12 Buffet Foods You Should Definitely Skip

With their endless rows of steamy dishes and decadent desserts, buffets promise the ultimate culinary freedom. This abundance, however, is a double-edged sword.

While the variety allows for a personalized dining experience, not every dish served is a winner regarding taste, health, or freshness. The challenge then isn’t finding something to eat—it’s about discovering which selections enhance your dining experience without compromising your well-being or palate.

1. Cream-Based Soups

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Cream-based soups, such as New England clam chowder, broccoli cheese, or creamy tomato, are staples in many buffets. While these soups offer a comforting start to your meal, they come with a hefty load of calories and saturated fats.

A single serving can contain over 300 calories and high sodium levels, increasing heart disease risk when consumed frequently. Additionally, these soups can sit out for extended periods in warming containers, leading to a potential decrease in flavor quality and texture and an increased risk of bacterial growth if not kept at the correct temperature.

2. Pre-Dressed Salads

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Buffets often feature a variety of pre-dressed salads, enticing diners with the convenience of a ready-to-eat option. However, these salads are frequently overloaded with high-calorie dressings, diminishing the nutritional value of the vegetables.

A salad that appears healthy can quickly become a calorie bomb. Additionally, dressings containing dairy or mayonnaise can spoil if left at room temperature for too long, posing a health risk. Pre-dressed salads also tend to lose their crispness, becoming soggy and less appealing over time.

3. Sushi

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Sushi’s fresh, clean flavors make it a sought-after choice at buffets. However, sushi’s quality and safety are highly dependent on proper preparation and storage.

Buffets may not always guarantee the turnover necessary to ensure sushi’s freshness, increasing the risk of foodborne illnesses such as salmonella or listeria ¹. Moreover, the artistry and skill involved in sushi making are often best appreciated at establishments specializing in sushi, where each piece is made to order.

4. Deep-Fried Items

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The allure of deep-fried foods is hard to resist, with their crispy exteriors and comforting flavors. However, these items are typically high in trans fats and calories, contributing to unhealthy cholesterol levels and increasing the risk of heart disease over time.

Additionally, when these foods are not consumed immediately after frying, they can absorb excess oil, becoming greasy. They may also sit under heat lamps, losing their crunchiness and becoming unpalatable.

5. Rarely Refilled Dishes

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Dishes that are not frequently refilled may seem like an adventurous choice, but they carry risks. Their lack of popularity can mean they’ve been sitting out for extended periods, leading to potential freshness and food safety issues.

Foods that are not at the correct temperature or have been exposed to air for too long can harbor bacteria, increasing the risk of foodborne illnesses ².

Opting for dishes that are freshly replenished ensures both safety and quality.

6. Exotic Dishes Without Proper Description

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Exploring exotic dishes can be one of the pleasures of dining at a buffet. However, when these dishes lack proper descriptions, it can lead to unexpected dietary issues. Ingredients in exotic dishes may trigger allergies, dietary intolerances, or simply not meet your personal dietary choices.

You might inadvertently consume foods against your dietary restrictions or preferences without adequate information. Always inquire about unfamiliar dishes’ ingredients and preparation methods to avoid any adverse reactions.

7. Pasta Dishes with Heavy Sauces

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Pasta can be a tempting buffet option, especially when drenched in heavy, creamy sauces like Alfredo or a rich cheese sauce. These dishes, however, are typically high in calories, saturated fats, and simple carbohydrates, offering little nutritional value and possibly leading to a quicker feeling of lethargy.

Also, pasta that has been sitting out may absorb too much sauce, becoming mushy and losing its appealing texture. Opting for lighter, tomato-based sauces or simply dressed pasta can be a more health-conscious choice that preserves the dish’s integrity.

8. The Bread Basket

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While the bread basket might seem harmless to start your meal, it’s easy to fill up on bread before getting to the more nutritious options. Additionally, bread that’s been sitting out can become stale or hard.

If you’re aiming for a balanced meal, it might be best to skip the bread or choose a single piece of whole-grain bread for fiber without overindulging.

9. Carving Station Meats with Visible Fat

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The carving station is a highlight for many, with offerings like prime rib, ham, or turkey. However, meats with large amounts of visible fat are high in saturated fats ³, which can contribute to heart disease and other health issues.

While it’s tempting to indulge in these richly flavored meats, opting for leaner cuts or meats with the fat trimmed can provide a healthier and equally satisfying alternative.

10. Overly Sugary Desserts

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Buffets often boast an impressive array of desserts, from cakes and pies to pastries and puddings. While delicious, these sugary confections are loaded with calories and can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash that might leave you tired and unsatisfied.

Consider choosing fresh fruit, a small portion of a favorite dessert, or a dessert with natural sweeteners as a lighter way to end your meal on a sweet note.

11. Seafood Kept on Ice

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While seafood is a healthy option rich in omega-3 fatty acids, buffet seafood displayed on ice for long periods can become a safety hazard. Seafood requires strict temperature control to prevent the growth of bacteria and pathogens.

If seafood looks like it has been sitting out for an extended period, or if the ice has begun to melt and the area isn’t being regularly maintained, it’s safer to skip it.

12. Salad Bar Toppings High in Calories

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Salad bars can be a treasure trove of nutritious vegetables but can also be laden with high-calorie toppings like croutons, bacon bits, creamy dressings, and shredded cheese. These additions can quickly transform a healthy salad into a calorie-dense meal.

For a healthier option, focus on fresh vegetables, lean proteins, and dressings on the side to control portions.

Buffet Etiquette & Tips

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When indulging in a buffet’s wide-ranging choices, following a set of etiquette guidelines can ensure a pleasant experience for you and your fellow diners. Here’s a concise list of tips to keep in mind:

  • Survey Before Serving: Before grabbing a plate, walk through the buffet to see all the options available, planning your meal strategy without blocking the line.
  • Fresh Plate, Fresh Start: Always get a new plate for each trip to the buffet to prevent cross-contamination and maintain hygiene.
  • Take Small Portions: Opt for smaller servings to avoid food waste and sample a wider variety, especially when trying new items.
  • Respect the Line: Wait your turn patiently and don’t skip the queue, ensuring everyone has a smooth experience.
  • Utensil Etiquette: Use the serving utensils provided and avoid mixing them between dishes for health and safety reasons.
  • Supervise Young Diners: If dining with children, accompany them to the buffet to help them navigate the options safely and courteously.
  • Manage Your Space: Clean your dining area, stacking used plates neatly and wiping up any spills.
  • Eat Mindfully: Listen to your body’s cues to avoid overeating and enjoy a variety of foods in moderation.
  • Consideration Goes a Long Way: Remember, your actions at the buffet affect others. Maintain respect, such as speaking at a moderate volume and using serving utensils properly.
  • Acknowledge Good Service: Though you serve yourself at the buffet, staff work hard to maintain a clean and well-stocked dining area. Tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for their efforts.
Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.