Whether you’re buying lunch at your office or school cafeteria, or trying to navigate through a buffet at a party or restaurant, arming yourself with smart strategies before you serve yourself will help you make the best food choices. Here are a few healthy eating tips to remember the next time you’re in a cafeteria or at a buffet:
wisely at the salad bar.
Eating regularly from the salad bar can be a good way to stick to your healthy eating plan. Help yourself to filling, non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower and go easy on the cheese and salad dressing (olive oil and vinegar is a good choice; just remember that 2 tablespoons is the right amount to use for dressing salads). Instead of iceberg lettuce, choose dark leafy greens, such as arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, and/or mesclun. On Phase 2, enjoy the pre-cut fresh-fruit offerings (except especially sugary pineapple and watermelon). Instead of topping your salad with bacon bits and croutons, sprinkle on some nuts and seeds, like sliced almonds, chopped walnuts or pecans, or pumpkin seeds, for a healthy crunch. You can also add some grilled chicken or steak, tofu cubes, your choice of beans or other legumes, a hard-boiled egg, or some tuna or salmon for a boost of protein. Tossing in a couple of avocado slices will add some flavor and keep you feeling satisfied.
for healthy soups.
Soups are a healthy and filling choice on the South Beach Diet when they are light, flavorful, and made with a variety of nutritious ingredients, including vegetables, lean meats, seafood, beans and other legumes, and whole grains, like quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, and barley (Phase 2). Try a minestrone, or a soup made with broccoli or cauliflower in a beef, chicken, or vegetable broth base. Chilled tomato- or cucumber-based soups, like gazpacho, are also a good option. Be sure to avoid soups made with heavy cream, full-fat milk, or with white rice, white potatoes, or white pasta.
out the “made to order” stations.
Some cafeterias and buffets offer individual stations that allow you to select the ingredients for your own omelet, pasta dish, or stir-fry. If you want an omelet, be sure to request plenty of vegetables, like bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli, and choose a reduced-fat cheese, if available. For stir-fries, go for grilled chicken breast, shrimp, tofu, bok choy, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, and mushrooms and make sure the “frying” oil is olive oil or canola oil. If you’re ordering pasta, stick to a 1/2-cup serving of whole-wheat pasta and choose a marinara, pesto, olive oil-and-garlic, or a white-wine sauce. No matter what station you choose, order wisely, avoiding the refined starches and fatty options like burgers and fries, breaded chicken, and pepperoni pizza.
Many of the desserts in cafeterias and buffets are diet busters. Rather than choosing a dessert as you pass through the line the first time, wait until the end of your meal to select a sugar-free gelatin cup or fruit salad (Phase 2), or limit yourself to three bites of a decadent dessert if you’re on Phase 2 or beyond. Better yet, avoid temptation and wait until you get home to have a South Beach Diet–friendly dessert you’ve prepared yourself.
Ask for it if you
don’t see it.
If you'd like your chicken breast without the creamy sauce or you wish there were broccoli on the salad bar, speak up! Many party caterers and food managers at cafeterias can accommodate special orders and meet your requests.