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Buffet food presentation order

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Old 09-23-2013, 04:26 PM   #1
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Buffets are a real minefield for me now that I am dieting. I tend to serpentine around them without a plate first to summon up some self-control and a plan of what to choose before I actually get in line!

I just read about this social experiment conducted at Cornell where they examined what choices people made in a buffet line. They observed conference attendees going through two buffet lines, one of which was sorted by least healthy to healthy choices, while the other presented the healthiest choices first and then the unhealthy choices. Regardless of which buffet line they went through, 75% of attendees automatically put some of the first item on their plate. In addition, regardless of the buffet line, the first three items in the buffet made up 2/3 of what was on the diner's plate! The one difference was that the attendees that went through the "unhealthy items first" buffet ended up putting 31% more total food items on their plate when compared to the "healthier first" buffet line.

I find this behavior intriguing. From personal experience, I have to say I have definitely done some of what was observed here for sure. What's promising is, they postulate that merely putting healthier choices first in a buffet line might in and of itself promote eating of healthy foods. They even mention positioning healthy foods first at family dinners might help.

Slim by Design: Serving Healthy Foods First in Buffet Lines Improves Overall Meal Selection
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.c...act_id=2324615
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:33 PM   #2
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A couple weekends back I went to a buffet and the way the seating was set up, everyone in the restaurant had to walk past the salad bar to get to the other food. From what I remember the actual green salad was on the other side of the bar, what people saw first was the mayonnaise laden "salads".

I also noticed, that aside from the salad bar, there was only one vegetable in the rest of the buffet...deep fried green beans.
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Old 09-23-2013, 06:50 PM   #3
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My personality type, it's best to skip buffets altogether. I take it as a personal challenge to make them LOSE money on my visit lol
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Old 09-23-2013, 07:41 PM   #4
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This totally makes sense. And I've trained myself to stock up on the salad bar first, and fill my plate up with lots of greens and veggies. Then I allow myself to get one more plate of entree items of things I really, really like, but I made sure to keep it minimal. I sometimes splurge on dessert if they have no-sugar-added items available.

It's not a regular thing for us, but we go often enough given that we live in what's basically considered the buffet capital of the world.
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Old 09-23-2013, 08:11 PM   #5
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@Trazey34 - HA! I don't want a buffet to LOSE money on me. But I definitely want to get my money's worth!

I skip the iceberg lettuce and pre-made salads portion of the salad bar. I go straight for the proteins and the steamed vegetables.
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Old 09-23-2013, 08:44 PM   #6
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I used to think I made OK decisions. But it usually went like this:

Big old salad, some soup. Nice entree, big pile of steamed veggies....OK, so a piece of pizza won't hurt. And you gotta get a chicken leg, cause I never make fried chicken. And some of that cauliflower and cheese, cause at least it has cauliflower in it. I'm not hungry anymore, but I'm not leaving this place without getting a plate full of that delicious ham, so of COURSE I need the macaroni and cheese and some sweet potatoes. And ooh, check out the nacho bar. Aw bloody heck. Have the dessert, it won't matter at this point. Brownie a la mode it is. And cookies. Dipped in the chocolate fountain. Better make up for it by having a plateful of fruit.

Hooray for fat logic.
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Old 09-24-2013, 11:42 AM   #7
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I also read a study being done (and I wish I could cite it, but I do remember reading it on the monthly newsletter my gym provides) about where you sit dictates how much you actually eat at a buffet. The participants who sat with their backs facing the food were more likely to pay attention to their plates and eat less than the people sitting facing the lines. It sort of makes sense: if you're focused on your plate instead of getting distracted by what you could eat next, you tend to listen to hunger cues and stop when you feel full instead of keep on going because there's [insert dish here] that you forgot to get on your last pass-through that you've been eyeing ever since you sat down.
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Old 09-24-2013, 12:04 PM   #8
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Interesting study! I can't imagine restaurants changing anything though, sadly.
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Old 09-24-2013, 12:15 PM   #9
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Very interesting!
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Old 09-27-2013, 04:16 PM   #10
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HelloNurse, I had to laugh, I was definitely a "two plater" buffet customer. I'd have one plate of "healthy foods" like salads, fruit, and cold salads piled high ><, and then I'd go back for another big plate of the good stuff. Actually, I lied. There would always be a 3rd plate/bowl for dessert!

Issaknits, you have just reminded me of something from a very long time ago that I had almost forgotten about. My good friend post college-days was also my roommate. Much later in our friendship I came to the unfortunate realization that she had an eating disorder binging/purging. But prior to that, I can remember whenever we would go grab a bit to eat, I would tease her about always picking the seat facing the kitchen door. I mean, every single time, she finagled a seat or asked me to switch so she could watch the food come out of the kitchen. She honestly didn't realize she was doing this until I pointed it out to her.

newleaf123, I think you are absolutely right. If the restaurants are even aware that first choices in the buffet line get scooped up more, then I would imagine their only motivation would be to put selections there that don't cost them much to put on the buffet, if you know what I mean - financial strategy (I'm not explaining this well, lol, but I hope you understand.) I'm wondering if institutional dining could benefit though, like school dining halls, etc.

Thoughtful remarks, and I also enjoyed reading what other people's strategies are when dealing with buffets. I have only been to one buffet since I have been dieting, and it was an Asian buffet. They did, however, have an area where they would custom cook your food, so I just picked a bunch of vegetables with garlic sauce, got a very minimal amount of rice, and some fruit. I estimated my calories to be about 600, but I'm not at all confident that was correct.
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