Going on a cruise is kind of like reliving your freshman year of college. It's new! It's exciting! There's so much to eat and drink (and no one to tell you you can't have ice cream three times a day). Cruise buffets don't just offer a few desserts — there are usually 50 decadent sweets calling your name. The same goes for baked goods: Instead of five types of bread, you'll find 25 freshly baked loaves begging to be buttered. And then there are the proteins, piled nearly as high as the ship's funnel.
It's vacation, after all — and I'm not here to play the parental role or deny you the right to treat yo self — but having failed at my first cruise eating experience (both health- and strategy-wise), I know that too much of a good thing can mean a week of discomfort masked by stretchy pants and caftans.
With multiple sailings on several cruise lines under my belt, I now feel like I've mastered the art of the shipboard smorgasbord. Here's my number-one rule for navigating the cruise buffet, plus a few more tips for eating well on a cruise ship.
The Number-One Rule of Cruise Buffets
When it comes to cruise buffets, my number-one rule is ... the rule of one! This applies in any number of ways. Here are a few ways to apply it.
1. Choose one splurge meal a day.
On vacations in general, and especially cruises, I like to give myself one meal a day where I really indulge. This approach makes me feel like I'm treating myself without going (ahem) overboard.
2. Limit yourself to one plate.
Another rule of one I have is the one-plate rule. I challenge you to fit your first, second, and third courses, as well as your dessert, on one plate. In doing so, you'll choose foods you really want, while still giving yourself some healthy limits.
3. Have one dessert every day.
As a lifelong sugar-lover, my first inclination in any buffet is to stuff my face full of sweets like the kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Thankfully, for the sake of my health and my skinny jeans, I've learned to act like the adult I am and be very selective about my sugar consumption. My rule is one dessert per day because it is vacation, after all.
3 More Ways to Stay Healthy on the High Seas
In addition to the rule of one, I have a few more tips and tricks for eating and feeling well throughout the entire voyage.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Before I dive into my buffet bounty, I make sure to hydrate with a glass of water. For one, it's easy to mistake thirst for hunger (which can wreak havoc in a smorgasbord setting). Drinking water also keeps me from going for the sugary drinks, and since ship life is often busy and sun-drenched, liquids are especially important while at sea.
2. Think like Popeye and eat your greens.
Once you've selected your proteins, pile vegetables on at least one-third of your plate to keep your digestive system happy and your calorie consumption in check. Think like Popeye and favor greens, followed by brightly colored items like bell peppers, asparagus, radishes, etc.
3. Limit your sauces.
Sure, throw some chimichurri on your steak and a splash of olive oil and balsamic on your salad, but try to cap your condiments at two per meal. If this sounds ridiculously obvious, know that a typical cruise buffet on a large-scale ship can offer up to 100 sauces, so drizzling on five dressings wouldn't seem outlandish from a statistics point of view. (The one-plate rule will help you stay sauce-savvy — who wants five sauces pooling together on one plate?).
What are your tips for navigating a cruise buffet? Dive into the comments and tell us.