posted on the window outside the buffet. And attire is a not an issue when dining at the buffet; whatever you’re wearing at this moment is probably acceptable dress for the buffet dining venue. So, gather everyone into the mini-van quickly, and head to the buffet; it’s a no-brainer.

Smorgasbords, meaning “tables of sandwiches”, became popular in Sweden, as early as the 1500s. Over the years, this custom of dining spread through Europe. In the 1950s the buffet concept gained momentum in the United States. The post-war baby boom created bigger families, hungry families, trying to save a buck whenever possible to achieve the American Dream. Buffet-style eating caters to feeding large quantities of people with ease, quickly and affordably.

To eat

There’s something for everyone at your typical buffet. Whatever your food preference is, you’ll likely find it at the buffet. Whether it’s a specialized buffet, serving Chinese food, pasta, or vegetarian delights, for example, you can load up on high-protein main courses, sample seasoned cooked veggies, take advantage of raw foods at the salad bar, enjoy the fancy breads and muffins, be creative at the make-your-own ice cream sundae island, or most likely, all of the above. Serving unlimited quantities of food at low prices is what’s kept buffets thriving in this country for decades.

In addition the great monetary value, buffets offer the opportunity to try a variety of new foods that you might not normally serve at home, or that you may want to experiment with from the menu at a sit-down restaurant. You might actually succeed in getting your child to appreciate spinach, if you mix one of their favorite foods with it. If the buffet is part of a full-service restaurant, it’s a great way to sample their menu foods at a fraction of the cost.

…or not to eat

So why wouldn’t you want to be a regular buffet patron? Unless you are lucky enough to have located a buffet that allows you to go through the line only once, and charges you per pound of food on your platter, you’re probably going to be like most people and eat way too much, to get the most food for your dollar. It sounds like a solid financial strategy. But next time you’re at the buffet, look around. You might notice bigger than average-sized frequent buffet customers.

At a sit-down restaurant, many people deliberately order a larger portion with the idea that’s they will take home the leftovers. That makes dining out more affordable, or at least, less expensive per meal. But, at the buffet, “doggie bags” are not an option. Loading your plate with too much food with the idea that you will take the surplus home is just considered tacky, in poor taste. And no matter how much you want to stretch the dollar, you want to always use exemplary manners, especially when out in public.

Your typical buffet seldom offers the healthiest food. Buffet food tends to be too salty, creamy, and fatty, with too many buttery sauces. Not only is it food that is not recommended for optimal health, but people tend to eat too much of it. Frequent trips to the buffet might lead to frequent trips to the doctor, pharmacy, or weight control program. Remember that keeping yourself and your family healthy may be the number one overall way to saving money.

So how do you maximize the value of buffet dining without sacrificing your health? Start by perusing the choices while your plate is still empty. Decide exactly what you will choose to eat a balanced meal. Then, select small quantities of a variety of foods from each food group, meat for protein, dairy for calcium, grains for fiber, and fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals. Take it easy on the free soda pop refills, lots of calories, no nutrition. Be disciplined. Assist your children with their buffet food selection. And, don’t make a steady diet of buffet dining. Once in a while, buffets are a treat, but the buffet experience done frequently could become be too much of a good thing.

This article by Debra Karplus first appeared on Debra Karplus, freelance writer and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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