As conventional wisdom has it, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But the morning is also a rushed time, full of family responsibilities and trying to get out the door on time, at which point your local fast food drive-thru window starts to feel like a great option.
But fast food for breakfast means you’re starting your day off on a nutritionally terrible foot, right? Not necessarily. “Contrary to popular belief, you can eat reasonably well at a quick-service restaurant,” says Christine M. Palumbo, RDN, FAND, and nutrition consultant from Naperville, Illinois. “The amount of calories, sodium, fat, and sugar you consume are based on the choices you make. I will be traveling several times this summer and will eat at fast-food restaurants. The key is to avoid foods with descriptions as ‘double; ‘triple,’ and ‘meal deal.’”
Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN and author of California Vegan notes that portion size is everything when it comes to choosing from a fast-food breakfast menu. “Some fast-food breakfasts provide two meals worth of calories or more,” she says. “You can share your portion with a friend.”
All this to say, if you just can’t help yourself and eat a little too much of that cheesy, eggy goodness, it’s not the end of the world. “You have the rest of the day to get back on track,” says Palumbo. “Double up your veggies by eating a large salad with lunch or dinner, and grab a few pieces of fruit for snacks and for your dessert to get those food groups in. Both veggies and fruit are good sources of potassium, which helps balance out any extra sodium you may have consumed earlier in the day.”
Also, “let hunger be your guide,” suggests Christy Brissette, MS, RD, and owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition. “You might not be as hungry as you usually are at your next meal if you’ve eaten something heavier. Listen to your body on this one.”
Now that you know the occasional fast food meal won’t totally derail your diet, what are the healthiest meals to order when you do swing by the drive-thru window? We found the best nutritionist-approved picks at fast-food chains across the U.S. Here are the ones you should know about.
Healthy fast food breakfast
Taco Bell: Grilled Breakfast Burrito
In addition to being a healthier pick, you should feel free to add all the hot sauce you want. “All of the sauces Taco Bell offer—diablo, fire sauce, hot sauce and mild sauce—are so low in calories they are considered to be calorie-free, and they’re also low in sodium,” says Palumbo.
- Calories: 350
- Total Carbs: 36g
- Total Fat: 16g
- Sodium: 870mg
Related: 29 Healthy Fast Food Recipes That Are Skinny Riffs of the Classics
McDonald’s: Egg McMuffin
“This is my go-to item,” says Palumbo. “It’s belly-filling and provides the antioxidants in the egg yolk. Remove the cheese for even fewer calories, grams of fat and sodium.”
- Nutrition facts:
- Calories: 310
- Total Carbs: 30g
- Saturated Fat: 13g
- Sodium: 770mg
McDonald’s: Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
This one is Palmer’s favorite healthy on-the-go breakfast. “Many fast food places also offer hot oatmeal cups that you can get with plant-based milk or dairy milk, fruit, and nuts. That’s a balanced breakfast filled with whole grains, protein, fiber, nutrients, and healthy fats,” she says.
- Calories: 320
- Total Carbs: 64g
- Total Fat: 4.5g
- Sodium: 150 mg
Panera: Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries and Pecans
“When I get oatmeal out, I’ll ask for no sugar to be added, or just toss the sugar packet that comes with it,” says Brissette.
- Calories: 340
- Total Carbs: 51g
- Total Fat: 14g
- Sodium: 160mg
Starbucks: Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Wrap
“Eggs on a whole grain wrap or English muffin with spinach or tomato is my go-to,” says Brissette.
- Calories: 290
- Total Carbs: 340g
- Total Fat: 8g
- Sodium: 840mg
Related: Best Copycat Olive Garden Recipes
Chick-fil-A: Greek Yogurt Parfait
“I’ll grab a Greek yogurt to get some protein,” says Brissette.
- Calories: 270
- Total Carbs: 36g
- Total fat: 9g
- Sodium: 80mg
Wendy’s: Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit
“For this one, you can remove the cheese to save fat, sodium and calories but still get all the yumminess of bacon,” suggests Palumbo.
- Calories: 420
- Total Carbs: 28g
- Total Fat: 27g
- Sodium: 1,240mg
Subway: 6″ Breakfast Flatbread—Egg White with Cheese & Avocado
“I look for eggs for protein along with some whole grains and veggies for filling fiber and disease-preventing phytochemicals,” says Brissette.
- Calories: 200
- Total Carbs: 23g
- Total Fat: 8g
- Sodium: 490mg
Related: 30 Habits Healthy People Live By, Because There’s More to It Than Diet and Exercise
Dunkin’ Donuts: Egg and Cheese Wake Up Wrap
The fact that this yummy option omits meat is great, according to Palmer. “Things like sausage, bacon, or ham can have the most saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.”
- Calories: 180
- Total Carbs: 14g
- Total Fat: 10g
- Sodium: 470mg
Next up, here are the very best healthy fast food options at every chain.