Chinese Buffet Survival Guide

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Hungry Girl,

My husband and son love Chinese buffets. What can I eat there without blowing my diet?

Buffet-Bound Diane

Hi Diane,

HG's Chinese Buffet Diet Tips

Lucky for you, there are a lot of options at most Chinese-food buffets that can fit into a guilt-free eating plan. I've also got plenty of tips 'n tricks to help you out...

Buffet 101: Start with a glass of water to take the edge off your hunger. This will help you to avoid grabbing the first delicious-looking (but potentially fattening) things you see. And always take a lap around the place before you even pick up a plate. This way, you can check out all the offerings and plan your meal. Then fill most of your plate with the healthiest stuff, leaving only a little room for more decadent items. Also, when it comes to your entrée, plan on sticking to one plateful; don't go back for seconds. This allows you to see exactly how much food you're taking in altogether, so you'll be less likely to overdo it. Another great tip? Pick a table far from the buffet, and sit facing away from the food. You'll be less tempted to make another trip. Now, for the lowdown on the food...

Soup: Broth-based soups are a great way to start your meal. Studies show you're likely to take in fewer calories overall if you start with soup, so do it! Plus, Chinese cuisine is known for a variety of delicious, no-guilt soups. Go for wonton, hot & sour, or egg drop -- each of those generally has 100 calories or less per cup.

Meal Picks: Steamed veggies and lean protein (like chicken, shrimp, and tofu) are great to pile on your plate. A squirt of lemon or a drizzle of soy sauce adds flavor without fat. If you don't see plain steamed veg 'n protein, look for dishes with just a little sauce. And always avoid sauces that are oily and/or very thick.

Rice Advice: Rice isn't off-limits, as long as it's steamed (not fried) and the portion size is reasonable. Brown rice is your best bet, since the fiber makes it more filling than white rice. Half a cup of cooked brown rice has about 110 calories and 2g fiber. Not bad...

Meal Skips:
Avoid noodle-heavy dishes, like lo mein and chow fun. Not only are they loaded with carbs, they're also typically drenched in oily sauce. And obviously, skip the deep-fried foods like egg rolls and crab rangoons. Also watch out for common American-food calorie bombs that tend to pop up at Chinese buffets, like pizza, fries, and chicken fingers. Who needs 'em?

Dessert: Say yes to fresh fruit (as long as it isn't coated in gooey sauce) and fortune cookies (only about 25 fat-free calories each), but skip most other baked goods. Those little almond cookies aren't too bad, though, with about 80 calories and 4.5g fat each.

Bonus Tips: Slow down your eating by using chopsticks, if they've got 'em. This will help your brain get the message that you're full as soon as you've had enough, so you'll be less likely to go overboard. Also, some buffet-style restaurants offer meals you can order off a menu. If you know you can't trust yourself around piles of food, this is a really good option. Just stick with smart meal picks, of course!

For more on this subject, check out our Chinese Restaurant Survival Guide. Happy chewing...

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