You wake up on a Saturday morning and decide it's the perfect day to treat yourself to a meal out, so you get ready and head to one of your favorite breakfast chains like Waffle House, IHOP, Denny's, or Perkins. The only problem is that you've been trying to eat better lately and have been focusing on consuming more nutrient-dense foods, and you realize this is going to be hard to do at one of these restaurants. Even though healthier menu items may be harder to find at breakfast chain restaurants, it's still possible to choose a better-for-you option that you're happy with, as long as you know what to look for.
Chain restaurant meals are usually higher in calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium than what you'd make for yourself at home, and the lack of control you have over the ingredients used can be frustrating when you want to stick to certain dietary goals you've set. This is why it's important to be aware of healthier alternatives you can choose when you visit your favorite chains in case you're in the mood for a lighter option.
The following orders are considered to be some of the healthiest menu items at popular breakfast chain restaurants. Read on, and for a look into the worst menu items so you know what to steer clear of, check out The #1 Unhealthiest Order at 12 Major Breakfast Chains.
Waffle House Build Your Own Plate
You'll notice that at many popular breakfast chains, the healthiest way to order is to choose their "build your own" options. At Waffle House, for example, you can choose individual items and create your own balanced breakfast.
"The best choice for a healthy breakfast at Waffle House is to order à la carte and build your own plate," says Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD. "Opt for two scrambled eggs, which provide 12 grams of protein for 180 calories, a side of grits with 90 calories and 16 grams of carbs, and sliced tomatoes for 10 calories and 1 gram of fiber."
"This combination offers a balanced meal with protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber, while minimizing calorie intake, making it a smart choice for a nutritious breakfast at Waffle House."
Denny's Build Your Own Omelet
Another example of building your own breakfast to get a healthier restaurant meal is Denny's "Build Your Own Omelet" option.
According to Sabat, this is the healthiest route to go. "You can build your own omelet with vegetables and avocado, paired with a side of seasonal fruit, which can help you control the ingredients, ensuring a nutrient-rich and balanced meal."
She adds, "Including a side of seasonal fruit further enhances the meal's healthfulness, making it the optimal choice for those watching their sugar intake while enjoying a satisfying and nutritious breakfast at Denny's."
Cracker Barrel Good Morning Breakfast
Cracker Barrel is full of delicious and unhealthy breakfast options. And while it's fine to indulge in a breakfast treat, if you're someone who is looking for a more nutritious choice, there are a few choices to pick from.
"The best breakfast choice at Cracker Barrel is the Good Morning Breakfast, featuring two egg whites, grits, a side of seasonal fruit, sliced tomatoes, and turkey sausage," says Sabat.
She suggests this menu option "because it provides a well-rounded balance of protein and carbohydrates, and it offers essential vitamins from the tomatoes and fruit, making it a nutritious and satisfying breakfast choice that caters to both taste and health needs."
IHOP Pesto Egg White Omelet
Sure, you may be going to IHOP to get a stack of pancakes, but if you're on the hunt for a better-for-you option, Sabat recommends turning your attention to the omelets.
"The best breakfast choice at IHOP is the Pesto Egg White Omelette, which contains 480 calories, 21 grams of protein, 34 grams of fat (with only 6 grams being saturated), 26 grams of carbohydrates, and 7 grams of fiber," says Sabat.
"This option stands out as a healthy breakfast due to its high protein content and the use of healthier fats from the pesto, and it offers a balanced macronutrient profile and is relatively low in carbohydrates while providing a substantial amount of dietary fiber."
First Watch Healthy Turkey Breakfast
First Watch is a breakfast chain that is full of "healthier" options, with one of their healthiest being the Healthy Turkey Breakfast.
"This breakfast meal at First Watch stands out as the best option due to its impressive nutritional profile," says Sabat. "The inclusion of house-roasted onions, tomatoes, spinach, and Feta cheese in a cage-free egg white omelet adds both flavor and essential nutrients, making it a top choice for those looking for a delicious and protein-packed breakfast at First Watch that is also mindful of calorie and saturated fat intake."
Village Inn V.I.B
Village Inn offers a V.I.B. section on their menu, which is their version of a "build your own breakfast." If you go this route, you can choose four breakfast items from a long list of foods like bacon, sausage, turkey sausage, eggs, egg whites, fruit, hash browns, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, strawberry crepes, etc.
To build a healthy and balanced breakfast, we recommend choosing fruit, scrambled egg whites, turkey sausage, and an English muffin. This will give you a balance of healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
The one thing to note is that your sodium levels will be pushing toward 1,000 milligrams, which is quite high for only one meal. If you're needing something low-sodium, this wouldn't be the choice for you.
Huddle House 2 Egg Breakfast with Bacon
Huddle House's menu is certainly lacking in lighter, healthier options because where they really shine is their waffles and stacks of decadent pancakes. But if you are looking for a morning meal with a bit more nutritional balance, you can try their 2 Egg Breakfast with Bacon.
They have various "2 Egg Breakfast" selections that come with bacon, sausage, ribeye, or biscuits and gravy, but ordering the bacon is your best bet. You can also choose fruit instead of hash browns and wheat toast instead of a biscuit, which keeps your meal at around 540 calories with 28 grams of protein.
Perkin's Build Your Own Omelet
Once again, taking control of your ingredients and going the "build your own" route is the healthiest choice, this time at Perkin's.
With their Build Your Own Omelet, you can add in ingredients like turkey sausage, egg whites, and Pepper Jack cheese, which will keep your calories at bay while giving you a 32-gram boost of protein.
The 11 grams of saturated fat is a bit higher than what we'd like to see in a single meal, especially because the American Heart Association recommends sticking to less than 13 grams in an entire day, but this meal is still your best option compared to the other Perkin's menu items.
Dunkin' Turkey Sausage, Egg & Cheese
When you're in a pinch for time but want to make sure you can still eat something for breakfast, Dunkin' can be a helpful solution. But anyone who has been to Dunkin' knows that the majority of their menu is made up of donuts (obviously) and sugary coffee drinks.
Thankfully, the Dunkin' menu contains some healthier options for those who want a balanced fast-food breakfast. For instance, their Turkey Sausage, Egg & Cheese Sandwich provides 23 grams of protein for only 470 calories. You are still, however, getting 8 grams of saturated fat and 1,080 milligrams of sodium, both of which are amounts higher than what would be recommended. But when compared to many other fast-food breakfast sandwiches, this is a safe choice.
Panera Avocado, Egg White, Spinach & Cheese on Multigrain Bagel Flat
A multigrain bagel with avocado slices, spinach, egg whites, and white cheddar makes this Panera Sandwich one of the healthiest breakfast options you can choose.
Not only are you staying under 350 calories while still getting 19 grams of protein, but you're also getting 5 grams of fiber and keeping your saturated fat at 5 grams, both of which are very hard to do with fast food.
Marie Callender's Spinach & Mushroom Skillet
Marie Callender's—the chain best known for its pies—falls a bit short on its nutritious breakfast offerings. However, you can still find one or two things on the menu that can hopefully fit into your dietary goals.
Their Spinach & Mushroom Skillet is your best bet, as you can still get some vegetable fiber and protein. Unfortunately, you're still looking at 1,200 milligrams of sodium, which is very high for one breakfast meal. But compared to the other options, this one isn't too bad.
Bob Evans Southwest Avocado Bowl
It's difficult to find healthy choices at Bob Evans. But with the new Southwest Avocado Omelet, Sabat says "you'll at least get healthy fat from the avocado, some fiber from the vegetables, and a lot of protein."
There's no denying that the saturated fat, sodium, and calories on this omelet are on the higher end, but the 5 grams of fiber and 39 grams of protein help. And, when you compare it to the other breakfast options at Bob Evans, this is still one of the better choices.
It's difficult to find healthy choices at Bob Evans, but with this bowl, "you'll get healthy fat from the avocado, some fiber from the vegetables, and a lot of protein," says Sabat.
To make it healthier, "choose fruit instead of the potatoes and skip the biscuits," adds Sabat.