2 August 2016Tips for Healthier Eating at Chinese American Buffets

Restaurant buffets (all-you-can-eat) are not weight-loss friendly. In fact, they can be a caloric nightmare. Given that it is nearly impossible to avoid buffets 100% of the time, read this post for strategies on how to minimize the caloric damage when you dine out at your favorite Chinese-American restaurant.

The tips below are based on the research of Brian Wansink, as well as from my own experience working as a dietitian in weight control.

Food Environment

Sit further away from the buffet line and orient yourself so that you don’t face the food.

Pick the smaller size plate if you have a choice.

View all buffet options first before getting into line and serving yourself. According to Lansink’s research, you eat most of what you serve yourself first – so be picky!

Slow Down

If you didn’t grow up using chopsticks, then learn how and use them instead of a fork. This will help you slow down.

Chew your food, a lot more than you think you need to.

Are you eating with another person or a group of people? Slow down so that you match the pace of the slowest eater.

Put down your chopsticks or fork between bites.

Food Choices

Appetizers - Avoid foods that contain wontons & dumplings. These are high in both carbs (from refined flour) and calories (from both carbs and fat). Common culprits: fried eggrolls, Crab Rangoon/Wontons, pork dumplings, etc. Broth-based soup without wontons is fine if you can handle the sodium.

Entrees – go for choices where the protein (tofu, chicken, beef, pork, fish, or seafood) appears to be steamed, sautéed, or grilled. Avoid dishes with breaded and deep-fat fried meat. Ask the staff if you need help – it is sometimes hard to tell when the meat is swimming in sauce. Common culprits that include deep-fat fried food: General Tso’s Chicken, Sweet & Sour Pork, and Orange Chicken.

Rice/Noodles - Choose plain rice instead of fried rice. Ideally, pick plain brown rice if offered. Fried rice is 50% higher in calories (e.g. 125 kcal vs 80 kcal per 1/3 cup cooked). The added oil is what makes fried rice so high in calories (not the small amount of egg or meat). Same goes for chow mein noodles. A typical serving spoon (not heaping) will contain about 1/3 cup of rice.

Veggies - yes, more please! Add more of those to your plate versus appetizers, fried rice, or noodles.

Fortune Cookies – These are only about 30 kcal for the standard size found in restaurants. So if you need a little something crunchy and sweet, one of these will do the trick.


Don’t ruin your calories budget on pop or sweet tea. Liquid calories are the major source of added sugars in the American diet. Given current cup sizes at restaurants, it is easy to rack up a lot of calories: pop and sweet tea will cost you about 12 kcal/fl oz. A 16 fl oz cup without ice = 192 kcal. And bubble tea is even worse since you have the tapioca ball calories to deal with too. A better choice is either plain water or unsweetened green tea.

Logging Restaurant Food

For logging Asian-American style food, I often find something close when I search either Pei Wei or Panda Express along with the food name in MyNetDiary. Feel free to enter your own customized food item if you find nutrition information from other sources. Or, if the restaurant has nutrition information online, you can request that Support@mynetdiary.com add the items to the database for you. Be sure to include a link to the restaurant’s nutrition webpage.

For those of you who are adventurous eaters, you might want to try ordering from the more traditional Chinese menu. Those options tend to be healthier and lower in calories.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Dining Out/Buffet & Cafeteria Weight Loss/Behavior Weight Loss/Food Environment

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