A while ago I wrote a post that partly discussed our belief in the Paleo eating style as part of a healthy, balanced diet… (I just had cereal commercial flashbacks). Well, we can believe it all we want, but we’ve found eating while traveling full-time is often a beggars can’t be choosers (or more like kitchen-less cheapskates can’t be healthy eaters) scenario. And sometimes we even cross the line from questionably healthy convenience foods of Ramen and mac ‘n cheese into the ultimate pit of gluttony: the all-you-can-eat buffet. And we are darn proud of it!
In fact, I’m writing this as we sit in our darkened tent and during our backpacking trip today into Yosemite‘s Hetch Hetchy Valley a main topic of conversation was the when and where of our next buffet. The same buffet we have repeatedly convinced ourselves we NEED after a consecutive days of backpacking, 10-mile day hikes or just a week of our traditional camp life fare. Those calorie deficits cannot be tolerated! Many times it’s the thought of piling our plates to overflowing with pizza, popcorn shrimp, potato salad, stuffing, fried chicken and a side of ice cream sundae that gets us through the all those miles. Hometown Buffet, Pizza Hut, Golden Corral, Pizza Factory, token Chinese buffets, we’ve crossed the spectrum. In the rare occasions we get a hotel we treat the continental breakfast into a buffet. And there was even that one all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast we got for $2.99 at the KOA. We don’t discriminate.
So in light of the fact that buffets are now a regular Switchback Kids staple – and mostly because writing about them means I get to think about them – we are going to lay out our tried and tested tips for making the most of your next buffet. Although there are many varieties, I’m writing this post through the lens of a typical home style or Chinese buffet experience because I think that will be most relevant across the board. Also, keep in mind as you read that with any buffet we have have one goal: eat an obscene quantity of food. My secondary goal is to put them out of business, but I’m still working on that one ;).
- Choose your buffet and call them. We do this to make sure we get the best price in town. Plus, we need to verify they have a functional ice cream machine and any other foods we happen to be craving. We always choose the lunch buffet because it is cheaper and still has plenty of options. And in that case we also need to know when their lunch buffet starts and end. Also, you can check if they have any special deal days or family nights. In our last buffet outing we realized some buffets quote you the price of a buffet with a drink (and we never waste $2.50 on a drink), so make sure you know which price you’re quoted.
- Signup for the rewards program for your buffet of choice. Make sure you do so a few days before your ETD (estimated time of devouring) so they can process the application, send any coupons to your inbox and you can print them if necessary. For Golden Corral we got a free drink, but for Hometown Buffet you get a whole BOGO buffet.
- Taper your meals starting the day before. Since we always do lunch, we eat a very light dinner the day before. Then for breakfast we may go without, or we’ll have something minimal to jump start the metabolism. Either way, we want our appetite to be at a fever pitch when we grab out first plate.
- Clear your schedule. We always plan to spend around 2 hours eating to our heart’s congenital failure… I mean content. Definitely have an open-ended departure so you don’t have to leave food on the buffet table.
- Make room. We’ve found ensuring our digestive system is ready for new entries is very helpful.
- Take a lap around the buffet lines. I always want to know the full extent of my options before digging in. This allows me to better strategize my plates and allot my appetite.
- Start with a salad. This tip is very controversial. I am a proponent more than Elizabeth because I think the salad gives you a psychological boost and guilt-free ease-in. And my one requirement is to add enough toppings and dressing that I can’t see any leaves, which always makes the salad better than I imagine.
- Get a baby serving of as many things as possible. I always encounter more dishes I am interested in than I can possibly consume. I find the best tactic is to use your first “entree” plate as a taste tester. Buffets are renown for their variable quality and it’s usually very hard to tell with the naked eye wish dishes are lemons (so to speak). Then you go back and load up on the favorites.
- Use the buddy system. Elizabeth and I naturally end up with different assortments of food. This works great because we can swap intel on what we like and what tastes like it has been under the lamp heater since last Christmas. However, choose the buddy wisely. I don’t recommend having a business meeting (as we saw once at Pizza Factory), reconnecting with an old friend or going on a first date at a buffet. It should be someone who you don’t need to respect you ever again.
- Eat slow. This helps with digestion and endurance. Elizabeth constantly tells me I’m the slowest eater on the planet, so it’s easy for me. She on the other hand has to really make an effort to slow down and take breaks in between plates. Which is fine, because the buffet is the most important appointment of the day (see #4).
- Leave room for desert. The timing is always tricky, but I find it’s best to ere on the side of earlier than later. You can always go back for another entree plate, but there’s nothing worse than fixing a heaping helping of ice cream (always use a larger soup bowl for ice cream) loaded with all the best toppings and struggling to get it down. Remember, this critical juncture is why you wore the stretchy pants. Elizabeth likes to say that ice cream fills in all the voids… just make sure you leave a few.
- Don’t make yourself feel sick. I can’t really give advice on this one because I haven’t ever managed it… but in theory it sounds wise.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go dream about my next buffet. And I hope you will too!