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Instead of having to order and pay for the disappointment that comes with biting into a sad, so-called good-for-you breakfast sandwich, try opting for some healthier fast-food options in the morning — that actually taste good.
Consumer Reports' Elliott Weiller stopped by TODAY to reveal the non-profit membership organization's top picks for quick breakfasts that won't break the bank and won't leave you feeling too stuffed as you head into work.
"Believe it or not, a third of Americans eat breakfast at fast food restaurants," Weiller said. In an effort to help everyone make better food choices in the morning, the sleuths at Consumer Reports scrutinized every seemingly healthy breakfast food at Au Bon Pain, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jamba Juice, McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Starbucks. After reviewing the nutritional information of each breakfast item, the team was left with 48 options to taste — a small fraction of the total items available. Next, came the tasting.
In order to make the top of the list, the dish had to be rated "very good" in categories for both nutrition and taste. Then the healthiest and most flavorful item was selected in five popular breakfast categories.
1. Best egg-and-cheese sandwich
This may be the most important category for the very hungry — or very hungover. Au Bon Pain's egg white and cheddar breakfast sandwich on a skinny wheat bagel was deemed a good choice, clocking in at 210 calories with 7 grams fat.
But the top choice was Panera Bread’s avocado, scrambled egg white and spinach on a flat, sprouted-grain bagel. It got an "excellent" rating for taste and a "very good" for nutrition.
"It's actually really, really good," Weiller told TODAY's Carson Daly, who is a big fan of loaded breakfast sandwiches.
Unless you're trying to blow your daily values of sodium and calories in one sitting, it's best to steer clear of "breakfast bomb" sandwiches like Au Bon Pain's sausage, egg and cheddar sandwich on an Asiago bagel (660 calories). "It has a whopping 80 percent of the daily recommended saturated fat intake," Weiller said.
Another 'breakfast bomb' is Dunkin' Donuts' sausage, egg and cheese on a croissant, which has 700 calories, 51 grams of fat and 1,120 milligrams of sodium — 49 percent of the maximum amount you should have in a day.
2. Best oatmeal
At Starbucks, Weiller suggests choosing the Blueberry Oatmeal with pumpkin seed and nuts. It has 271 calories and 5.5 grams of fat. "I'd eat that," TODAY's Willie Geist told Weiller.
Another good option is Dunkin' Donuts whole grain oatmeal with a dried fruit topping. It has 310 calories and 2 grams of fat.
The regular oatmeal at McDonald’s is premixed with brown sugar, fresh apples and dried fruit, so the sugar adds up quickly. While there is an off-menu, unsweetened option, the regular dish has 33 grams of sugar. Panera Bread fared better in this category with its strawberry and pecan steel-cut oatmeal, which has 340 calories, 14 grams of fat and 16 grams of sugar.
3. Best smoothie or energy bowl
This is a relative newcomer in the breakfast category and a lot of smoothies on the market had too much sugar to even make the qualifying rounds. However, Jamba Juice’s fruit and Greek yogurt energy bowl was the top pick here. It has less sugar than other bowls and smoothies, and got extra points because it's loaded with fresh fruit.
4. Best breakfast box
The only boxed meal that was healthy and tasty enough to make the list was Starbucks’ eggs-and-cheese protein box. It's filled with two hard-boiled eggs, sliced apples, grapes, white cheddar, multi-grain bread and honey peanut butter. It does have quite a bit of fat (24 grams, or 37 percent of your daily value), but it's mostly unsaturated fat from the peanut butter.
Overall, the chain that got the most gold stars for flavor and health value was Panera, with five recommended items. Starbucks received four recommendations and Au Bon Pain and Jamba Juice both had three. McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts received high grades in taste, but none of their menu items met the nutritional criteria.
The worst offenders?
Though delicious, there were plenty of items that didn't make the cut. Among some of the most caloric meals found by Consumer Reports was McDonald's Big Breakfast with Hotcakes (1,350 calories) and
One surprising find was Panera's spinach and artichoke soufflé, which may sound healthy, but it has 33 grams of fat (19 of which are saturated), 890 mg of sodium and 520 calories.
Now that the healthiest and tastiest breakfast options have been revealed (and the red tape of smoothie bowls and egg whites has been cut) it's time to ask some hard questions ... like is that even an egg on your sandwich?