Nutritionists reveal exactly what they order at Starbucks, Panera, Dunkin’ Donuts, and other popular breakfast spots.
We’ve recently learned two things about breakfast: First, more Americans have been eating breakfast since 2010. And second, more quick-service restaurants than ever are serving it.
So it’s not surprising then that nearly one-third of all morning meals are now consumed on the go, according to statistics from the NPD Group.
What is surprising is that some of those to-go orders may be healthier than your homemade alternative, especially if you’re a fan of sugary cereals, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, or any of these six gut-busting breakfast foods.
That’s why even nutrition experts turn to fast food and fast casual chains for a grab-and-go bite sometimes. And when they do, here’s exactly what they order.
What to Order at Starbucks
1. Spinach, Feta, and Egg Wrap with Fruit
“This is my go-to breakfast at Starbucks,” says Cordialis Msora-Kasago, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Although the wrap runs higher in sodium at 830 milligrams, it’s friendly on the waistline at 290 calories and high in protein at 19 grams,” she says.
Plus, this wrap contains the most fiber of any breakfast sandwich on the menu, with 6 belly-filling grams. You can eat it alone or pair with fruit, like Msora-Kasago does.
“Spinach provides an important dose of iron, a nutrient that’s best absorbed when paired with immune-boosting vitamin C from a piece of fresh fruit or Starbucks Seasonal Fruit Blend,” she says.
2. Classic Oatmeal with Fruit and Nuts
“Oatmeal with fruit and nuts is a perfect plant-based meal to get me going when I’m on the road,” says Sharon Palmer, R.D., author of The Plant-Powered Diet. “It’s low in sugar and high in fiber (4 grams), which is important for satiety, heart health, and digestion,” she says. Plus, this morning meal comes in at less than 200 calories.
3. Eggs and Cheese Protein Box
In addition to containing less than 550 milligrams of sodium per serving, this box provides a whopping 23 grams of protein, Msora-Kasago says.
“I especially love that each box contains a serving of fruit, which helps me meet the recommended minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables per day while soothing a sweet tooth that may have otherwise been satisfied with sugary foods like candy or cookies.”
4. Sous Vide Egg Bites: Egg White and Red Pepper
“With 170 calories and 13 grams of protein, these really help keep me full at the start of my day,” says Toby Amidor, R.D., author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners.
They’re also incredibly easy to eat on the go—without risk of making a mess.
What to Order at Panera
5. Custom Egg Sandwich
“What I especially love about Panera egg sandwiches is that they are made-to-order from 100-percent whole eggs,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet.
“My pick is one egg over easy, avocado, spinach, and tomato on a sprouted grain bagel flat,” Gans says. “This sandwich typically comes with egg whites and cheese, but I prefer to include the nutrient-rich yolk and lose the cheese.”
6. Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa, and Honey
“My go-to order at Panera is steel-cut oats topped with sliced toasted almonds, quinoa, ground cinnamon, and honey,” Amidor says. “With 300 calories and 8 grams each of fiber and protein, steel-cut oats hit the spot and keep me satisfied on busy mornings.”
7. Avocado, Egg White, and Spinach Bagel Flat Bowl
“This is normally a sprouted grain bagel flat sandwich, but I encourage clients to make it a bowl—I do it all the time at Panera,” says Yasi Ansari, R.D.N., a medical nutritional therapist and sports dietitian based in Los Angeles.
“I ask for double the veggies, egg whites, and no bagel flat, which makes this meal rich in lean protein, veggies, vitamins, iron, and heart-healthy fats,” she says.
What to Order at Au Bon Pain
8. Bon to Go Hard-Boiled Eggs and Fruit Cup
It’s hard to beat this basic breakfast combo when you’re on the go. “Both are low in calories, and the protein in the eggs and fiber in the fruit will help keep you satiated throughout the morning,” says Ryan Maciel, R.D.N., a dietitian based in Boston.
9. Custom Egg Sandwich on a Skinny Wheat Bagel
“At Au Bon Pain, I like to individualize my breakfast order,” Gans says. “Two eggs, avocado, and tomato on a skinny wheat bagel is my go-to. It’s just the right combination of protein, healthy fat, and carbs to keep me full until lunchtime.
“Also,” she adds, “it’s hard to find a breakfast sandwich that provides 9 grams of heart-healthy fiber like this one.”
What to Order at Dunkin’ Donuts
10. Veggie Egg White Sandwich
This breakfast sandwich is only 310 calories and provides 15 grams of protein, which will keep you satisfied for hours, Maciel says.
Just be sure to watch your sodium intake the rest of day. This order delivers 730 milligrams, which is about one-third of your daily recommended limit of 2,300 milligrams, according to the American Heart Association.
11. Wake-Up Wrap
While many items on Dunkin’s menu are sugar bombs, this pick comes with just 1 gram of sugar and 180 calories. “It’s easily the best available option if you need a snack to hold you over,” Maciel says.
12. Multigrain Bagel
If you’re craving carbs, this multigrain bagel is a surprisingly smart pick, with 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and a spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“The combo of protein and fiber will help you avoid needing to snack on something within one or two hours of breakfast.”
What to Order at McDonald’s
13. Egg White Delight McMuffin
If you haven’t been to McDonald’s lately, you might be surprised by the number of slightly different McMuffins on the menu. This one is the lowest in fat (10 grams), cholesterol (40 milligrams), and sodium (690 milligrams) of all the options, Valdez says. Plus, it’s high in protein (18 grams) for just 280 total calories.
A classic Egg McMuffin has only 300 calories and 12 grams of fat—not a huge difference—but it also delivers 245 milligrams of cholesterol and 750 milligrams of sodium. That’s why Valdez opts for the Egg White Delight.
14. Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
This oatmeal has 310 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 5 grams of fiber, making it a great breakfast option, Msora-Kasago says. “I skip the brown sugar and use only half of the raisins and Craisins, which add some wonderful taste, texture, and color.”
If you like your oatmeal moist, get a 1 percent low-fat milk jug on the side, Msora-Kasago suggests. “I pour some of the milk over the oatmeal and chug the rest to complete my meal with some protein and calcium.”
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Photos: George Karabotsos.