Friday, March 31, 2006

Trying to Diet at the Buffet

A few weeks ago I discovered that my blood sugar levels were higher than they should be and my Type II Diabetes, despite a long standing medication, was out of control. I saw this as the end to my buffet hopping. I had to get my diet under control quickly and make sure that I got my blood glucose levels back where they were and where they should be. I tend not to eat desserts, but I do indulge at the buffet in potatoes, pasta, pizza, and at the Chinese buffet, dumplings. Not to excess, but even a small sampling can add up to the equivalent of cake and ice cream. All of which were contributing to my sudden problem. And yet, I enjoy those buffets and wanted to keep going.

I made up my mind that I could still go to the buffet - I just had to find better choices to eat. Was that possible? With will power to keep away from high carbohydrate items, it is - and there is still a variety to enjoy.

We went to the Old Country Buffet - haven of southern country, high fat, and high carb cooking. This time I paid more attention to the salad bar, but keeping in mind that the salad dressings can have a higher fat content (a glucose and calorie raiser - it is not just sugar when it comes to controlling Diabetes by diet). What I found and fell in love with is the Caesar salad. It is pre-made of romaine lettuce, a thin Caesar dressing, and croutons. The number of croutons in the whole serving tray are not that significant to raising the carb count to a plateful of the salad. And it is good. I add a little grated cheese from the condiment table and a few extra croutons from the salad bar. I have also discovered that I am not the only one that likes this salad - the trays empty quickly and hopefully, are refilled regularly. There are two trays of it out on the salad bar. Romaine lettuce is easier on the digestive system than iceberg lettuce and it is chopped up in the preparation of the salad. This salad is filling and tasty.

If you are at the buffet you are going to be tempted to more than salad. Over at the entree tables there are plenty of choices which vary with the night at OCB. At the carving station you will find meats and, six out of seven nights, steak. There is broiled or BBQ chicken some nights and broiled fish. You can even enjoy the fried shrimp- just peel off the fried breading and just eat the shrimp inside. Avoid the mac and cheese, the French fries, the spaghetti, the pizza, the augratin potatoes, all of the deep fried and tempting meats and move on to the vegetable selections. The vegetables at OCB have low calorie and fat counts. (See our earlier article on "Nutrition at the Buffets") They are filling and if you don't find something that you like you can always head back for another plate of the Caesar salad as a side dish. Add a little gravy or a little barbecue sauce to the meat and even the overly done piece of beef is tasty. Limit your beverage from Coke to Diet Coke or the unsweetened ice tea. Deserts need to be passed by. There are some "sugar-free" puddings, a "sugar-free" cake, and a "sugar-free" softserve yogurt, but these have problems. One of which is the sweetener used. Many commercial "sugar-free" items are sweetened with sorbitol, malitol, or one of the other sugar alcohols. Nice and sweet with minimal aftertaste, HOWEVER, these sweeteners are LAXATIVES - some of them are prescribed as laxatives when such an effect is needed. Eat them when you don't need their intended effect and you get the runs and some pretty distressing stomach pains. Not fun and not worth the dessert. I am not saying that the OCB contains these, but you don't know - they are so commonly used in these products that unless the item is labeled otherwise, assume that it is in there. The other problem is that if you take a carb count of these items and a carb count of the real thing with sugar, there is VERY LITTLE difference - hardly worth the discomfort and both will have the same effect on your glucose level or your calorie count. So skip the dessert.

At the Chinese buffet, there is usually a salad bar, but you can make a pretty good low carb meal with variety out of the entree selections. The meat and vegetable dishes will make a great Chinese meal. Just avoid any rice and any noodles. There is also usually peel and eat shrimp and sometimes steamed crab legs. An overflowing plate of shrimp and crab - doesn't seem like a diet does it? (Don't overflow your plate - take some and go back for more. You will eat less and you will find that steamed crab legs are much better when they are hot - they come out of the shell much easier and they taste better. On your plate they cool down pretty quickly, so take a small amount and go right back for more hot ones!) Do not take the butter sauce! If you need to add to the taste, take the cocktail sauce - it is as good on crab as it is on shrimp too. I think people eat crab and lobster just to be able to dip it into the butter sauce - which, you know, if far from butter. Yes, it is good - sorry, it is not good for you. It is not really good for anyone.

So with this change in my buffet habits, how am I doing? Combined with a small increase in my daily exercise routine, my Diabetes is well in control. The numbers are now great. Now, I am not so interested in doing this for weight loss, but that will be a result too. And this same approach to the buffets is going to work for someone who wants to (or needs to) diet to lose weight.

Gotta lose weight. You can still enjoy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Children at the Buffet

Buffets are family friendly restaurants. Perhaps I should say most buffets, as there are some of those "fine" dining buffets with linen table clothes and a price to go with them. Never the less, children are not a problem at buffets, but sometimes their parents are. This may be indicative of parenting in 2006, but when the kids are up from the table on their own and moving around the restaurant there are many problems.

I have taken children to buffets - my nieces and my nephew. They were expected to sit and eat their meal, as they would be expected in any restaurant. When they wished something from the buffet, an adult went with them, helped them get what they wanted and then escorted them back to the table. Yet all too often what you see and have to dine with are children - as young as 6 and 7 (maybe younger) up from the table at the serving table on their own. They can barely reach the serving spoon. They can't hold or balance their plate as they reach into the tray with the spoon. They don't know not to take a taste and then put the food back into the tray. Have you seen a child put his whole hand into the tray? I have. That is why they are kids. Not their fault, really. But their parents should know better.

Children also like to roam around the restaurant. The parents don't seem to mind - they probably relish the time without the kids at the table. There seems to be an idea that because you get up to serve yourself, you also can just get up to wander around - and in the case of the kids - play. The buffet makes a great playground. There are tables to visit. Things to see. Lots of room to run around. Right? No, wrong. I watched two pre-teen girls moving back and forth across the buffet room the other night. They were from two different tables at opposite sides of the restaurant. They had met there that night - I guess, over the serving table and became instant companions for the evening. The problem was that they moved back and forth from each others table across the room. You would get up to go to the serving table and there they were, walking across - constantly. This went on for over an hour - and along the way they ate as they traveled. I like kids. I work with kids. But kids need structure and they need limit setting - in fact, I can share, professionally, that they crave it. They need parents to tell them that they are in a restaurant and they need to sit down and eat.

If you take your kids to a buffet - children and adolescents - teach them some dining out decorum. Keep them with you at the table and accompany them up to the food. Please don't let them wander. Please don't let them go up on their own. There are too many ways for them to get hurt -walked over by the adults who pay attention to nothing more than their plate as they walk around, burned by a hot tray, tripped over by wait staff clearing dishes, etc., etc., etc. AND it is annoying to everyone who is just out to enjoy their meal. Enough said. Any comments?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Family Style Dining

Family style restaurants are a different type of all you care to eat restaurant. These are restaurants that seat their guests together at large tables and waiters bring large platters of food to the table. The platters are passed around and shared by all at the table. It is supposed to be like eating at home with your family - it tends to be more like eating at a rooming house (as they are depicted in the movies).

These restaurants usually serve in courses. They will bring out an appettizing course. There might be bowls of prepared salads, breads, etc. These are passed around and plates are filled (usually a mistake - Everyone always takes bread. They want you to fill up on the bread so that you will not take the real food that is still to come.). After everyone has finished with this first course, platters of meats, side dishes, and vegetables are brought out. This is the heart of the meal and as each platter is emptied, it is taken away and refilled.

Following the entrees, the platters are cleared from the table - when everyone is done - and desserts are brought out in the same manner. Bowls of puddings, pies, slices of cake are brought to the table and passed around.

Beverages are served by the waiters and depending on the restaurant this may be soda and soft drinks brought by the glass or ice tea and lemonade brought by the glass and refilled by the pitcher. Usually coffee and tea is brought for the dessert course.

The nature of this type of serving usually results in plates being filled to the brim. The idea that there will be more on the platter later on does not occur to people and the grab it all as it comes around. Also people tend to be shy when sitting with strangers and if a platter ends up at the opposite end of the table, people don't always like to ask to have it passed down - interupting everyone who is eating in between. When sitting with strangers people tend to be more conservative in how much they take - and when everyone else has finished and you feel like you want to take some more, you will hold up the serving of the next course for everyone. So at a family style restaurant social and peer pressure come into play. There is the opportunity to eat all that you care to eat - but there are going to be factors that may prevent that from actually happening. For me, the idea is not to eat all that you can 0r even care to - I am more interested in having the variety that a buffet or a family style restaurant offers. In that, a family style restaurant can be very satisfying. One thing to keep in mind that is that you are eating at the pace of the table - not your own pace. There is no opportunity here to sit and linger over your meal. Also, in many of the restaurants the rooms are noisy with conversations. It is not a place to go with the family or friends to sit and talk. You do get to meet people from all over. This is not a place for the shy.

I have encountered two cuisines that have been served family style. One is Italian and the other is Country (Pennsylvania Dutch or Southern). Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has several of these restaurants. One of the oldest is called - The Family Style Restaurant located on Rt. 340. This is one of the originals - however, it was purchased by another restaurant a number of years ago and is now owned by Millers Smorgasbord Restaurant. They rebuilt the restaurant and the complex of gift shops that have always surrounded it. Here the style of cooking is Pennsylvania Dutch.

Another Pennsylvania Dutch family style restaurant is the Good 'N Plenty Restaurant on Rt. 896 in the village of Smoketown in Lancaster, PA between Rt 30 and Rt 340. This was always one of the better family style restaurants in the area. The restaurant was remodeled several years ago and it is a large complex of dining rooms. Tables hold 20 or more people. What was always amazing here was the spped and precision in clearing and cleaning a table for the next group to come in. The entrees usually include fried chicken, sliced beef, sometimes fish, sometimes sausage. The food here is good.

So, for a different experience in dining, try a family style restaurant.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Buffets on TV and in the Movies

Last week's episode of Las Vegas featured a storyline around the new buffet opened at the fictional casino in the show - The Montecido. The story involved a finger found in the shrimp cocktail. Gross, but it could happen! Around the story, the corporate operations manager is upset about how much everyone is eating at the buffet - and how they are sure to lose money. One quick scene to illustrate this is an obese family of four devouring everything in front of them. (A common site to many of us who frequent these restaurants.)

A long time back on one of the popular police shows, the squad was called to come to a local buffet, where a diner pulled a chair up to the buffet table and started to eat directly from the serving trays. The detectives responded and were confronted by an obese man who insisted that he paid for all he can eat and he was going to do that right at the steam table. As I recall there was quite a struggle to get him away.

There is a very funny scene in National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation where Clark and Cousin Eddie go to the casino buffet. They are moving along the serving line and there are two trays - one blue goop and one yellow goop. Cousin Eddie makes a comment about chicken and the server behind the counter looks at the two trays and says that signs are mixed up - the blue is not the chicken, the yellow is the chicken! A following scene shows them eating and Eddie brings out plastic bags and starts filling them from his plate.

The buffet never really shines in the movies or on television. It is used to show people stuffing themselves or is illustrated of low class dining. They never show a really nice restaurant as a buffet - which we know there are. The buffet generally is depicted as the depths of dining out - not even fast food gets as low a play as buffets. Sadly this is the association. Then again with some of the things that are actually seen at buffets this is not so far off the mark. (If only more people with read and follow the rules, we could really change this image!)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Western Night at the Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord

I have written about the Bird In Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord before. It is good. It is located on Route 340 in Bird in Hand in south central Pennsylvania in Lancaster County. Usually I have been there on Friday nights. I had an opportunity to try it on a Thursday night and found out that Thursday night is Western Night at the Smorgasbord table. This and the entrees were clearly posted in the lobby,

The entrees that make this Western Night were barbecue ribs (which are also featured on Friday nights), pot roast, ham balls, Mexican rice, and a taco bar. I mistakenly assumed that the regular entrees would be found as well, and I was mildly disappointed. There was no problem with what was there. The food was a good as usual.

The ribs are sweet and off the bone. They tend toward the chewy side. These are not the usual ribs – not baby backs or Kansas City style or Chinese style. They are rib meat and the tips, The pot roast was tender and came apart with a fork. It was not in any sauce, but was cooked with onions – seemingly in a pot in liquid, as it should be. The ham balls are small meatballs made from ham – like ham loaf (a local dish). They are served in a sauce with a pineapple base. The sauce did not make them overly sweet. There was also Pork and Sauerkraut – pulled pork cooked in sauerkraut, another local dish. The taco bar offered taco meat, melted cheese, taco shells, salted tortilla chips, and flour tortillas (that were hard and were not coming out of the serving dish). At the side were the usual toppings of tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, taco sauce, etc. I made my way over to the salad bar and added shredded cheese, There was also fried chicken and baked fish fillets,

There were a variety of sides including steak fries, hush puppies, real mashed potatoes, string beans, corn, stuffing (called filling in this area), buttered noodles, and Mexican rice which was spicy but not hot. There were several other side dishes as well.

The soup bar includes the more than excellent chicken corn soup that with this restaurant’s recipe, I consider the best soup that I have ever had. There was also beef barley soup with a tomato base and tomato soup.

For the kids = and anyone else I suppose, there is a children’s smorgasbord table that had hot dogs, spaghetti, fish sticks, chicken nuggets and other kid oriented dishes. This is set aside from the regular smorgasbord tables and is s kid height.

The dessert bar was a usual and offers a good assortment of cakes, puddings, and soft serve ice cream.

The service was a good as always. The waitress was very attentive, friendly, and made sure that we had full soft drinks.

My wife is a picky eater. She does not like barbecue or western themed entrees. She was happy with the ham balls and she had plenty to eat. For the diet conscious the soup and salad bar is a good alternative here at dinner as there is plenty for the offering on the salad and soup tables. I was more than satisfied at the end of the meal. Dinner was $13.99 per person. There is a web link to this restaurant at the side of the articles. There is also a more extensive article about this restaurant in an earlier article.