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Healthy and Filling Fast Food Breakfast Choices

Updated on August 25, 2011

Basic Rules for Picking a Healthy and Filling Breakfast

Everyone says breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I suppose in a perfect world we would all make our own healthy and filling complete breakfasts at home, with the perfect balance of nutrients, with most of the ingredients hand-picked from our own personal organic garden. Assuming I'm not the only person who regularly (ok, always) falls short of this ideal, I thought it might be helpful to put together a list of healthy and filling choices when you need to buy breakfast on the go.

On the plus side, almost all fast food restaurants seem to be emphasizing their "healthy" options now, but in some ways this makes the decision about what to eat even harder. Additionally, even if you make a healthy choice for one meal, if it isn't actually filling, you'll be back in no time buying that muffin you struggled so hard not to buy the first time, and you'll negate any benefit from your first healthy choice. There are a few qualities to look for to determine if a fast food meal is healthy and will keep you feeling full:

  • whole grains - they keep you feeling full much longer than highly processed white flour
  • non-processed fruits and vegetables - the fiber keeps you feeling satisfied, and you automatically know this is healthy - no additives, no secret ingredients - just fruit and vegetables.
  • healthy oils and nuts - you have to be careful not to load up on these, but some of these can really help to make you feel satisfied throughout the day

Using these basic guidelines, the goal of this article is to give you a list of fast food options for breakfast that you can choose with confidence, knowing they will be healthy, low-calorie, and will power you through your day.


Healthy and Filling Breakfast Choices at Starbucks

Ever since Starbucks started posting calorie content, I've been amazed at how easily you can get a low calorie breakfast that keeps you feeling full all the way until lunch. On the flip side, I was also stunned to see how many calories were in some of my favorite drinks. A grande white chocolate mocha with 2% milk is 400 calories? I have no idea what makes the white mocha so much higher calorie than it's regular chocolate mocha brother (260 calories for a grande). Just knowing this makes a huge difference - I don't even really prefer a white mocha over a regular mocha, and I certainly don't prefer it 140 calories more. So now if I'm going to splurge, I get something I like equally to what I would have previously chosen, but at 2/3 of the calories.

These are the three drinks I recommend most highly as healthy and filling:

  • If you want something sweet: grande skinny flavored latte - 180 calories
  • If you just want a basic coffee drink: grande americano - 15 calories (unless you add cream and sugar, but I think the americano tastes better than regular coffee, and makes it easier to drink straight up)
  • If you want a something fruity: orange mango Vivanno smoothie - 260 calories (if you get this, you really don't need anything to eat - it's got an entire banana in it and the whey protein and fiber powder leave you feeling full for hours)

These are the food options I most highly recommend as healthy and filling:

  • If you want something to stick to your ribs: Perfect oatmeal - at 190 calories (if you just add the brown sugar) or up to 390 (if you add the nuts and dried fruit - 100 calories each), I think this is by far the healthiest and most filling option. I eat one of these at 190 calories and stay full far longer than eating a (albeit delicious) 390 calorie slice of pumpkin bread.
  • If you want a traditional breakfast: spinach, roasted tomato, and egg white wrap for 280 calories. You get the satisfaction of an egg breakfast, but without using up all your calories for the day.
  • If you want a pastry: surprisingly (and happily!), the chocolate croissant is actually a great option - at 300 calories, it's less than a morning bun (350) or the reduced fat coffee cake (340).

It's not actually this watery!  Just stir it up!
It's not actually this watery! Just stir it up! | Source

Healthy and Filling Breakfast Choices at McDonalds

McDonalds has really increased its healthy options in the last few years, and I have to say that the addition of their oatmeal has me heading through the golden arches more often than I go to Starbucks now (a day I never thought would come!). The fresh apple in their oatmeal simply pushes them over the top for me.

Drink options that are most healthy and filling:

  • If you want something sweet: a medium non-fat caramel latte is only 170 calories, and should give you your sweet and coffee fix. The only problem is as far as I know, they don't do a decaf version. As a decaf drinker, this alone can make me think twice about hitting up the McCafe, though they do have regular decaf coffee.
  • If you want a basic coffee drink: They don't do americanos, but they didn't get a reputation for good simple coffee for no reason. A regular coffee should be around 10-15 calories, and if you can hold off on the cream and sugar, that's almost a no-calorie way to feel more full.
  • If you want something fruity: they also do smoothies, though they aren't as nutritious as the ones at Starbucks, they do have real fruit in them, and are only 210 calories for a strawberry banana smoothie or wild berry smoothie.

Food options that are most healthy and filling:

  • If you want something to stick to your ribs: I can't say enough about their oatmeal. It's got fresh apple, raisins, and maple flavor. With brown sugar it's 290 calories (260 without). It tastes like a treat, but gives you such great nutritional value.
  • If you want a traditional breakfast: I was very surprised to see that a basic egg mcmuffin is only 300 calories (the sausage burrito also weighs in at 300 calories and is another good option, especially if you want meat with your breakfast).
  • If you want a pastry: Really, you should go somewhere else if you want a pastry, but if you want something along those lines, the hotcakes are only 350 and you do get the satisfaction of having a pancake breakfast. Though watch out, these are not whole grain, and may leave you feeling hungry sooner. If you can even add some of your own fruit or nuts to this, it can make you feel full a lot longer.

Go Forth and Make Healthy Choices!

I was going to go through a number of other fast food chains and list drink and food options, but then I tried to imagine a scenario in which there was no McDonalds or Starbucks within 1/2 mile radius, and came up empty. I've also come to believe that fewer options makes for a happier life, so I will leave it at the above. I hope this helps provide some guidance when trying to make a good healthy choice for your breakfast on the go, that won't leave you running to Costco for an entire tray of muffins within 1/2 hour. You can do it!


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    • twoseven profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      chefmancave - Thank you so much for the comment! I really appreciate it. I have been definitely staying away from fast food places more now that I have kids - they have too many things to lure me and my kids into making unhealthy choices, even though I am glad that in a pinch I can find a few healthy options. I love the greek yogurt idea! We have actually been doing that with plain yogurt and honey, but I like your new ideas - I always need to mix it up to keep me and my kids interested!

    • chefmancave profile image

      Robert Loescher 

      5 years ago from Michigan

      Fast Food places? I am proud to say that I have not visited a fast food restaurant in the last two years. I know you are a mother and probably struggle with time constraints in the morning but I will give you a great tip. One cup of Greek Yogurt (I like vanilla or honey) covered with low fat granola cereal. Fast, inexpensive and healthy. Add a little cinnamon or brown sugar if want some extra flavor. I also like a glass of orange juice served with blueberries.


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