Courtney Ferreira has a masters degree in nutrition and is a registered dietitian in Baltimore, Maryland.
In an ideal world we would either meal prep for breakfast or have enough time in the morning to cook and eat.
In reality, mornings usually consist of snoozed alarms and hustling to get out the door. Despite our best efforts, there are going to be days where breakfast is either skipped or we have to rely on a quick-grab option.
Your parents were right, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skipping breakfast can lead to overeating later in the day, abnormal blood sugars, slowed metabolism, and brain fog. We need fuel to start our day! No matter where your breakfast is coming from, the key components are the same:
- Include a source of carbohydrates. Carb picks at breakfast should contain plenty of fiber to prevent a blood sugar (aka energy!) crash mid-morning. Examples include whole grains like oats and whole wheat bread, or fruit. Pass on the fruit juice; the high sugar load will put you on a blood sugar roller-coaster and set you up for a day of fatigue.
- Don’t skip protein. The body cannot use more than 25-30 g of protein in an eating event (though this may vary after exercise). Limiting protein to lunch and dinner is not enough. Whether you work out consistently or not your body is still regenerating throughout the day. Spread protein throughout the day to support that. Eggs are a common morning protein pick but breakfast meat or a quality yogurt counts too. Or think outside of the box and enjoy a leftover meat like chicken.
- Include some fat. What is the key to keeping your eyes open during that 10 o’clock meeting? Stable blood sugar. Fat can help you maintain that. When you eat too many carbohydrates at breakfast we get a burst of energy and then it comes down quickly. By including fat with breakfast the carbohydrates digest and are absorbed slower, so the blood sugar rise is lessened.
Use these principles to create the most energizing breakfast. Cooking at home is certainly the goal to aim for – for instance you might enjoy an omelet with avocado and a slice of toast. But let’s face it, that may not always happen.
If you are going to grab a quick breakfast from a fast-food place you can use the tips above to make the best pick that does the least harm to your health. Here are how the tips can be applied to five popular on-the-go breakfast places.
5 Picks From On-the-Go Breakfast Spots
1. Dunkin Donuts: Turkey Sausage Flatbread
This flatbread option has the best nutrient balance of all the options. The flatbread provides carbs, the sausage and egg provide protein and the cheese provides fat. The Ham, Egg, and Cheese English muffin is also a good pick. Skip the donut unless you have a long walk ahead of you and keep in mind that a bagel has carbohydrates equivalent to four slices of bread. The Wake-Up wraps seem promising, but may be too light and not provide enough fuel to keep you going all morning.
2. McDonalds: Egg McMuffin
An Egg McMuffin includes an english muffin for carbohydrates, cheese and yolk for fat, and an egg and Canadian bacon for protein. Skip the egg whites; the extra fat from the yolk is good for you! For a larger meal add a side of apple slices. Don’t be fooled by the oatmeal or fruit and yogurt parfait. They may appear to be “healthier” options but they are carbohydrate bombs. They have some nutritional benefit, but they are missing out adequate protein and fat which we need to stay full and focused all morning.
3. Burger King: Croissan’wich
Plain egg and cheese or with sausage or bacon are the best picks. The protein, fat, and carbs are similar to the biscuit sandwiches but the biscuits have almost double the amount of sodium. While adding salt to our food is fine when we cook at home, we should try to limit the excess sodium that is found in many eateries.
Watch out: the Egg-Normous burrito contains all of the sodium recommended for the entire day and as much carbohydrates as 5 slices of bread.
4. Starbucks: Sous vide egg bites + fruit cup
Starbucks has plenty of options but these sous vide egg bites are by far the winner (yeah, they're not technically a sandwich but they're much healthier!) They come with two bites per order (feel free to get two orders!). You might also try their protein boxes such as the egg, cheese and grape selection. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich go for the Ham and Cheese Croissant or the Bacon, Gouda and Egg Breakfast Sandwich.
Tip: If you’re also getting a flavored coffee drink ask for just one pump of syrup – even the best breakfast can’t prevent the blood sugar swings that come after a sugary latte.
5. Chick-Fil-A: Egg White Grill
This sandwich has a balanced nutrient profile and leaves plenty of room for a fruit side. If you’re craving their breaded chicken opt for the hash brown scramble.
Remember, eating at home is best for your health (and your wallet), but when you’re in a rush and need to grab something on-the-go you do have healthier options like those listed above. When in doubt, remember the principles of including a carbohydrate, protein, and fat and let that guide you towards making the best choice.