Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but that doesn't mean you always have time to eat it at home. Traveling, running low on groceries or hitting the snooze button can all result in turning into the drive-thru for breakfast. And while you shouldn't make a habit of eating fast food for breakfast — Toronto-based registered dietitian Abbey Sharp recommends limiting your restaurant meals to two per week — eating fast food once in a while won't break your diet. Stick to the following best options to keep your fast-food excursions relatively healthy, and avoid our picks for the most calorie-laden diet destroyers.
Best: Dunkin’ Donuts Veggie Egg White Flatbread
When you're running late in the morning, chances are a jolt of caffeine is just what you need to wake up. And if you're looking for a healthier breakfast option to pair with your brew, consider Dunkin' Donuts' Veggie Egg White Flatbread. Egg whites and multigrain bread mean this brekkie offers 18 grams of protein and three grams of fiber to keep you full all morning, and it manages to do it all in a moderate 330 calories. The small amount of veggies in the flatbread probably won't do much to boost your health, but you could always add spinach or tomatoes to it when you get to the office.
Worst: Dunkin’ Donuts Sausage, Egg and Cheese Sandwich
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Dunkin' Donuts' sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, which is made even more unhealthy because it comes on a croissant. Not surprisingly, this option comes packed with calories — a whopping 700 per sandwich — along with 50 grams of total fat, including 20 grams of saturated fat. All that fat isn't good for your cardiovascular health, and it doesn't make for an energizing breakfast either. "It may make your digestion feel sluggish and tired for the rest of the day," says Sharp, who blogs at Abbey's Kitchen. "If a fattier breakfast is inevitable, make sure you're balancing it out with a high-fiber, veggie-rich lunch and dinner."
Best: Starbucks Spinach Feta Breakfast Wrap
Dunkin' isn't the only coffee chain with a healthy-ish breakfast option: Starbucks offers a veggie-and-egg white breakfast option too. The Spinach, Feta and Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap will help you stick to your diet, with just 290 calories and 19 grams of protein. "Eating a protein-rich breakfast will help keep you satisfied until your next planned meal or snack," says registered dietitian Carrie Dennett. "Of the three macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates and fat — protein is the one that does the most for boosting post-meal satisfaction and keeping appetite in check." The wrap also supplies 45 percent of your daily vitamin A needs and 15 percent of your daily iron.
Worst: Starbucks Spicy Chorizo, Monterey Jack and Egg Breakfast Sandwich
Starbucks' sausage breakfast sandwiches, however, aren't so slimming. Its Spicy Chorizo, Monterey Jack and Egg Breakfast Sandwich weighs in at 500 calories, many of which come from its 30 grams of fat and nine grams of saturated fat. Also of concern is its sodium content. Each spicy chorizo sandwich is seriously salty, packing in 860 milligrams of sodium, or more than half the recommended daily intake. If spicy chorizo is your favorite sandwich, at least it has 25 percent of your daily calcium. But it's still best eaten in moderation or not at all.
Best: McDonald’s Egg White Delight
The drive-thru at Mickey D's is a rushed-breakfast tradition. And the Egg White Delight is your healthiest option on the breakfast menu, says registered dietitian Monica Heather Auslander. "Egg whites contain pure protein to keep you quite full, with zero fat." Each sandwich supplies 16 grams of protein for a moderate 260 calories along with 10 percent of your daily iron needs as well. The Egg White Delight is still, however, high in sodium. Each sandwich has about half your recommended daily intake, so you'll need to watch your salt for the rest of the day.
Worst: McDonald’s Big Breakfast With Hotcakes
While the Egg White Delight will keep you full and energized, the Big Breakfast With Hot Cakes is likely to weigh you down. The breakfast packs in an astonishing 1,380 calories — more than some people eat in a day — with 65 grams of fat and 155 grams of carbohydrates, which come primarily from "fast carbs" like refined grains and sugar. "A meal loaded with 'fast carbs' can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar — followed by a crash," explains registered dietitian Carrie Dennett. "That can leave you feeling both tired and hungry, because your body starts crying out for food to get your blood sugar levels back to normal." Unless you plan to slip into a food coma after breakfast, the Big Breakfast is a big one to avoid.
Best: Tim Hortons Vanilla Greek Yogurt Parfait
If you're road tripping in New England and you're looking for Canadian-inspired flavor, look no further than Tim Hortons. You can keep your visit healthy by opting for the vanilla yogurt parfait with mixed berries and almond granola. The parfait has a moderate 270 calories and manages to pack in 13 grams of protein to keep you feeling satisfied between meals. It's also a great source of calcium for healthy bones, providing 35 percent of the daily value per serving.
Worst: Tim Hortons Sausage BELT
Loading egg, cheese and sausage onto a bagel isn't the key to a low-calorie breakfast, so it's no surprise that the Sausage BELT from Tim Hortons is the most caloric breakfast option on its menu. Each sandwich bulges with 570 calories — and if you opt for a cheesy bagel or add a sauce, it will bulge even more. Along with those calories come 1,210 milligrams of sodium, which is more than 80 percent of the recommended intake for the entire day, and 26 grams of fat. If you want a better sandwich option for breakfast, go for the egg and cheese breakfast wrap or the egg white and cheese English muffin.
Read more: The 14 Best Foods for Your Heart
Best: Au Bon Pain Superfood Cranberry Almond Hot Cereal
As far as fast-food breakfasts go, Au Bon Pain has some of the healthiest options, and even the "worst" option on its menu is pretty mild compared to some other fast-food fare. And the Superfood Cranberry Almond Hot Cereal is, dare we say, downright healthy. The porridge is made with a variety of whole grains, including oats, quinoa and amaranth, which all supply fiber to keep you feeling full. It's low in calories (180 calories per bowl), virtually free of sodium (just 15 milligrams per serving) and has just one gram of saturated fat. You'll also get 10 percent of your daily iron needs, which will help nourish your red blood cells and support healthy oxygen circulation. Grab a spoon!
Worst: Au Bon Pain 2-Egg Sausage Cheddar Ciabatta
Not everything on Au Bon Pain's breakfast menu is so good for you, though. Its 2-Egg Sausage and Cheddar Ciabatta has the nutritional pitfalls you'd probably expect for a sandwich filled with cheese and processed meat, including 29 grams of fat and an artery-clenching 870 milligrams of sodium. It's also very high in calories (550 per sandwich) and packs in 40 grams of carbohydrates, but it has only two grams of fiber. Because it's so low in fiber, the sandwich is likely to cause a blood sugar crash soon after your meal that will leave you hungry, and its 12 grams of saturated fat threaten your cardiovascular health.
Best: Taco Bell Mini Skillet Bowl
Taco Bell isn't exactly synonymous with "healthy," and its breakfast menu is no exception. If you need to stop at a Taco Bell, though, your safest option is the Mini Skillet Bowl. The small serving size keeps your calorie intake in check, with each bowl having a moderate 180 calories. For those calories, you'll get five grams of protein, 16 grams of carbs and 11 grams of fat, with all but two grams coming from healthier unsaturated fats. If you want a slightly heartier meal, ask the staff to make it "fresco" and add extra egg and guacamole — but avoid unhealthy toppings like bacon, steak and extra cheese.
Read more: 10 Ways to Make Fast Food Healthier
Worst: Taco Bell Breakfast Crunchwrap With Bacon
If you're watching your waistline, steer clear of the larger breakfast items on Taco Bell's menu, especially the Breakfast Crunchwrap With Bacon. Each wrap packs in 670 calories total, which primarily come from its 51 grams of carbs and 42 grams of fat. A significant portion of the fat in the Crunchwrap is the unhealthy saturated variety — 12 grams per wrap — and each wrap also has a staggering 1,200 milligrams of sodium, which makes this a seriously heart-unhealthy meal. Its one redeeming nutritional feature — 35 percent of your daily calcium needs — isn't enough to outweigh the Crunchwrap's nutritional drawbacks, so it should be one of your last choices from the menu.
Best: Jamba Juice Protein Berry Workout Smoothie
Starting your day with a homemade protein smoothie is a great way to fuel your body, and the fast-food version is almost as good. Jamba Juice's small Protein Berry Workout smoothie made with whey protein has a reasonable 290 calories and 17 grams of protein. It's still relatively high in carbs, at 54 grams per serving, but supplies 14 percent of your daily fiber needs for the day. Take into account its low sodium content (just 110 milligrams) and lack of saturated fat, and you've got a surprisingly healthy breakfast by fast-food standards.
Worst: Jamba Juice Chunky Strawberry Bowl
While you might expect Jamba Juice's sandwich options to be the most caloric breakfasts on the menu, you'd be wrong: The worst offender is actually the healthy-sounding Chunky Strawberry Bowl. That's because it's incredibly high in calories for a "healthy" breakfast, with 590 calories per bowl, and contains almost 100 grams of carbs, including 58 grams of sugar. It also has 17 grams of total fat, including three grams of saturated fat. The bowl does have some upsides — namely its impressive 12 grams of fiber and 19 grams of protein. But unless you're looking for a huge breakfast and plan to eat small meals for the rest of the day, avoid this bowl.
Read more: 6 Easy Smoothie Breakfast Bowls
Best: Burger King Maple Flavored Oatmeal
We'll be honest: Burger King may have one of the least healthy breakfast menus on our list. But its Maple Flavored Oatmeal isn't too bad. Like any oatmeal, it's made with whole grains that can help keep you feeling satisfied between meals and benefit your cardiovascular health. At just 170 calories per serving, the oatmeal can fit easily into your diet, and its less than two grams of fat and mere 260 milligrams of sodium make it pretty heart-healthy too. BK's oatmeal does have a fair amount of sugar (12 grams per serving), but it won't break your diet if you watch your sugar intake for the rest of the day.
Worst: Burger King Ultimate Breakfast Platter
Like the other "platter" entries on our list, Burger King's Ultimate Breakfast Platter packs in nearly a day's worth of calories in one meal — 1,190 calories, to be exact. And while you'll get 27 grams of protein, you'll also be eating a staggering 123 grams of carbs and 66 grams of fat. The platter also has 2,460 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly 1,000 milligrams more than you're supposed to have in an entire day. And if you're looking for the worst of the more portable breakfasts, King Croissan'Wich® with Double Sausage — with its 700 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat — is also one to avoid.
Best: Jack in the Box Breakfast Jack
If you're headed to this West Coast classic establishment, keep your order simple and (relatively) healthy by ordering the Breakfast Jack. While the Breakfast Jack doesn't offer any huge nutritional benefits — it's just ham, egg and cheese on a bun, after all — it's moderately low in calories, at 350 per sandwich. The fillings also supply enough protein to add up to 16 grams per serving, and the sandwich is very low in sugar, with only four grams in total.
Worst: Jack in the Box Meat Lover’s Breakfast Burrito
Fat! Calories! Sodium! Jack in the Box's Meat Lover's Breakfast Burrito — which features sausage, bacon and ham — is a triple threat (to your health). All that processed meat gives this burrito a massive 790 calories per wrap. Each burrito also has 1,706 milligrams of sodium, which is more than you're supposed to have in a day. And processed meats have other health drawbacks too, says Auslander. "They contain nitrates which bind to amines in your gut and produce nitrosamines; these have been wholly linked to esophageal, stomach and throat cancers." Yikes, pass!
Best: Panera Bread Steel Cut Oatmeal With Almonds, Quinoa and Honey
When it comes to fast-food breakfasts, Panera has some of the best options, and all three of its steel-cut oatmeal flavors can fit into a healthy and balanced diet. The healthiest flavor, though, is the almond, quinoa and honey variety. The oats are relatively low in calories, at 300 per serving, and supply an impressive nine grams of fiber to stave off hunger pangs until lunchtime. It's also low in sodium, at just 220 milligrams per serving, and supplies eight grams of protein to nourish lean muscles. If you're looking for a slightly bigger breakfast, pair it with the watermelon or summer fruit cup — 80 or 60 calories, respectively — for a burst of vitamin C and antioxidants.
Worst: Panera Bread Asiago, Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich
While most of Panera Bread's breakfast items aren't generally that bad for you — especially compared to some foods on our list — its Asiago, Bacon, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich is one to avoid. At 580 calories, it's a bit heavy for breakfast, and its 25 grams of fat and 56 grams of carbs (which come primarily from white flour) will weigh you down in the morning. It's also high in sodium, at 1,080 milligrams per sandwich, making it a no-go for those on sodium-controlled diets. If you absolutely need a breakfast sandwich, go for a healthier one like the Avocado, Egg White & Spinach Breakfast Sandwich, which has 410 calories and 590 milligrams of sodium.
Read more: 19 Fast, Healthy Convenience Store Snacks
Best: Subway Egg and Cheese Sandwich
Subway has a reputation as a healthier fast-food option, and some of the company's breakfast options are on the lighter side. If you're watching your diet, order the Egg and Cheese Sandwich to get breakfast convenience without a ton of calories. Each sandwich has 380 calories and 19 grams of protein to keep you going till lunch, and Subway's sandwich customization means you can pile your sandwich high with veggies to make it more filling. Like most fast food, the sandwich is high in sodium — 950 milligrams — so consider splitting it into two meals or restricting your sodium intake at lunch and dinner.
Worst: Subway Steak, Egg and Cheese
While the egg and cheese sandwich stays relatively diet-friendly, adding meat to your breakfast sandwich amps up the calories and sodium. Case in point: the Steak, Egg and Cheese sandwich, which has 450 calories and 1,280 grams of sodium, or about 85 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake. The sandwich also has 18 grams of fat, including six grams of the saturated variety, and 45 grams of total carbohydrates, which primarily come from the refined grains used to make the bread. While these are significant nutritional drawbacks, even Subway's "worst" offering still has a silver lining: You can add all the vegetable toppings you want, so you get some nutritional value for your calories.
Best: Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill
Craving chicken in the morning? Ordering Chick-fil-A's Egg White Grill helps you satisfy that craving as healthfully as possible. Each sandwich has a reasonable 300 calories and includes grilled chicken and egg whites to keep the fat content to a modest seven grams (including three grams of saturated fat). You'll also get 25 grams of protein, making this one of the best ways to load up on protein at the drive-thru. The Egg White Grill is high in sodium, though, at 970 milligrams, so you'll want to limit your salt intake for the rest of the day.
Worst: Chick-fil-A Breakfast Platter
By now, you know that fast-food "breakfast platters" and "diet-friendly" are mutually exclusive — and while Chick-fil-A's version may not be the worst offender in terms of calories, it's still the highest-cal option on its breakfast menu. The sausage platter will set you back 940 calories, while the bacon and chicken versions have 770 and 860 calories, respectively. Where the platters really get you, though, is in the sodium content: The chicken breakfast platter has 2,760 milligrams, which is nearly twice what you're supposed to get in a day. The extremely high sodium content makes the platters an absolute nonstarter if you're on a low-salt diet — and one to avoid for anyone concerned about their overall health.
What Do YOU Think?
What do you order when you need to grab breakfast on the go — and did any of your favorites make it into our "best" (or "worst") list? Tell us about it in the comments!