Looking for a healthy breakfast when eating out? Here are our dietitian's favorite options

How to find a healthy breakfast when eating out

I know that people are busy and sometimes run out the door hungry and empty handed yet want something hot to eat. Given that scenario, it is good to be aware of healthier choices from fast food places, especially if you are trying to lose weight. It can definitely be challenging to find a healthy breakfast when eating out. I picked hot breakfast items from major fast food chains based in the U.S. Although other meal items could work just fine for breakfast, they might not be available at breakfast so I excluded them from this list.

Components of a healthy breakfast

To come up with a list of "healthier" breakfast items, my targets were:

  • 400 or fewer calories
  • < 750 mg sodium
  • ≤ 4.5 grams saturated fat
  • 0 grams trans fats
  • 3 grams or more fiber
  • 7 grams or more protein

It was very difficult to meet all of those targets from a single fast food breakfast item so I relaxed my requirement for fiber or protein so that I could actually have a list and not 1-2 items. The plain oatmeal items were often only 4-5 grams of protein and the breakfast sandwiches typically contained only 1 g of fiber unless a whole grain option was available. I also tried to avoid items that contained processed red meat. Unfortunately, added sugars is not required to be listed so I couldn't include this as a limit.

The healthier choices (or the "Not as unhealthy as the "others" list)

This list is in alphabetical order by fast food chain name. You can see complete nutrition information for each item by tapping the link if there is one. Note that not all items might be considered "healthy" compared to items you make at home. However, compared to other fast food selections, these were decent choices when looking for a healthy breakfast when eating out.

Burger King
No breakfast items met criteria.

Dairy Queen
No breakfast items met criteria.

Dunkin Donuts
DDSmart Oatmeal
DDSmart Wake-up Wraps
DDSmart Egg White Sandwich

McDonald's
Fruit N Yogurt Parfait*
Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

Starbucks
Classic Oatmeal
Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal*
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Sandwich
Fresh Blueberries & Honey Greek Yogurt Parfait*
Mango & Coconut Yogurt Bowl*

Subway
No Breakfast items met criteria

Taco Bell
Breakfast Soft Taco Egg & Cheese
Mini Skillet Bowl

Wendy's
No breakfast menu available

* Item a bit high in total sugars.

Summary

I originally wrote this post in 2012 and then updated it in 2019. I was surprised that despite more fast food chains adding breakfast items, the list of healthier items didn't grow by much. In fact, a few healthier items were removed from menus. Given that the majority of Americans are now overweight and about ⅓ of us eat at least one fast food meal a day, it would be great to see healthier breakfast items.

A word of caution - don't ruin your better breakfast food choice with a high calorie drink or side. A plain unsweetened drink will be lowest in calories. If you like the sweetened coffee drinks, choose nonfat and sugar-free to help limit calories and added sugars.

Tip: If your nutrient targets are very different than the ones used for this post, then you will want to make your own list for a healthy breakfast when eating out. The links below might be helpful.

Fast Food Chain Nutrition Links

Originally published on 3 April 12,
Updated: 8 November 2019

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

Tags:

Dining Out/Fast Food Meal Planning & Diets/Breakfast

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