Beat buffet overload

Beat buffet overload
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First Published: Wed, Jan 07 2009. 08 47 PM IST

Photoimaging: Monica Gupta / Mint
Photoimaging: Monica Gupta / Mint
Updated: Wed, Jan 07 2009. 08 47 PM IST
• Try to avoid the waffles, pancakes, French toasts, croissants, pastries, sausages and bacon. If you must, though, know that a pancake or waffle is typically a better choice than French toast or a croissant. Instead, go for porridge or unsweetened cereal (whole or multigrain is better).
• Opt for skimmed milk or low-fat plain yogurt with your cereal. Add fresh fruit rather than dried, if you can find any, or select a fruit-flavoured yogurt with real fruit (check the label for flavourings and fillers). A few nuts are a good addition, too, if this is the mainstay of your meal and you won’t have a hot dish—but stick to a tablespoonful.
Photoimaging: Monica Gupta / Mint
• Among the hot dishes, you can ask for an egg-white omelette, with two-three veggies and topped with salsa or chutney. If you can’t stand all-white, reduce the yolk-to-white ratio (1 yolk and 3 whites, say). Or get crepes topped with half a sliced banana and a poached egg. Also look for light versions of fruity yogurt and cottage cheese.
• For an Indian breakfast entrée, idli with sambar (skip the chutney) is a good option. A small plain dosa or appam is fine, but avoid the “roast” option or creamy curries with them. Upma with lots of veggies and some green chutney or plain yogurt is a good bet, needing just a cup of coffee to make a complete, satisfying meal.
• Can’t resist potatoes? Get the sabzi for the puri, and eat it on wholewheat toast (a la baked beans, which are laden with sugar, by the way). Or substitute sabzi and toast for a spoonful of hash browns.
• Must have meat? Boiled or grilled (without added fat) frankfurters are better than crispy bacon or highly salted cured meats.
• If you must have juice, choose light—watermelon rather than the ubiquitous orange. Of course, fresh fruit is better.
• Leave the pastry cart well alone, or make that the only carb you eat. (Most hotel buffets have passable rather than superior sweet rolls.) A cup of tea, coffee or herbal infusion is a more energizing finish.
Rules to eat by
• Keep breakfast balanced with good quality protein and wholegrain carbs, but low in fat. That helps you stay energetic through the day.
• Eat a plateful—a Danish and coffee is not really adequate or especially healthy—but zero in on quality rather than quantity.
• Start with soup, provided it doesn’t look pale and creamy (that’s likely to be cream or starchy fillers). Pick a clear broth. Resist cheese and fried onion toppings; half a spoonful of croutons is enough crunch. Chicken, tomato or bean soups are good bets.
• Next, attack the salad bar. Fill a quarter plate with greens and veggies and finish it before you even consider entrées. But beware: Anything covered in creamy dressing hides more fat, salt and additives than you want to know! Avoid pasta and potato salads, as well as oily croutons (a few nuts are better for crunch). Ask for vinaigrette or add a little olive oil and vinegar yourself.
• Is there a sandwich bar? Choose wholewheat bread with mustard or salsa rather than mayo or Thousand Island. Stick to lean meats (chicken, turkey), and add veggies: hot and sweet peppers, cucumbers, lots of lettuce and tomato slices. Avoid pickles and onions if possible. Try for regular-sized sliced bread, not those massive sub-style rolls. If you’ve had soup and salad, by now you should be quite done.
• A baked potato is a decent option, sans cream, cheese or butter. Try a sweetcorn or, better still, bean filling for a similar unctuous texture.
• The other option is to avoid bread, pasta and rice, and get your carbs from veggies with a side of protein. Grilled meats or stir-fried veg (no cheesy bakes or greasy curries), with one piece of lean meat or fish that fits comfortably in your palm, is a good option. Or get some corn on the cob with a sprinkling of lime and chilli rather than butter.
• Drink water, unsweetened tea or diet soda.
• Desserts are always abundant but try to sample and not stuff yourself. If you’ve stopped at soup, salad and a grill, you can stretch as far as two-three shot glass-sized dessert portions. Otherwise get some of that exotic fruit you never buy. Ice cream is too obvious and you can get it anywhere, so don’t waste the opportunity (or your money) on such a banal pick.
Rules to eat by
• Fill ¼ of your plate with protein (meat, fish, paneer or dal), ¼ with carbohydrates (rice, bread, pasta) and the remaining half with vegetables. Additional plates of salad or grilled vegetables are not a problem.
• Afternoon is not the time to tank up—eat light and you can manage that late afternoon swim (or stay awake at the conference until the coffee is served).
• Brunch presents a bigger challenge: There’s too much variety! Be guided by the time you sit down to eat and make your meal more breakfast-like or a typical lunch accordingly.
• Start with a clear, tomato-based or bean/lentil-based soup.
• Salad next, as at lunch.
• Now the entrée: Vegetables and grains should fill up most of your plate, with some room for lean meat, fish, paneer or dal. Pick yellow over black dal; avoid the gravies and get a tikka instead.
• Can’t resist biryani? Stay away from the kebab skewers and curries then (or vice versa, with one piece of naan or roti). And stop at one helping.
• Must have that pasta in cheese sauce? Get a serving spoon-sized portion and add lots of salad or grilled peppers and brinjal.
• Your favourite curry? Team it up with a piece of naan or a spoonful of rice.
• When you spoon up your selection, include the bare minimum of sauce. Avoid food from the bottom of the pan—it’s there that the oil and butter accumulate (except in gravies, where it floats—but you aren’t having any, right?).
• Take your time choosing, and stop at one sweet.
Rules to eat by
• Choose one cuisine and stick to it for mains (soup and salad remain mandatory), even in a mixed buffet.
• Mad about that pizza or pasta? Eat that, and only that! Choose between a rich entrée or dessert. This way you’ll live to eat another day, when you can choose the other option.
• Drink one glass of an alcoholic beverage with your meal, no more (studies show the second glass can impair your food choices and induce you to eat more than usual). If you’ve been drinking before dinner, skip alcohol with the meal and get a diet soda instead.
Track those calories
Watching your blood sugar?
• Opt for high-fibre, low-fat dishes: beans, lentils, green vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, spinach).
• Choose wholegrains for rice, bread and pasta.
• Finish with fruits and say no to juice. Everyone, including people with diabetes, should eat three servings of fruit a day.
Watching your heart?
• Skip foods high in saturated fats—crispy coatings, creamy soups and gravies, salad dressings are common pitfalls.
• Don’t add salt to anything.
Watching your waistline?
All the above rules apply. Plus:
• Watch your portions and stick to one plateful in all
• Skip the desserts.
Need to lose a few kilos?
• Go slow on carbs (breads) and substitute salad and lean protein (grilled chicken or fish, a boiled or poached egg).
Long day ahead?
• Add nuts to your salad and an olive oil dressing for key fat-based nutrients and satiety.
• Get a decent-sized helping of wholewheat bread or brown rice to fuel yourself, and a substantial amount of grilled chicken or fish.
Off-the-plate advice
• Wear snug-fitting, tailored clothing to encourage you to stop when they feel tight! Elasticized waists are asking for trouble.
• Grab the smaller salad plates for your entrées to aid portion control.
• Don’t stand next to the table. Serve yourself and walk away to sit or stand where you can’t see the spread as you eat.
• Take a minute to walk around minus your plate to do a full survey of the spread, then go back, sit down and sip some water while you ponder your choices. Then make a beeline for your selections, and don’t linger or you’ll get distracted.
• Know someone who eats really slow? Sit next to them. It’ll help you pace yourself.
• Think tablespoons, not serving spoons. You can eat anything you want if you limit portions to a tablespoon or two, and not the usual serving size for that dish.
• Why waste space and calories on the usual or so-so? Save them for the exotic or seasonal treats: sarson ka saag, imported cheese, a regional special, or a single kind of killer kebab.
All you shouldn’t eat
• Don’t try to make sure of a “good deal.” Think what another helping will cost you in terms of health.
• Resist the “a little of everything” attitude. Not only will you make yourself sick, you’ll confuse your palate and stop enjoying the flavours long before you’re done.
• Eating out is an occasion: Enjoy leisurely and don’t scoff to get your money’s worth. Remember, you’re paying for ambience; food is cheaper at home.
Experts: Shikha Sharma, weight loss consultant, New Delhi, and Jyothi Prasad, chief dietician, Manipal Hospital, BangaloreWrite to us at
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First Published: Wed, Jan 07 2009. 08 47 PM IST