How To Get The Most Out Of Life’s Buffet

Key Points

  • Life is like a buffet, and rules help you get the most out of a buffet and life.

  • Enjoying a buffet means taking the time to plan and prepare, which applies to getting the most out of life, too.

  • Having a plan provides room for spontaneous moments like having dessert before dinner.

How would your fill in the blank in the following sentence:

Life is like a ________________.

Box of chocolates?

Bowl of cherries?

Roller coaster?

If you were to Google "life is like a ___________," you would get 13,630,000,000 results. I know because I just did it. To me, life is like a buffet.

Full disclosure: When pitching this piece, it was initially supposed to be: "How to get the most out of your next buffet." But that got me thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic — yes, this is how my brain works.

One of the first casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic was buffets. One of my favorite buffet places — don't judge — was Souplantation, a national chain of soup and salad buffet restaurants that closed when social distancing was the norm. That closure set off a chain reaction of buffet closures, big and small. Seemingly overnight, there wasn't a buffet to be had anywhere.

Obviously, there were much greater losses to grieve, but losing that sense of normalcy from something so innocent as a buffet was a gut punch.

Now that the pandemic is officially over, we're getting our buffets back. That includes my favorite spot for a buffet: a cruise! Yes, the return of buffets and cruises is a sure sign we're getting our lives back. The first time I dropped my mask to go grocery shopping, it was weird. There was still a lingering caution, but I took my lead from the kids at my son's school. They dropped their masks before I did, and it seemed like the pandemic never happened.

So, what does all of this have to do with the buffet? If you embrace my "life is like a buffet" metaphor, then there are rules to follow to help you get the most out of the buffet and out of life. Follow along, if you will.

close up of buffet food

Rule #1: Make a Plan

A buffet is all about choices. The better the buffet, the more options. You might not know that buffet managers put all the starchy cheese items at the front of the line. High-ticket items like prime rib and crab legs are often tucked away farther down the line. They think you'll load up on the filling foods and miss out on the pricey items, and they're right.

That's why when you approach a buffet, you need a plan. Don't pick up a plate until you've walked the entire line to see all the offerings. That way, you know what to target on your first pass.

That works with life, too. If you don't have a plan, you'll fill up with the wrong things. What kind of life plans? All of them.

You need a plan for a career path and a plan for how you're going to raise your family. Most importantly, you need a retirement plan. That's when you get to enjoy life because you've earned it! A well-thought-out life plan provides a foundation for success in life and the buffet. See how this is going to work?

Rule #2: Take Two Plates

Once you have the lay of the land for your first buffet pass, you want two plates. That might seem like a lot, but you're at a buffet — a lot is what you're there for. Having two plates gives you room to gather all the tasty treats you want to try. Don't worry about what other people think. When they return to fill up their second plate, you'll enjoy yours at the table.

In life, taking two plates is about being prepared for any situation. It means building up your savings account for that proverbial rainy day. It also means thinking ahead to take care of the simple things like your car's oil change or swapping out the air filters in your AC ducts. You're thinking ahead and preparing for all contingencies that life can throw at you.

Look at it this way: whenever something breaks, isn't it nice to have someone around with the right tool to fix it? That someone can be you if you have your "plates" ready.

Rule #3: Try Something New

A trip down buffet lane is the perfect opportunity to try something new. You'll pile plenty of your favorites on your plate, but this is a chance to get something you would never order in a restaurant simply because this is the first time you've had it. It could be a piece of grilled halibut or curry.

When you try a new dish at the buffet, you might discover a new item to add to your rotation. Who knows? That unique item could also contain the nutrients you're missing in your diet!

The same thing happens with life. You should try something new every day and not just food. There are thousands of new sites to visit online to engage your mind with brain teasers. There are encyclopedias of knowledge where you can read something new about any topic.

It's not just new Internet discoveries you should seek out.

What place in your neighborhood have you always wanted to try? Go. What movie is on your "got to watch someday" list? Make someday today. New experiences enrich your life, especially in retirement.

Do you want to know the best thing about trying something new? You can share it with someone. How many new things have come into your world because of a friend's recommendation? It's time to return the favor.

Rule #4: Supervise Your Kids

To a kid or grandkid, a buffet is as close to visiting Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory as they get. There are endless amounts of treats and tasty items to devour, but you don't want to hand off the plates to your kids and tell them to "Have at it." That can result in a pyramid of chicken nuggets and fudge brownies!

Supervise your kids in the buffet line. They'll need you to review all the options and nudge them toward the veggies or salad. They can still pick their favorites, but you don't want to lead to a tummy ache.

As parents and grandparents, we must supervise our kids throughout their lives, not just in the buffet line. They need guidance through school, marriage, and raising their kids. From the moment we bring those humans into existence, they're our responsibility, no matter how old they become.

That doesn't mean the kids won't occasionally make the wrong choice. When they do, prop them up, check in with what they learned, and steer them down the right path. It's also a good idea to have some Tums handy: see rule #2.

Rule #5: Don't Eat in Line

A buffet exposes you to familiar food favorites and brand-new taste sensations. The temptation might be to take a sample before adding the item to the plate. Or you might be happy with your choice and want to start nibbling away. Don't do that. It's not good form for your fellow buffet companions. If you end up with something on your plate that you don't care for, you can give it a pass.

How does this rule apply to life? It's another way of saying, "Slow down." You don't need to wolf down your food while standing in the buffet line, and you need to take the time to enjoy life. Yes, this is the "Stop and smell the roses" part of the editorial, but it applies.

Savoring good food is about allowing your taste buds to signal to the brain. If you rush things, your brain might not get the signal. There will undoubtedly be times when you'll be in a hurry to get somewhere, but whenever you feel in a rush, it's time to stop and consider why you're rushing and whether it would make a difference.

When you slow down, you enjoy a lot more that life is bringing your way.

Rule #6: Choose Moderation

Most buffets are all-you-can-eat, but that doesn't mean you have to eat everything. You also don't need large portions of what you select just because it's available for the price of the buffet. Take small portions. Find what you like and return for seconds if you're not full. Or go for dessert.

Moderation is something that your doctor preaches. With moderation comes control over your weight and well-being. Overindulgence always gets us into trouble, whether with our bad cholesterol numbers or spending too much time in the sun without sunscreen.

Rule #7: Be Sure to Tip

A good buffet comes at a reasonable price. It also covers everything from what you eat to what you drink. However, all that delicious food doesn't appear from house elves (ask the grandkids). It's all prepared for by the kitchen staff, and there's a front-of-the-house staff working to keep everything clean. They deserve a tip appropriate for what you pay for the buffet. It's the same if you were sitting in a restaurant with a food server taking care of you.

Tipping is about acknowledging service and thanking those workers for a job well done. That attitude of gratitude should be prevalent in everything you do. Anyone who provides a service should be thanked. Yes, they deserve thanks even if you're paying for that service.

This attitude of gratitude can inspire you to devote time to volunteering. Some folks have struggles worse than whatever you might be going through, and volunteering is a gift that you give to your community. Even serving a few hours a month at a food bank or visiting folks at a retirement community makes a difference. And that gift you think you're giving is a gift you get back tenfold.

Rule #8: Once in a While, Have Dessert First

Remember, back to buffet rule #1. Yeah, you can throw that right out the window — once in a while. That means you can start your buffet dinner with dessert. What? Yes, forget the prime rib and go right for the strawberry cheesecake. There's nothing wrong with mixing things up.

There's also nothing wrong with being spontaneous in life. When your plans are in place and you're ready for contingencies, you can take the day off, gather up the family, and head to the nearest beach, lake, or zoo for an outing. Call a friend you haven't talked to in a while and meet them for coffee. Surprise your partner with bags packed for a weekend road trip. Sounds like fun!

The occasional burst of spontaneity makes life exciting. It's also something that puts smiles on everyone's faces. Admit it; you like being surprised with fun, right?

close up of buffet food

Negative Buffet

Of course, the buffet isn't for everyone. Some folks don't like lining up for food served in chafing dishes. Others are turned off by what they consider to be outright gluttony. That's okay. You'll also find plenty of folks who don't like sushi or spicy foods — no to sushi, yes to spicy for me.

That's what makes life interesting — different points of view. The important thing is to avoid judging. If someone wants to pile their buffet plate with Swedish meatballs and fried okra, have at it.

Professional counselor Craig Lounsbrough got it right when he said, "To judge someone is to say that I have the right to define who they are."

When you give up judging others, life is a lot more relaxing and fulfilling, kind of like a buffet. Isn't that what we all want?

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