America's Healthiest Fast-Food Breakfasts
Times have changed
Used to be, when you grabbed breakfast on the go, it was a diet disaster: nothing but fat-and-calorie bombs like butter-soaked croissants and jumbo muffins. Now, it’s much easier to do right by your body: Fast-food legends like McDonald’s and IHOP, as well as newbies like Cosi and Panera Bread, offer surprisingly healthy options that are filling, light, and much easier on your arteries.
The key to finding a healthy breakfast, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, is finding a good-for-you mix of complex carbs (like whole grains), protein, and healthy fats to keep you satisfied. So with that in mind, we asked our team of experts to choose and rank the best a.m. grub. Here, the standouts—and why each one made the cut.
No. 1 Spinach Florentine Breakfast Wrap (Cosi)
"When you wake up, your body hasn’t had fuel for about 10 to 12 hours," says Dr. Gerbstadt, one of our judges. So this standout refuels you and keeps you satisfied so you don’t overnosh the rest of the day. "With most other breakfasts, you would need to add another food to get this much protein," Dr. Gerbstadt explains. "Plus, the fiber content is much higher than you’d usually find in such a high-protein meal."
Calories 334; Fat 21g (sat 8g); Protein 24g; Carbohydrate 21g; Fiber 11g; Sodium 516mg
Room for improvement: The fat content is on the high side (since the wrap is made with eggs), so eat low-fat fare throughout the day—or split this hearty pick with a friend.
No. 2 Protein Artisan Snack Plate (Starbucks)
This Starbucks sampler scores high for having all the components of an ultra-satisfying breakfast—protein, fiber, whole grains, and fresh produce, says panelist Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, Senior Food and Nutrition Editor at Health. You get to nibble on yummy fare—hard-boiled egg, cheddar and apple slices, multigrain muesli bread, grapes, and honey peanut butter spread—in the right portions, Largeman-Roth explains.
Calories 370; Fat 19g (sat 6g); Protein 13g; Carbohydrate 36g; Fiber 4g; Sodium 470mg
Room for improvement: Along with all that protein and fiber, you get 19 grams of fat. Tip: Eat half of either the honey peanut butter spread or the cheese.
No. 3 Berry Topper Ideal Meal (Jamba Juice)
"It really is an ideal meal because it meets all of your nutrient needs," judge and nutrition expert Robin Miller says. It’s made with yogurt and soy milk, great sources of calcium and vitamin D—two nutrients women often lack. Also blended in are vitamin C–packed strawberries, blueberries, and bananas. And the organic pumpkin flaxseed granola gives you a dose of healthy fats for heart health.
Calories 300; Fat 4.5g (sat 0.5g); Protein 9g; Carbohydrate 59g; Fiber 7g; Sodium 85mg (for 12 ounces)
Room for improvement: Stick to the small (12-ounce) size—larger serving sizes load on the calories.
No. 4 Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal (Au Bon Pain)
Oatmeal is a favorite among dietitians because it contains two kinds of fiber: the insoluble kind, which helps prevent constipation, and the soluble type, which digests slowly to help regulate blood sugar. "Oatmeal is more filling than many other cereals," Dr. Gerbstadt explains. Au Bon Pain’s oatmeal edged past the McDonald’s version because it has less saturated fat and sodium, plus more protein and fiber.
Calories 280; Fat 4g (sat 1g); Protein 8g; Carbohydrate 56g; Fiber 7g; Sodium 10mg
Room for improvement: The protein content is a bit low: Make it more filling by eating a few nuts or yogurt on the side.
No. 5 Scrambled Egg Whites, Chicken Sausage, and Fruit (Denny’s)
Yes, you can have eggs and sausage! But pass over the Grand Slam menu and look for these better-for-you breakfast "sides" to design your own morning meal. "This is a really well-rounded breakfast," Largeman-Roth says. It’s not too high in sodium, either; a surprise for a sausage breakfast, she says.
Calories 230; Fat 9g (sat 0g); Protein 19g; Carbohydrate 19g; Fiber 3g; Sodium 447mg
Room for improvement: Order a piece of whole-grain toast (without butter or margarine) to increase the fiber factor, adding about 100 more calories.
No. 6 Fruit & Maple Oatmeal (McDonald’s)
The judges praised McDonald’s for adding this good-for-you pick with fresh fruit to its menu. This tasty treat includes diced green and red apples, dried cranberries, raisins, a touch of cream, and brown sugar. Plus oatmeal’s soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and control blood sugar, helping to fight off diabetes, Largeman-Roth says.
Calories 260; Fat 4.5g (sat 1.5g); Protein 7g; Carbohydrate 48g; Fiber 5g; Sodium 115mg (for oatmeal without brown sugar)
Room for improvement: Watching calories? Order it without the brown sugar to save 30 calories.
No. 7 Simple & Fit Veggie Omelette (IHOP)
A veggie omelette is a great way to sneak more nutrient- and fiber-rich produce into your power breakfast, Miller says. In this case you get a flavor-fest of green peppers, mushrooms, onions, and oven-roasted tomatoes. "And the side of fruit adds a nice (sweet) touch," she says.
Calories 320; Fat 10g (sat 1g); Protein 21g; Carbohydrate 40g; Fiber 8g; Sodium 420mg
Room for improvement: This omelette is made with "egg substitute" (which contains mostly egg whites); if you prefer the real thing, ask your server to substitute egg whites instead.
No. 8 Western Egg White & Cheese Muffin Melt (Subway)
For just 160 calories, this melt with egg whites, Black Forest ham, green peppers, American and Monterey Jack cheeses, and red onion stacked on an English muffin lets you eat light without feeling even a little bit deprived. Don’t like peppers or onions? Order your melt with fresh tomatoes and spinach instead. If you want something more substantial, round out your meal with Subway’s packaged apple slices or yogurt.
Calories 160; Fat 4g (sat 1.5g); Protein 15g; Carbohydrate 19g; Fiber 5g; Sodium 680mg
Room for improvement: This pick didn’t show up higher on our list because the sodium count is high.
No. 9 Egg White Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wrap (Dunkin’ Donuts)
No need to deprive yourself if you’re watching calories and fat: The reduced-fat cheddar cheese, egg whites, spinach, and turkey sausage in this winner from Dunkin’ Donuts make this a healthy indulgence.
Calories 150; Fat 5g (sat 2.5g); Protein 11g; Carbohydrate 14g; Fiber 1g; Sodium 400mg
Room for improvement: This pick tastes rich, but it’s small, so it may not keep you full for as long as the egg options higher on our list, Largeman-Roth explains. It’s also low in filling fiber, so pair it with a piece of fruit for more fuel.
No. 10 Breakfast Power Sandwich (Panera Bread)
This egg, Vermont white cheddar, and smoked lean ham sandwich serves up as much protein as a 3 1/2-ounce fish fillet, Dr. Gerbstadt says. Also praiseworthy, she adds, is Panera’s whole-grain bread. Made of rye, spelt, amaranth, and flax, it’s brimming with good-for-you nutrients like vitamin B2, niacin, manganese, iron, magnesium, and selenium.
Calories 330; Fat 14g (sat 6g); Protein 22g; Carbohydrate 31g; Fiber 4g; Sodium 830mg.
Room for improvement: "This sandwich has a lot of sodium," Largeman-Roth notes. But you can slash 300 milligrams simply by ordering it without the smoked ham.
Best quick at-home picks
No. 1 Kashi Golden Goodness Cereal
This brand-new blend of crispy flakes and clusters give you almost a full day’s serving of whole grains in one bowl—impressive, Dr. Gerbstadt says. Also exceptional: One serving has as much protein as a large egg.
Calories 210; Fat 1.5g; Protein 6g; Carbohydrate 49g; Fiber 5g; Sodium 180mg (for a 1 1/4-cup serving)
No. 2 Stonyfield Farm Organic 2% Greek Yogurt
"I’m so thrilled that there’s now an organic 2% Greek yogurt," Largeman-Roth says. "Low-fat yogurt is more satisfying than fat-free varieties, and the fat will also help you better absorb the fat-soluble vitamin D." Eat it solo or mix with 1/4 cup of granola and a small, sliced banana for a heartier meal.
Calories 180; Fat 3.5g (sat 2g); Protein 10g; Carbohydrate 27g; Fiber 0g; Sodium 160mg (for 6-ounce cherry flavor)
No. 3 Eggo Fiber Plus Calcium Buttermilk Waffles
"I love the 9 grams of fiber for just 160 calories," Miller says. Raise the protein in a waffle breakfast by smearing them with a tablespoon of peanut butter instead of sugary syrup.
Calories 160; Fat 6g (sat 1.5g); Protein 3g; Carbohydrate 29g; Fiber 9g; Sodium 390mg (for 2 waffles)
Fast-food breakfasts to skip
BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter
Scrambled eggs, crispy hash browns, sausage, biscuit, and three pancakes with syrup (Burger King)
Calories 1,310; Fat 72g (sat 26g, trans 1g); Sodium 2490mg
Yes, you read that right: 1,310 calories and 72 grams of fat.
Double Chocolate Chunk Muffin (Au Bon Pain)
Calories 620; Fat 25g (sat 8g); Sodium 540mg
This muffin has more calories than two Egg McMuffins.