Whether you’re on the way to work or have simply run out of time to make something at home, finding a cup of coffee and a nutritious breakfast isn’t hard if you know where to look. Fast food chains are increasingly adding more health-conscious items to the menu that offer great flavor, convenience and nutrition.
Current federal health guidelines put an optimal breakfast at somewhere in the 375-calorie range, but calorie counting alone isn’t always the way to determine a nutritious breakfast. Finding options chock full of fiber, protein, and healthy fats is ideal for fueling the body first thing in the morning. Registered dietitian Stefani Sassos, MS, RD, CDN, Deputy Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab says that making your own breakfast at home is always best, as you control all the ingredients and preparation methods. But with a long day ahead of you — whether it’s work or travel or a looming workout — convenience matters. “Choosing breakfast items that contain a balance of protein and fiber will help you feel satisfied and fuller for longer,” Sassos says.
Sassos and our team of nutrition experts decoded menus and breakfast orders at 10 leading national fast-food chains to find the healthiest options. Here are the healthiest fast-food breakfast options, according to registered dietitians:
Item and menu availability may vary by region, and it’s always best to check with the retailer directly about their breakfast hours — McDonald’s, for example, has eliminated its All-Day Breakfast options at most locations. Some drive-thrus may also have an overlap between the breakfast offerings and the lunch or regular menu, and we’re noting suggestions in case your location operates in this manner.
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Starbucks: Spinach, Feta & Egg White Wrap
Nutrition facts: 290 calories, 8g total fat, 3.5g sat fat, 20mg cholesterol, 840mg sodium, 34g total carb, 3g fiber, 5g total sugars, 20g protein
One of the healthiest chain breakfast options available, this veggie-packed wrap is Sassos’ top choice from Starbucks thanks to its significant protein content and punch of fiber, too. “The protein count is impressive, and I love that you’re still getting satisfying cheesy egg in each bite,” Sassos says. The sodium count is on the higher side, but it’s a significant drop from other vegetarian breakfasts on the menu, including the chain’s Impossible sandwich.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: There’s not a purely vegan breakfast sandwich available on the menu. So if you’re a non-vegan seeking out a plant-forward option for a potential health halo, this wrap is your best bet!
Starbucks: Kale & Portabella Mushroom Sous Vide Bites
Nutrition facts: 230 calories, 14g total fat, 9g sat fat, 180mg cholesterol, 340mg sodium, 11g total carb, 2g fiber, 15g protein
These popular bites do have more cholesterol than the Egg White & Roasted Red Pepper option, but the added cholesterol may be worth the payoff in increased protein and a bit of extra fiber, Sassos says. Either order is a great way to satisfy an early or mid-morning itch to tide you over to lunch. It’s also a low-carb (and gluten-free!) alternative that has a fraction of the sodium of traditional breakfast sandwiches.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: You can enjoy the optional sriracha here and also opt for a side of the avocado spread to add even more fiber into the equation.
Starbucks: Rolled & Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries
When looking for a healthy breakfast option, oatmeal is typically a smart choice. Oatmeal’s health benefits are vast and it’s an option packed with fiber to help keep you fueled and satisfied. This steel-cut oatmeal from Starbucks is hearty and vegan, too. Sassos says that it holds up well to fresh fruit, and the nuts add the perfect crunch.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Reduce the amount of agave syrup sweeteners you’re using from the standard two to one if possible; and try not to add extra brown sugar or coffee-bar options.
McDonald’s: Egg McMuffin
Nutrition facts: 310 calories, 13g total fat, 6g sat fat, 250mg cholesterol, 770mg sodium, 30g total carb, 2g fiber, 3g total sugars, 17g protein
This McD’s classic features a hot egg on a steamy English muffin. But the simple breakfast sandwich also comes packed with 17g of protein, a boon for any breakfast lover, and can be adjusted through McDonald’s ordering app to your liking. While 770mg of sodium is indeed high, Sassos says this sandwich is the best pick nutrition-wise when compared to McDonald’s many breakfast sandwich options.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: If you’re hoping to cut the saturated fat and eliminate over 200mg of sodium, ask for a McMuffin with no cheese. Removing the cheese brings the sandwich to around 250 calories if you’re keeping track with a calorie-counting app.
McDonald’s: Fruit & Maple Oatmeal
Nutrition facts: 320 calories, 4.5g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 5mg cholesterol, 150mg sodium, 64g total carb, 4g fiber, 31g total sugars, 6g protein
In truth, there are limited healthy options at McDonald’s but if it’s the only place around, the oatmeal may be worth considering. Although this pick is high in sugar, it does carry 4g of fiber and 6g of plant-based protein from the oats, plus a considerable dose of iron and potassium. “The oatmeal already is sweetened with brown sugar to start, so don’t add extra sweeteners here,” Sassos suggests.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: If you’d like to halve the sugar here, order your oatmeal without the added cranberry raisin blend. You’ll still enjoy the sweetness from the bowl’s diced apples and brown sugar base.
Taco Bell: Cheesy Toasted Breakfast Burrito, Potato
Nutrition facts (1 burrito): 340 calories, 14g total fat, 3.5g sat fat, 95mg cholesterol, 770mg sodium, 44g total carb, 3g fiber, 3g total sugars, 1g added sugars, 6g protein
There are burrito options at Taco Bell that involve bacon or sausage, but you can get an equal amount of protein (minus additional salt!) by asking for light potatoes on this option and extra eggs, Sassos recommends. Build your custom burrito using the chain’s app — while the cheese sauce only has 30 calories total, you can also nix that if you prefer a cheeseless ‘rito.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Rather than double up on extra cheese, consider ordering a few packets of Taco Bell’s salsa packets which only contain 50mg of sodium without a ton of calories. If you catch your Taco Bell location in between breakfast and lunch hours, Sassos recommends springing for a soft chicken taco “al fresco” — it comes loaded with fresh ingredients and contains a fraction of the calories of this breakfast alternative.
Panera: Avocado, Egg White and Spinach Sandwich
Nutrition facts: 350 cal, 14g total fat, 5g sat fat, 20mg cholesterol, 680mg sodium, 39g total carb, 5g fiber, 5g total sugars, 19g protein
One of our top picks, this balanced choice from Panera is its healthier take on a breakfast sandwich packed with both protein and fiber. The sprouted grain bagel rounds out the 5g of fiber, and egg whites are the base of 19g of protein. Creamy avocado is an added bonus of nourishing healthy fats. If you order this sandwich on the regular, try swapping scrambled eggs in for egg whites every once in a while.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Sassos is a fan of Panera’s Cool Food Meals Line, which features dishes aimed to help fight climate change. These menu items have a smaller carbon footprint than the traditional fare and are often nutritious choices, making them good for both you and the planet.
Panera: Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries
Nutrition facts: 370 cal, 15g total fat, 2g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 150mg sodium, 52g total carb, 9g fiber, 17g total sugars, 8g protein
Steel-cut oatmeal packs in even more nutritional goodness than you may believe, as it’s the least processed of all the options. These whole-grain carbs are sweetened with fresh fruit, but the cinnamon crunch adds in the bulk of the sugar here. The Cool Food Meal bowl touts 9g of fiber to keep you full.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Ask for half the regular amount of cinnamon topping here to reduce the total sugar count. In any case, don’t add extra sugar before you taste it, as it should be quite sweet all on its own.
Dunkin’: Plain Croissant
Nutrition facts: 340 calories, 19g total fat, 8g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 37g total carb, 1g fiber, 5g total sugars, 5g added sugars, 6g protein
Sadly, Dunkin’ no longer offers its veggie egg white omelet sandwich which was a favorite of ours. But if you’re on the hunt for a bakery item and not a full breakfast, stay away from donuts and the chain’s line of muffins, which range up to 600 calories and contain as much as 34g of added sugar. Dunkin’s croissant actually manages to offer 6g of protein and a manageable 5g of added sugar.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Have a sweet tooth and craving a pastry? Ask for one or two old-fashioned Munchkin donut holes, which contain 7g of added sugar or fewer and are a perfect portion-controlled addition to any coffee order.
Burger King: Egg and Cheese Croissantwich
Nutrition facts: 365 calories, 21g total fat, 10g sat fat, 247mg cholesterol, 814mg sodium, 29g total carb, 1g fiber, 4g sugar, 16g protein
BK’s breakfast menu isn’t the most nutritionally robust on this list, but the standard egg and cheese breakfast sandwich (16g of protein!) is likely the best option if you find yourself in the drive-thru. The biscuit sandwiches contain much higher sodium counts, so stick to Croissantwiches if possible.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Our registered dietitians say to skip sides like juice or hash browns to keep added sugar and sodium counts in control; black coffee is best here.
Chick-fil-A: Egg White Grill
Nutrition facts: 290 calories, 8g total fat, 3.5g sat fat, 60mg cholesterol, 980mg sodium, 30g total carb, 1g fiber, 2g sugar, 26g protein
With nearly 30g of protein in one sandwich, what’s not to love? The sodium count on this breakfast sandwich is high, Sassos says, but you can reduce it by modifying the order with other options at CFA. Swapping the American cheese for colby jack or pepper jack will cut the sodium by 90mg. If you regularly visit the chain for breakfast, you can shake up your routine with a Greek Yogurt Parfait cup if you’d like.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Since the calories on this sandwich are under 300, you can and should consider adding a fruit cup on the side (added fiber is great!).
Chick-fil-A: Greek Yogurt Parfait
Nutrition facts: 240 calories, 8g total fat, 3.5g sat fat, 20mg cholesterol, 85mg sodium, 31g total carb, 1g fiber, 25g total sugar, 12g protein
Cookie crumbs for breakfast? Yes, you heard that right. This Greek Yogurt Parfait comes with one of two topping options, granola or cookie crumbs. One might presume that the granola would be the healthier choice, but Sassos points out that the cookie crumb parfait actually has fewer calories, fat, carbs and sugar than the granola option. You’ll get a dose of protein and calcium from the Greek yogurt and antioxidants from the berries.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Although granola can pack in tons of nutritious ingredients, not all options are considered healthy granola picks. Always be sure to take a look at the ingredient list and nutrition facts label, zoning in on added sugars.
Wendy’s: Bacon, Egg & Swiss Croissant
Nutrition facts: 410 calories, 23g total fat, 11g sat fat, 230mg cholesterol, 900mg sodium, 34g total carb, 1g fiber, 6g total sugar, 18g protein
If you’re pressed for a breakfast sandwich at Wendy’s, the bacon and swiss option is one of the only offerings under 1,000mg of sodium. While we wouldn’t describe this sandwich as particularly healthy, it does have the least saturated fat of all breakfast sandwiches on the menu. Wendy’s lunch menu definitely has a nutritious upgrade, with a variety of fresh-made salads and grilled chicken sandwiches.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: If you’re open to it, try nixing the cheese to lower calories and saturated fat even further.
Subway: Veggie Delite Wrap
Nutrition Facts: 330 calories, 8g total fat, 1g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 600mg sodium, 57g total carb, 4g fiber, 6g total sugars, 1g added sugar, 10g protein
Technically, you can order any Subway sandwich at the time your local restaurant opens — they’ll have access to the full suite of toppings and fillings. We love the idea of starting your day with a veggie-filled wrap (which contains considerably fewer refined carbs than the bread options). You’ll get a filling 10g of protein here plus 4g of fiber.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Rather than adding cheese, consider incorporating a generous swipe of the chain’s guacamole, which will add even more fiber.
Sonic: Jr. Sausage, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Burrito
Nutrition facts: 290 calories, 17g total fat, 7g sat fat, 145mg cholesterol, 820mg sodium, 22g total carb, 1g fiber, 12g protein
Sonic’s breakfast options often contain high saturated fat counts and exorbitant sodium levels for single items. Sassos says a smart trick is to choose one of the “junior” breakfast items to avoid empty calories and carbs. You can choose to remove the meat from this wrap, which can improve the nutritional value of this grab-and-go option overall.
Nutrition Lab Pro Tip: Consider adding jalapeño or tomato into the mix, as they’re virtually calorie-free additions that can help elevate Sonic’s freshness factor.
Making your own well-balanced breakfast at home is best, but you can find convenient and nutritious options at many fast-food chains when you’re in a pinch.
Try to go for breakfast bites that offer a balance of protein, fiber and healthy fats. Stay mindful of sodium and saturated fat counts, especially when it comes to some of the popular breakfast sandwiches. Oatmeal can be a safe choice, but try not to go overboard on the sugary toppings.
Looking for more healthy breakfast content and recipe inspiration? Check out our ultimate breakfast guide here.
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