The Roundup -

Prairie Fare: Buffet Food Order Affects Your Food Choices

Try putting large trays of veggies and fruits first, and place the higher-fat, higher-calorie foods farther down the buffet line.


Recently, I ate lunch with my 18-year-old son at the campus food service. I hadn’t eaten in the student cafeteria in quite a long time, and I was pleasantly surprised by the vast number of choices.

We each grabbed a plate and proceeded to make our choices. They no longer use trays at the food service, which trims food waste, labor and water use.

We stopped at the hot food line first. “Do you want red sauce or Alfredo sauce on your spaghetti?” the pleasant young worker asked me.

“Could I have some of each?” I replied.

“You sure can!” he said as he created a neat pattern on my pasta and added a thick slice of garlic bread to my plate. I think he gave me a double portion, though, to fit all that sauce.

He added a big scoop of green beans on the side.

I bypassed the make-your-own sandwich buffet and the area with all-day breakfast. I stopped at the salad bar and picked up another plate. I added about five different types of salads to my second plate.

I noticed the dessert bar as I walked to the table with my heaping plates. I really needed a tray. The desserts looked tasty, too. I set my plates down and went back for a dessert. However, I did choose a small piece. Well, it was kind of small.

When I settled down to eat surrounded by my bountiful assortment of food, my son grinned at me and said, “You have a lot of food there, Mom.” As we ate, my son raved about the pineapple soft-serve ice cream.

“Would you get me some pineapple ice cream?” I asked. He didn’t raise an eyebrow as he rose from the table. He’s a good son.

While he was getting us ice cream, I added some of my untouched food to his plate to avoid wasting it. I had taken and eaten way too much food. I was groggy all afternoon.

As we move into the holiday season, we often are tempted by all sorts of food attractively arranged on buffet lines at holiday parties. We might eat way more than we usually do.

Researchers Brian Wansink and Andrew Hanks from Cornell University recently reported the results of their buffet experiment in the online Journal PLOS One. The researchers studied the foods chosen by 124 people at a breakfast buffet during a health conference.

The foods included “less healthful” breakfast foods such as cheesy eggs, bacon, fried potatoes and cinnamon rolls. The “more healthful” options were fruit, low-fat granola and yogurt. One buffet line was set up in order from “most healthful” to “least healthful” and the other line set up in the opposite order.

The order the foods were presented in had a major impact on the food choices of the conference attendees. The first three foods on the buffet line made up about two-thirds of the food chosen by the participants.

When fruit was first on the buffet, 85 percent of the people served themselves fruit. When fruit was last on the buffet line, 54 percent added some fruit.

How can we use this information? You can nudge people in the direction of healthful choices by placing the more healthful choices first in line. Try putting large trays of veggies and fruits first, and place the higher-fat, higher-calorie foods farther down the buffet line.

Next time I am at a tempting buffet or cafeteria, I am going to follow my own advice:

Check out all the food first. Peruse the full buffet menu before you decide what you really want to eat. Start with the fruit and vegetables.

If you want to try many foods, serve yourself very small amounts.

Slow down and visit with your companions. Have a glass of water and some salad, fruit and/or soup before you go to the main dish area.

Decide ahead of time how many times you will go through the buffet line or how many clean plates or bowls you will accept.

Stand away from the buffet line so you are not tempted to graze continually.

Here’s a recipe adapted from the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension Service office in Lancaster County. Broth-based soups rich in vegetables and beans are filling foods that curb your appetite. This one also makes use of leftover turkey.

Mediterranean-style Turkey Soup

1 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil

1 chopped, sweet yellow onion

1 c. thinly sliced carrots

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 tsp. diced garlic

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

4 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1 Tbsp. dried basil

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

2 c. chopped roasted turkey (or chicken)

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans (or other white bean)

Salt, pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat oil in medium-sized pan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and pepper and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are tender-crisp. Add canned tomatoes, chicken broth and spices and simmer for 10 minutes. Add turkey and beans and heat thoroughly. Season to taste and serve. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese if desired. Makes eight servings.

Each serving has 260 calories, 3.5 grams (g) of fat, 29 g of protein, 26 g of carbohydrate, 8 g of fiber and 400 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)


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