3 Tips to Make Buffets and Potlucks More Mindful

I know that buffets and potlucks probably aren’t top of mind for most people these days, but a comment in a recent episode of the Stuff You Should Know podcast got me thinking about them.


The episode was “How Buffets Work,” and in the beginning, Chuck said, “I learned from my dad that you should eat until you were physically uncomfortable, and then eat a little bit more.”



That made me wince, although I know it’s how some people approach buffets and possibly potlucks. But it’s certainly not mindful.


I also realize it can be difficult to remain mindful at buffets and potlucks, but here are a few tips to help, whenever you get back to those types of social events.


Explore your options

The podcast mentioned that at a buffet, a lot of people fill their plates with whatever they come to first, even if it’s not their favorite thing. This is why it’s important to explore your options.


Now, I know from personal experience that it can feel a little awkward to do this. I don’t go to buffets on my own, but for work trips, the food is almost always served buffet-style. And there’s no easy way to look at everything ahead of time or know what’s available because you don’t get a menu.


In those situations, and at potlucks, you have a few choices:

· Go through the line once but only take small amounts of what you like while also keeping an eye on other things you might want to go back for

· Try to peak around people to see what’s available before getting in line (though this is a bit awkward)

· If you have time and you’re not super hungry, wait until the line has thinned out so you can peruse everything at your leisure


Whatever approach you take, try to make sure you get at least some of what your favorite things might be on the first round. That way you’re not as tempted to go back for them and end up overeating just for those one or two things.


Stop before it hurts

It’s also a good idea not to follow the advice of Chuck’s dad. Instead, follow the opposite advice – stop eating before you’re physically uncomfortable.


It can be hard to be mindful during potlucks or buffets. You’re around a lot of other people, and some of them probably won’t be eating mindfully. If it’s a work situation, you might have to multi-task and talk business while eating. This is something I find hard to do while also staying aware of what I’m eating and how I’m feeling. Or if it’s a social situation, you likely want to kick back and relax and not be so focused on mindfulness.


Even then, though, you can do a few things to help:

· Put down your utensil, or your food if it’s handheld, between bites

· Wait before going back for seconds – and if you feel antsy just sitting there, sip your drink to give your hands something to do

· While standing in line, check your hunger/fullness levels to see how much more food you want to get


This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t overeat, but it will help.


Remember that quantity isn’t the only value

It also helps to remember what you’re trying to get out of the meal. At a buffet, it’s tempting to think that you’re going for the best dollar value by eating as much as you can.


But the quantity of food isn’t the only way to measure the value.


See if you can focus on other things, too. You could start by noticing and appreciating the food itself if it’s good quality. This is something I notice at work events, which are usually very well-catered. I also enjoy trying foods I don’t have very often, or would never order in a restaurant because I don’t know if I like them.


In a social setting, enjoy the company and conversation as well as the food. Take the time to focus on what everyone is saying.


Whatever it is, find something to appreciate about the experience other than the amount of food you could eat.


Practice staying mindful at buffets and potlucks

It takes practice to eat mindfully at buffets and potlucks when you’re surrounded by so much food and are invited to take however much you want (within reason).


But it’s helpful to do that so you don’t end up eating until you’re physically uncomfortable. It’s also very possible to do if you plan ahead to slow down, check in with yourself, and split your attention between your food and your setting. Even better, when you can do that, you’ll enjoy the experience all the more.

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