I find the question “what’s the healthiest fast food breakfast sandwich” often asked, although many don’t realize it. Fast food breakfast sandwiches have grown in popularity over time and are now considered a staple menu item at most establishments. Given that consumers have an array of options to choose from, I decided to take a closer look at which items are best. The result is this article reviewing some of the more popular fast food breakfast sandwiches and determining what’s the healthiest among them all.
What Fast Food Is The Healthiest?
Any place that offers options that aren’t deep fried and overly processed makes for a healthy(ish) fast food restaurant. For so long we’ve associated fast food places with chicken nuggets and french fries but there is a noticeable shift occurring. Which is great news! Notice how you can get grilled chicken nuggets vs. fried chicken nuggets at Wendy’s?
Chipotle is a more modern addition to the fast-food scene and it definitely reflects a more health-conscious America. In fact, Taco Bell is adjusting its menu to include healthier Mexican options as well (perhaps in response to the new competition?).
But what about for breakfast? According to nutrition experts, Panera Bread is the healthiest fast-food chain in America. And wouldn’t you know, three of their breakfast meals are on my list below!
This is based on the following criteria:
- A wide selection of healthy options with healthy food preparations
- A balance between the 3 important macros (protein, carbs, and healthy fats)
- A reasonable amount of sodium in their main dishes
Can You Eat Out And Still Be Healthy?
Yes, you can eat out in restaurants (and even fast-food chains) and still be healthy. It may not feel super easy at first and that’s not unusual. Thing is, unhealthy processed foods are often addicting so many people find it challenging to shift to healthier choices.
I believe that this is where education comes in so I’m happy to address this topic throughout my blog.
Here are some tips I’ve shared (in a previous post) to help you stick to your clean-approved diet while outside:
- Scan the menu and look for healthy keywords such as “grilled,” “steamed,” or “baked.”
- Go for Thai, Greek, Indian cuisines instead of Mexican, Italian or Chinese (It’s easier to eat healthy with their ingredients and variety of dishes.)
- Don’t be afraid to ask about how a meal is prepared.
- Order one dessert for the whole table
- Skip the fancy sugary drinks (If you need to order alcohol, go for a glass of wine, a light beer, a vodka and tonic, or a simple martini.)
- Drink water throughout your meal
Healthiest Fast Food Breakfast Sandwiches
When you survey the fast food breakfast landscape, you’ll notice that much of it looks pretty much the same.
Beige buns and biscuits, almost-yellow eggs, rust-colored bacon, clay-hued sausage patties—this monochromatic palette also reflects the nutrition of many fast food breakfasts. Which is to say, there’s not much to get excited about. No real vegetables. No actual substance. Just lots and lots of boring.
But there are exceptions to the norm. There’s even excitement—if you know where to look—and also some hearty, gut-filling options that offer a decent amount of good nutrition.
As a general rule, at any meal, you want to eat at least 30 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber. That amount of protein will help you build and maintain muscle, as well as help to fill you up. That amount of fiber will help you stay full until your next meal. At breakfast, that can be challenging—and when considering a fast food breakfast that can feel impossible.
After scouring the menus of the nation’s most popular fast food chains, there seem to be at least seven great options if you’re looking for a decent breakfast on the go.
Are these healthy(ish) breakfast sandwiches the ideal breakfast? Would they offer the same nutrition as a three-egg, vegetable-loaded, home-cooked frittata? No. But not everyone has time every morning for a three-egg, vegetable-loaded, home-cooked frittata.
So when you don’t, here’s what to do.
Panera Chipotle Chicken, Scrambled Egg & Avocado Wrap
This roll-up is a solid day starter. Not only does it contain an impressive amount of protein and a decent amount of fiber, but it features something most other fast-food breakfast sandwiches do not: actual vegetables. The avocado is nice, but don’t overlook the spicy-sweet peppadew peppers.
Nutrition per wrap: 450 calories, 29g protein, 32g carbs (4g fiber), 25g fat
Starbucks Bacon, Sausage & Egg Wrap
Eggs, sausage, and bacon form a triple-threat of protein while potatoes help add a little fiber. The fiber count is a little low, so throw in a fruit cup side order to tack on four more grams.
Per wrap: 650 calories, 27g protein, 57g carbs (3g fiber), 33g fat
Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill
Yes, there’s a big honkin’ grilled chicken on this sandwich (and, hey, at least it’s not one of Chick-fil-A’s many fried chicken options). But that’s what makes it so great—lean protein! It doesn’t contain any vegetables, so, same here, you’ll want to order a side of fruit for the fiber.
Per sandwich: 290 calories, 27g protein, 31g carbs (2g fiber), 7g fat
Dunkin Donuts Power Breakfast Sandwich
This slender sandwich is more formidable than it looks in terms of protein and fiber. As long as you’re not washing this down with one of Dunkin’s sugar-heavy coffee drinks, you’ve laying a good foundation for the day.
Per sandwich: 420 calories, 25g protein, 28g carbs (5g fiber), 23g fat
Taco Bell Grande Toasted Breakfast Burrito Steak
Steak, eggs, and cheese provide the protein. Tomatoes and potatoes give you a little produce—add some guacamole for another layer.
Per burrito: 560 calories, 27g protein, 50g carbs (4g fiber), 28g fat
What Is The Healthiest Fast Food Breakfast?
I’ve rounded up 6 of the healthiest fast-food breakfasts that also deliver a lot of flavor. Whether you’re looking for something with greens, something light, or something protein-packed, there’s an option for ya.
1. Jamba Juice’s Vanilla Blue Sky Bowl
When I first saw the color, I was like, “Beautiful!” But then I worried it must use weird food coloring. That is actually not the case, folks! The blue color comes from blue spirulina, a very healthy cyanobacterium. Can I just say that I love this trend of using natural ingredients to deliver interesting colors?
The smoothie part of it is made from banana, pineapple, almond milk, and vanilla coconut milk. So, it already sounds like something I would make at home. A good sign.
Another good sign? No refined sugar! Jamba sweetens this bowl with honey. You can also “boost” it with healthful items like Greek yogurt, whey protein, and matcha (if you’d like a little green with your blue).
*Do keep in mind that sugar is listed at 33g, mostly from the fruit. You could consider getting it without the honey.
Vanilla Blue Sky Bowl
Serving Size 1 bowl (384 g)
Fat: 9 g
Protein: 6 g
Carbs: 62 g
Fiber: 8 g
Sodium: 85 mg (for 12 ounces)
2. Panera Bread’s Greek Yogurt With Mixed Berries Parfait
Greek yogurt will always grab my attention (I write about its many virtues here) so that’s likely why this parfait made it to #2. The ingredients also include honey, maple butter pecan granola, whole grain oats, and fresh strawberries /blueberries.
Berries, as you may know, make the list of the Top 10 Antioxidant-Rich Foods. While Greek Yogurt has a plethora of benefits…and I don’t use that word lightly! Nutrition-wise, everything lines up. So I’m happy to recommend this parfait from Panera.
Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries Parfait
Serving Size: 1 parfait
Fat: 8 g fat (4.5 g sat, trans fat 0 g)
Protein: 15 g
Carbs: 27 g (2 g fiber, 18 g sugar)
Sodium: 80 mg
3. Dunkin’s Veggie Egg White Omelet Bites
Nice to see Dunkin expanding into healthy territory! This omelet is excellent if you’re looking for something hearty yet light. With only 180 calories per two omelet bites (a serving size), it’s made with egg white, spinach, bell peppers, and onions. All sandwiched between multigrain bread.
Veggie Egg White Omelet Bites
Serving Size: Two “bites”
Fat: 11 g fat (sat 7 g, trans fat 0 g)
Protein: 13 g
Carbs: 7 g
Sodium: 460 mg
4. Panera’s Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries
I love strawberries and steel-cut oats, so I made my own version seen above! I consider steel-cut oats to be the healthiest type of oatmeal because they are the least processed type of oat. This makes them very high in fiber and that’s great news for the many people who don’t get enough fiber in their diet.
Meanwhile, stawberries provide a beautiful color (which I do think makes a difference) and are wonderful sources of antioxidants. My kind of breakfast.
Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries
Serving Size: 1 bowl
Fat: 15 g fat (sat 2 g, trans fat 0 g)
Protein: 8 g
Carbs: 52 g (9 g fiber, 17 g sugar),
Sodium: 150 mg
Healthiest Fast Food Breakfast Sandwiches, According To Nutritionists
The easiest way to uphold healthy food choices is when you’re preparing all of your meals at home. But sometimes that’s just not feasible. Whether it be an early call into the office or a road trip with no time to plan for meals, there are moments when fast food is truly the only option. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that healthy eating has to fall to the wayside. We asked nutritionists to rank their favorite healthy breakfast sandwiches for when you’re in a crunch, and these are their top five.
Panera’s Avocado, Egg White and Spinach Breakfast Sandwich
This Panera sandwich is top of the list for Instapot Life nutritionist Heather Hanks because of the healthy balance of macronutrients it provides. She explains, “I like this sandwich because it contains antioxidants from spinach, healthy fats from avocado, and protein from egg whites and cheese. At 350 calories and 5 grams of fiber, it’s a healthy breakfast option that will keep you full. It’s also made with a sprouted grain bagel, which is easier to digest than most grains.”
Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Head of Nutrition & Wellness at WW notes that when choosing the base for your breakfast sandwiches, whole grain is your best bet. “I recommend starting with 100% whole-grain options that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Be careful, “enriched wheat flour” might sound similar, but that’s code for white bread in disguise.”
Starbucks Spinach, Feta and Egg White Sandwich
Providing ample protein without an overload of calories, this sandwich is another viable breakfast option. Hanks notes that this sandwich is made with a whole wheat wrap which provides more nutritional value, and is low in sugar. London agrees that this Starbucks meal is a good choice when you find yourself in a bind.
Panera’s Chipotle Chicken, Scrambled Egg and Avocado Wrap
This wrap is a delicious option that still maintains a healthy amount of calories to start off your day. “I like this sandwich because it contains fresh avocado, peppers, chicken and egg in a whole grain wrap. It contains 450 calories, 27 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber,” says Hanks.
London advises that protein should be top of mind when choosing a sandwich, and with egg and chicken, there is no shortage in this meal.
McDonald’s Sausage Burrito
If you’re pressed for options and McDonalds is the only restaurant around, their Sausage Burrito is a viable breakfast option as it is a solid source of protein. Hanks notes that it is only 310 calories and contains 2 grams of sugar so you won’t have to brace yourself for a crash. London recommends adding veggies onto a meal wherever you can, so ask if there are any greens available to add into this burrito if you feel it’s lacking.
Healthiest Fast-Food Breakfasts, According To Nutritionists
Whether you’re on a long-ass road trip or just feel extremely lazy in the morning, finding a healthy fast-food breakfast that actually satisfies you can seem about as impossible as these burpee variations.
Luckily, more and more chains are expanding their menus (praise be) to include options beyond your typical greasy BEC. Still, navigating the better-for-you options can be a little tricky.
Karen Ansel, RD, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging, recommends keeping your quick morning meal in the range of 300 to 400 calories. Beyond that, prioritize eats that also provide fibe, protein, and some healthy fat.
“Fiber and protein slow down the rate at which you digest your food, so they can help you stay satiated throughout the morning,” Ansel says.
Shoot for at least five grams of fiber, which is easy (phwew) if you opt for whole-grain options like oatmeal or a whole-wheat wrap or bagel. However, squeezing in enough protein can be a little trickier since you need more of it. Ansel recommends aiming for 15 to 20 grams (foods like eggs and yogurt can help get you there).
As always, keep an eye out for sugar. “Sugar can definitely be an issue at breakfast, even beyond the obvious offenders, like donuts and cinnamon rolls,” says Ansel. Smoothies, for example, may contain frozen yogurt or added sweeteners—and are often so large that you’re getting three to four servings of fruit per blend.
“Considering just about anything you order from a fast food restaurant is going to have more than enough fat and calories, be mindful of your portion sizes,” Ansel adds. “Whenever you can squeeze in a serving of fruit or vegetables, that’s a bonus,” she says.
To eliminate the guesswork (and online menu stalking), order up one of these dietitian-approved breakfasts next time you’re on the go.
1. Panera Bread Mediterranean Egg White Wrap
“I actually recommend ordering it with the whole egg,” says dietitian Kelly Jones, RD. “This way, you’re getting healthy fats, which are important for feeling satiated, so that you aren’t hungry again soon after the meal.” The egg yolk also provides essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. “Plus, you’ll get spinach, tomato, and whole grains,” Jones adds.
Of course, if you stick with the egg whites as is, you’ll still have a delicious and healthy breakfast that’s super low in sugar.
Per egg white wrap: 260 calories, 8 g fat (3 g sat), 31 g carbs, 3 g sugar, 650 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 10 g protein
2. Au Bon Pain Egg White, Cheddar, and Avocado Bagel Sandwich
AU BON PAN
“Au Bon Pain keeps things light but satisfying with their egg white, cheddar, and avocado bagel sandwich,” says Jones. “It comes on their wheat bagel, and you can order a small fruit cup on the side to start your day off with produce.”
Though a little higher in sugar (because of the fruit), this order provides plenty of energy, protein, and filling fiber.
Per sandwich + fruit cup: 430 calories, 23 g fat (12 sat), 40 g carbs, 17 g sugar (no added sugars), 605 mg sodium, 10 g fiber, 20 g protein
3. Jamba Juice Vanilla Blue Sky Bowl
“Jamba Juice has a variety of smoothie bowls, but many are very high in sugar and low in protein,” says Jones. “The Vanilla Blue Sky Bowl is one of their better options.
Loads of fruit provide some natural sugar and potassium, while blue spirulina algae gives it a fun color and adds lots of essential nutrients and phytochemicals.
Order this one without the granola and it also happens to be paleo-friendly.
Per bowl: 330 calories, 9 g fat (3 g sat), 62 g carbs, 33 g sugar, 85 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 6 g protein
4. Pret a Manger Ricotta & Veggie Frittata
“If you’re living in a city or frequently in airports or train stations, Pret a Manger’s Ricotta and Veggie Frittata is a great hot option,” says Jones. It provides hearty vegetables (like mushrooms and spinach), is high in protein, and is low enough in carbs to be keto-friendly.
To be fair, the meal doesn’t skimp on sodium, so you’ll want to keep intake a bit lower the rest of the day (and drink plenty of water), says Jones.
Per frittata: 430 calories, 28 g fat (11 g sat), 11 g carbs, 6 g sugar, 110 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 35 g protein
5. Dunkin’ Donuts Ham, Egg, And Cheese Wakeup Wrap
Skip the bagel sandwich and donut and go for this protein-rich option, suggests dietitian Karman Meyer, RD. With less than 200 calories and nine grams of protein, it’s a solid, quick option.
Just note that it’s a little higher in the sodium department.
Per wrap: 190 calories, 11 g fat (4 g sat), 15 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 600 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 9 g protein
6. Taco Bell Breakfast Soft Taco
Yes, you can actually eat a decent breakfast at Taco Bell. “Skip the meat on this egg and cheese wrap and order two to score a total of 14 filling grams of protein,” says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD.
Per taco (with egg and cheese): 170 calories, 9 g fat (3 g sat), 15 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 330 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 7 g protein
7. McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
Hitting up McD’s in the morning? Skip the McMuffin. “The trick to making this whole-grain oatmeal bowl healthier is to ask for it without the brown sugar and cream,” says Ansel. “Then, it becomes a decent egg-free breakfast option with five grams of fiber.”
Per oatmeal cup (without cream): 290 calories, 2 g fat (0 g sat), 61 g carbs, 32 g sugar, 130 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 5 g protein
Healthiest and unhealthiest breakfast sandwiches
Lately it seems as if every fast-food and fast-casual chain has introduced breakfast sandwiches, wraps, burritos, and the like to their menus. The reasons behind this move are obvious: Who doesn’t love a great handheld breakfast? But when you drop in and check out the menu, it’s not always easy to tell right off the bat which offerings are better for you than others. For that reason, we looked at the menus at 13 popular fast-food and fast-casual chains, and have found both the healthiest and unhealthiest sandwiches and wraps they sell.
Offering breakfast is one of the smartest things a quick-service chain can do. Not only does it open the doors up earlier to allow more time to make sales, but eggs are one of the highest profit-margin foods out there and breakfast offerings tend to be very cost-efficient to source and assemble. Think about it: If you were to buy one English muffin, one egg, one slice of cheese, and one piece of Canadian bacon, it would cost you well less than $1, but McDonald’s sells their Egg McMuffin for about $2.50, on average.
It might be surprising, but the amount of fat and calories in fast-food breakfasts can add up, quickly. Egg yolks, butter, and fatty meats like bacon and sausage are the cornerstones of many breakfasts (fast-food and otherwise), and they also happen to be some of the unhealthiest food products on Earth.
But with a little bit of effort, it’s possible to drop into the most grease-laden fast-food chain and order a breakfast that would make your cardiologist proud (or at least not make him too upset). Egg whites, lighter wraps, whole grains, and vegetables are becoming de rigueur for any chain that’s looking to pull a big breakfast crowd, so it’s best to not assume that just because it’s a quick-service restaurant your only options will be unhealthy ones. [related]
Now, we’re not saying that all these offerings are good for you, per se; but they’re the healthiest breakfast sandwiches that these places offer. You still wouldn’t want to get in the habit of eating a ham and cheese croissant from Arby’s every morning, but if you find yourself with no other options, that’s a whole heck of a lot better for you than their sausage gravy biscuit!
Healthiest: Spinach and Feta Wrap
Fat: 10 grams
Sodium: 830 milligrams
Unhealthiest: Sausage & Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich
Calories: 500 calories
Fat: 28 grams
Sodium: 920 milligrams
Healthiest: Egg White Delight
Fat: 7 grams
Sodium: 770 milligrams
Unhealthiest: Steak, Egg, and Cheese Bagel
Fat: 35 grams
Sodium: 1,520 milligrams
3. Au Bon Pain
Healthiest: Egg Whites and Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich
Fat: 9 grams
Sodium: 510 milligrams
Unhealthiest: Sausage, Egg, and Cheddar on Asiago Bagel
Fat: 36 grams
Sodium: 1,210 milligrams
Healthiest: Ham and Swiss Croissant
Fat: 14 grams
Sodium: 910 milligrams