The Best and Worst Grab-and-Go Breakfast Foods

Discover six packaged eats that will ruin your morning—and some just-as-convenient healthy alternatives

September 14, 2012
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Photograph by Thinkstock

During your morning rush, think twice before you grab a packaged pastry or toaster waffle on your way out the door. "Many of these foods are full of calories, but lack the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients you need," says Heather K. Jones, RD, author of The Grocery Cart Makeover. "A healthy breakfast should have no more than 500 calories, 450 mg sodium, and 10 g of added sugar." Instead, look for foods with clean ingredient lists--few additives and chemicals, and more recognizable "real" foods, like fruits and nuts. They should ideally also have at least 5 g protein, and made with whole grains. Aim for about three to four grams of fiber, and "the less sugar the better," Jones says. 

Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowl: Pancakes and Syrup and Sausage Links
2/15
Courtesy of Jimmy Dean
Worst: Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowl: Pancakes and Syrup and Sausage Links

710 calories, 34 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 1,000 mg sodium, 35 g sugar (1 bowl)
"Frozen breakfast bowls are the worst," Jones says. In addition to packing enough calories for nearly two breakfasts, this particular dish carries the equivalent of nearly 12 teaspoons of sugar, as well as two-thirds of your American Heart Association-recommended sodium allowance, and more than half of your daily saturated fat intake.

Otis Spunkmeyer Blueberry Crumb Cake Muffin
3/15
Courtesy of Otis Spunkmeyer
Worst: Otis Spunkmeyer Blueberry Crumb Cake Muffin

410 calories, 17 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 410 mg sodium, 27 g sugar (1 muffin)
"People assume bran or fruit muffins are healthy, but they tend to be sugar-filled, so it's like having a piece of cake without any frosting," Jones says. "They also tend to be very large." These sweet suckers pack about 8 teaspoons of sugar, not to mention more than a quarter of your daily-recommended fat allowance.

Entenmann’s Rich Chocolate Doughnut
4/15
Courtesy of Entenmann’s
Worst: Entenmann’s Rich Chocolate Doughnut

300 calories, 20 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 190 mg sodium, 17 g sugar
This should be a no-brainer, but in case you're tempted by the claims of "rich frosting," take a peek at the nutrition label--it should stop you dead in your tracks. Each measly doughnut will dose you with more fat than a McDonald's McDouble, filling you up with 65 percent of your daily-recommended saturated fat allowance.

Eggo Buttermilk Pancakes
5/15
Courtesy of Kellogg's
Worst: Eggo Buttermilk Pancakes

280 calories, 9 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 590 mg sodium, 12 g sugar (3 pancakes)
A short stack of these hotcakes may taste sweet, but they pack 25 percent of your daily sodium allowance. They'll also load you up with as much sugar as a glazed Dunkin Donuts doughnut.

Thomas’ Everything Bagels
6/15
Courtesy of Thomas’
Worst: Thomas’ Everything Bagels

270 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 470 mg sodium, 6 g sugar (1 bagel)
These bagged bagels serve up far less fat and sugar than some of their morning-meal counterparts, but they rack up 20 percent of your day's sodium allowance--almost three times as much as a small order of fries. Plus, many of the bagel's 270 calories come from nutrient-void enriched flour and other refined grains.

Pop-Tarts Frosted S’Mores
7/15
Courtesy of Kellogg's
Worst: Pop-Tarts Frosted S’Mores

200 calories, 5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 210 mg sodium, 19 g sugar (1 pastry)
Don't be lured in by the convenience of this calorie-filled, sugar-filled snack--and don't be deceived by its packaging. Two Pop-Tarts come in one wrapper, but the nutrition data on the back of the box is for just one. In other words, if you eat both, you'll consume an astounding 38 g of sugar and a whopping 400 calories.

Honey Nut Cheerios Milk ‘n Cereal Bars
8/15
Courtesy of General Mills
Worst: Honey Nut Cheerios Milk ‘n Cereal Bars

160 calories, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 90 mg sodium, 13 g sugar (1 bar)
"Breakfast bars can be a good on-the-go choice, but most bars--especially cereal bars--tend to be made with refined grains and sugar," Jones says. Her biggest pet peeve? General Mills' Milk 'n Cereal bars. "They don't contain milk; they're made with powdered sugar," she says. In fact, the first ingredient in the "milk filling" is sugar. Doesn't exactly sound like something you'd pour yourself a tall glass of, does it?

Post Grape Nuts
9/15
Courtesy of Post
Best: Post Grape Nuts

200 calories, 1 g fat, 290 mg sodium, 5 g sugar, 7 g dietary fiber, 6 g protein (1/2 cup)
When selecting a cereal, opt for one made with 100 percent whole grains and at least four grams of fiber per serving, Jones says. Grape Nuts fits the bill--it's made up of whole grain wheat flour and barley flour, rather than enriched grains. Additionally, it delivers more than a quarter of your dietary fiber for the day.

KIND Fruit & Nut Delight
10/15
Courtesy of KIND
Best: KIND Fruit & Nut Delight

180 calories, 11g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 11 g sugar, 4 g dietary fiber, 5 g protein (1 bar)
While some cereal bars will drive your diet into the ground, you can make better choices, Jones says. "I like KIND bars--they're made with real fruit and real nuts, and the ingredients are really clean." The fats and sugars come from the fruits and nuts, rather than added ingredients, and you'll get some protein and fiber as well.

Van’s Whole Grains Multigrain Waffle
11/15
Courtesy of Van's
Best: Van’s Whole Grains Multigrain Waffle

180 calories, 7 g fat, 320 mg sodium, 3 g sugar, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g protein (2 waffles)
Made with wheat, oats, brown rice, quinoa, and other whole grains, these waffles add 6 g of fiber to your breakfast, without carrying any cholesterol or preservatives, according to Jones.

oatmeal
12/15
Thinkstock
Best: Instant Unsweetened Oatmeal

166 calories, 4 g fat, 4 g fiber, 6 g protein (1 cup, cooked with water)
Rolled oats may prevent against type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, plus it contains fiber to fill you up. Add some fruit to naturally sweeten--and nutritionally enhance--your morning bowl of oats, and presto, you've got a hot, health-enhancing meal in 60 seconds.

Greek yogurt
13/15
Thinkstock
Best: Low-Fat Greek Yogurt

150 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 65 mg sodium, 8 g sugar, 20 g protein (7 oz)
Unlike sugary breakfast staples, a serving of Greek yogurt will fill you up and silence your appetite for hours. Protein has been linked with satiety, and a cup of Greek yogurt fills you with an impressive 20 grams.

low-sodium cottage cheese
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Thinkstock
Best: Low-Fat, No-Salt Added Cottage Cheese

90 calories 1.5 g  fat, 1 g saturated fat, 60 mg sodium, 4 g sugar, 16 g protein (1/2 cup)
Build up your bones while you eat your breakfast. A helping of good old-fashioned curds and whey will set you up with 10 percent of the calcium you need for the day. A heaping helping of protein will stop your stomach from rumbling before lunchtime. Just make sure you select low-sodium cottage cheese--the regular variety can overload you with around 400 mg.

MorningStar Farms Veggie Sausage
15/15
Courtesy of MorningStar Farms
Best: MorningStar Farms Veggie Sausage

80 calories, 3 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 300 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 9 g protein (2 links)
These links have less than half the calories and fat of traditional sausage, and even more protein, according to Jones. Pair them with some fruit and whole grains for a complete breakfast.

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