Chinese Buffet

Whether you go to a Chinese buffet on a regular basis or just once in a while, odds are your dining companions are people who want to get their money’s worth. And that’s a dangerous trap to fall into. Don’t follow their example!
Chinese Buffet Cheat Sheet

Whether you go to a Chinese buffet on a regular basis or just once in a while, odds are your dining companions are people who want to get their money’s worth. And that’s a dangerous trap to fall into. Don’t follow their example!

Indeed, “all-you-can-eat” can be a recipe for disaster at the best of times. Throw in multiple kinds of fried noodles, fried dumplings, fried meat, fried rice and even twice-fried vegetables (who would have thought?), and it becomes even more challenging to make smarter choices.

The facts about frying
Thankfully, lurking among the gut-busting options is healthier — but still satisfying — fare, as long as you know what to avoid. One of the most important things to understand, says Grace Young, author of the upcoming cookbook Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, is the different frying methods. Here they are, from better to worst:

  • Stir-frying: Using a large pan or wok and a small amount of fat over high heat to cook small pieces of food
  • Shallow or pan frying: Cooking thin pieces of food in a shallow layer of oil
  • Deep frying: When the food is completely submerged in oil and doesn’t make contact with the bottom of the pan

Be your own buffet buddy
When in doubt, ask how an item is prepared. Some visual tip-offs are obvious (like breading or batter, or pools of grease in the sauce or on the dish), while some other items may appear virtuous but actually be saturated with oil. Dumplings can be a tricky item, too. Typically, the standard appetizer-style dumplings are either steamed, or very quickly fried in shallow oil, which surprisingly doesn’t change the PointsPlus values. Wontons, though, are another matter: Boiled, you get six for PointsPlus values. But when they’re fried, their deep fried, almost doubling the PointsPlus values to a whopping 12—and that’s just an appetizer.

One notorious culprit for oil, says Young, is anything “dry sautéed” (like string beans) which actually means—wait for it—fried twice. Another veggie nightmare? Eggplant, since it soaks up some much oil during cooking. In fact, as our interactive tool above shows, ordering your favorite dish veggie-style often doesn’t save you any points values over their meaty siblings due to the vegetables acting as little oil sponges. (For example, one cup of vegetable chop suey has 5 PointsPlus values—the same as pork and chicken. Beef will cost you one extra PointsPlus value.) Choosing a dish with lean protein, such as chicken or shrimp, can be a better option in the long run, as the extra protein helps satisfy.

Sauces pose their own problems, as many are extra-sugary or oily, too. If you choose a sauce to go with a dish, don’t cover your plate with it. Instead, dip in one bite at a time—you’ll get a flavor kick without using too many PointsPlus values.

Before you go
Planning ahead is key, says WeightWatchers.com nutritionist Leslie Fink, M.S. R.D. “To go to a buffet with the idea of being perfectly virtuous may backfire,” she says. “Think about what food you love the most, and only fill up one quarter of your plate with it. The point is not to feel deprived. If you don’t eat something you love, why bother going?”

Here are some more of her common-sense tips for turning “all-you-can-eat” into “what-you-should-eat:”

  • Choose your seat wisely. One study published in the medical journal Obesity showed that overweight people tend to sit close to buffets (heck, we might even wish we could eat at the buffet), while their slimmer counterparts opt for seats farther from the food. If the buffet is out of sight, you have a better chance of resisting the urge for seconds. And thirds. And…
  • Scope out the options before serving yourself. Don’t just start helping yourself in as soon as you’re in front of the food. Case the entire buffet first and decide what’s worth splurging on, and look for healthier options to round out the meal. (Starting with a brothy soup helps fill you up, and means you can legitimately take your tray up to the buffet twice.)
  • Use chopsticks. They’ll help you eat slower so you feel full before stuffing yourself.
  • Try to fool your eyes. Using a small appetizer-size plate can give the illusion that you’re eating more. Also, as a guideline, fill half your plate with veggies, and split the other half evenly between protein and starch (and if the starch has some protein in it — say, noodles with beef, for instance — still count it as a starch).
  • Quit while you’re ahead. To help you resist the siren song of the buffet, ask a waiter to take your plate away as soon as you’re done and bring you a cup of hot tea or some orange slices. Or pop a mint or a piece of gum to cleanse your palate.
  • Think about ordering off the menu. Yes, it may cost a bit more, and yes, it sort of defeats the purpose of the buffet, but at least you can specify how you want the food prepared and have some built-in portion control. And you can’t put a price tag on that.

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