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Prairie Fare: Don't let a buffet promote a 'food coma'

This broccoli cheese soup is a tasty, easy-to-make recipe. (NDSU photo)

"Are you in a food coma, Julie?" my friend asked.

I wasn't feeling too well. I felt as though I had eaten two Thanksgiving-sized meals in one sitting.

While at a conference, we tried a buffet restaurant that featured skewers of 14 kinds of meat and seafood served at your table. It also had an enormous buffet with dozens of salads and side dishes.

I started by tasting about 15 kinds of food from the buffet, then I had at least 10 kinds of meat. I think the plate of oysters nearly did me in. I don't even like oysters.

After our hearty meal, we walked very fast to get to our next destination. You probably learned that you should take a break after eating before you swim. I am not sure if that holds true. My experience tells me, "Don't run about 3 miles on pavement after eating 5 pounds of food at a buffet."

"I probably shouldn't have trotted you like a horse," my friend said.

I take responsibility for my overindulgence. No one was spoon-feeding me. I probably should have exercised some self-restraint in the restaurant.

In fact, think twice before eating at too many buffets if your goal is weight maintenance. We were at a conference, and nearly every breakfast, lunch and dinner was set up as a buffet.

Each time, I checked out the choices on the buffet line before I took a plate. Then the temptations got the best of me.

If I consumed a "buffet diet" every day, I quickly could become like one of the overfed rats in a published study. Rats often are used as "models" for humans in obesity trials because they share some of our patterns of regulating our appetite.

Psychologists fed two groups of rats who were of the same genetic makeup one of two diets. Both groups of rats received a "rat chow" that met all of their nutritional needs. One group of rats (the "cafeteria group") also had ongoing access to a buffet with a wide variety of pies, cookies and cakes.

I bet you can guess what happened. Yes, they gained weight, but the rats also lost motivation to do anything. They did not respond in usual ways to food. They were content to lie around and eat cookies and pies continuously.

Thank heavens our brains are much larger than those of rats. If you find yourself at a buffet and you don't like that "food coma" kind of feeling, try these strategies. I know I will next time.

• Have a small snack before you go to a buffet. Think of it like going to a holiday party and not arriving at the party ravenously hungry.

• Survey the buffet line and pick out what you really want to taste. Have a small amount of your favorites and savor each bit.

• Fill your first plate with vegetables, fruit and a moderate amount of lean protein. Choose the whole-grain breads.

• Slow down while you eat. Remember, your brain and your stomach need to communicate with each other. Your brain can take 20 minutes to know you are full.

• If all the buffet line food is just too tempting, consider ordering a regular meal from the menu instead of going through the buffet.

After all my overindulgence, I needed to pare down my meals. Here's a tasty soup recipe that I made with my teenage daughter when I returned from my trip. As noted, you can omit the salt if desired.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup carrots, sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt (or less)

3 cups chicken broth, low-sodium

2 cups nonfat milk

4 teaspoons cornstarch

5 cups broccoli florets

2 cups cheddar cheese, finely shredded

¼ teaspoon white pepper

Melt butter in 4-quart pot. Add onion and carrots; cook on medium heat until the onion is translucent (about 4 minutes). Add flour and salt; stir well.

In a separate bowl, use a whisk to mix together broth, milk and cornstarch. Add broth mixture to onion mixture and cook while stirring, over medium heat, until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes).

Add broccoli and white pepper; cook until broccoli is tender-crisp (about 5 minutes). Stir in cheese and heat until the cheese melts.

Makes 8 servings. Each serving has 210 calories, 13 grams (g) fat, 11 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 750 milligrams (mg) sodium. If you omit the added salt, the amount of sodium per serving drops to 460 mg.

Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the NDSU Extension Service

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