It’s been 45 years since a food scientist named Herb Peterson created a handheld version of eggs Benedict for McDonald’s. And while the classic Egg McMuffin is still on the menu, it’s now competing with lower-calorie options, making drive-thru breakfasts more diet-friendly.
Don’t get us wrong. There are still plenty of places to stray. For example, two years ago, Taco Bell first introduced Cap’n Crunch Delights and some breakfast sandwiches can pack in over 700 calories. But for the most part, plenty of Americans are demanding more wholesome ways to start their days.
And let’s face it, when you don’t have too much time in the morning it can be hard to make a filling and nutritious breakfast. So here are a handful of our current healthier favorites for your morning commute.
Egg White Delight McMuffin, $3, McDonald’s
While an original Egg McMuffin has 300 calories, this version has 250 calories. The savings is thanks to the substitution of egg whites, extra lean Canadian Bacon and a whole grain English muffin. The white cheddar cheese (instead of American cheese) makes this option feel a bit more indulgent, too. TODAY nutrition consultant Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CNA says if you plan on eating this every day, skip the Canadian bacon. But in general, she notes it has a good combination of protein and carbs.
If you’re after protein, pick this breakfast sandwich up for a whopping 25 grams. Inside the toasted, wholegrain English muffin you’ll find grilled chicken, egg whites and melted cheese. It will only set you back 7 grams of fat and 300 calories. (To lower that, ask them to serve it sans muffin.)
“This sandwich keeps breakfast calories in check, it has plenty of protein and it’s built upon a whole grain English muffin — all important to jump start your day,” says Taub-Dix. “But just keep in mind that most of us don’t need as much protein as you might think. Any one of those protein rich foods, whether cheese, egg, or chicken would be enough for a breakfast choice.”
Greek Yogurt Smoothie, $4, Sheetz
Not only can you get this handheld breakfast 24 hours a day, any day of the year through Sheetz’s 98 drive-thru’s nationwide, you can also order it on the Sheetz app or any Amazon Alexa-enabled device. And at around 230 calories for a size medium, it’s as low-calorie as it is convenient. Flavors include blueberry pomegranate, banana, strawberry, peach, lemonade and even pina colada.
Note: “Not every smoothie or shake is a health food!” cautions Taub-Dix. “The best choices are made with plain Greek yogurt to supply protein and skim milk or almond milk to provide calcium.”
Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries and Pecans, $5, Panera Bread
A popular breakfast item on Panera Bread’s vegan menu, this wholesome ensemble features 9 grams of fiber to fill you up for hours. “Most of us don’t get enough fiber so this choice packs a fiber punch! Oats contain soluble fiber that may help to lower cholesterol levels,” says Taub-Dix, who also cautions against adding too many calorie-laden toppings. What this dish doesn’t have is artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors. It’s available in Panera Bread drive-thrus and at Panera Bread Rapid Pick-Up locations.
Sous Vide Egg Bites: Egg White & Red Pepper, $5, Starbucks
Vacuum-sealed (sous vide in French) eggs may not sound appetizing. But trust us, these egg bites are so soft they melt in your mouth — in a great way. Prepared with egg whites, spinach, fire-roasted red peppers and a touch of feta, cottage cheese and monterey jack, they’re a satisfying option if you’re avoiding bread. For just 170 calories you get 13 grams of protein to tide you over until lunch. “The calories are low enough to pair this meal with some whole grain crackers or a slice of whole grain toast,” notes Taub-Dix.
Taub-Dix calls this smoothie a “beverage with benefits.” But at 500 calories (if you don’t add any extra sugar), it can also put a serious dent in your daily calorie budget. At least it’s chock full of better options for that sweet tooth in all of us. Think coconut, chia seeds, roasted banana, cinnamon, almonds, dates and whole grain oats. It’s also customizable as you get to pick between adding peanut butter or strawberries. Tropical Smoothie Café has 138 drive-thru locations throughout the country.
Egg White Veggie Flatbread, $5, Dunkin’ Donuts
The best part about going through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru is not being tempted by the pastry display. Instead of ordering a dozen Munchkins the next time you grab a coffee, opt for the Egg White Veggie Flatbread. At 330 calories and 14 grams of fat, it’s not a good option for every day dining says Taub-Dix. But it does have vegetables and it is one of the coffee chain’s lowest-calorie items.
Turkey Sage and Sweet Potato Biscuit, $5, Peet’s Coffee
Peet’s Coffee’s limited-edition (it’s available through 1/11) breakfast sandwich is about as gourmet as the drive-thru gets. We love the turkey sausage patty’s sage seasoning and the creamy texture of the fontina cheese. But perhaps the best part is the sweet potato biscuit that replaces the ubiquitous English muffin. Sweet potato is the base for one of Taub-Dix’s favorite DIY smoothies.