Fast Food Breakfast for Diabetes: Dietitian Approved Meals!

Last Updated on by Kari Garner, MS RDN LD CDCES

Finding suitable options for breakfast, especially at fast food restaurants, can present a challenge for those managing diabetes.  While you can have more control over food choices when making breakfast at home, it is not always feasible, especially when traveling. 

The impact of breakfast on blood sugar levels makes it imperative to select food choices that are balanced with nutrients. 

In this blog, I am sharing how to build a healthy fast food breakfast when dining out before offering insight into the best restaurants and menu items I recommend as a diabetes dietitian. 

Start your day with a nutrient-packed breakfast whether at home or on the road!

Understanding Diabetes 

It is possible to successfully eat on-the-go if you have diabetes. To start, let me provide clarity around why you may see a blood sugar spike from fast food. 

Many of the food and beverage options at a fast food restaurant can have a high carbohydrate content. When consumed, these carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and insulin helps that glucose into your cells to provide energy. 

Think of insulin as a key that opens the door of a cell. When working properly, insulin or the “key” can open the door and allow the glucose to enter from the bloodstream into the cell. This provides our body with the energy it needs to perform daily activities.

Problems with insulin could be the body not making enough like in type 1 diabetes or being insulin resistant as seen in prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Thus, glucose is stuck in the bloodstream and unable to enter the cell. This causes blood sugar levels to rise.

By making informed choices to manage your carbohydrate intake carefully, you can indulge in restaurant favorites while keeping blood sugars stable. 

So, what can individuals with diabetes eat for breakfast? Keep reading to find out!

Healthy Fast Food Breakfast Options

The balance of protein, fat and fiber along with mindful carbohydrate intake is the goal when building a breakfast for diabetes. 

These same guidelines can be followed to ensure you select a healthy fast food breakfast when dining on-the-go.

In general, aim for 30-45 grams of total carbohydrates, 3+ grams of fiber, 10+ grams of protein and 5+ grams of fat for a balanced meal.

*Always consult with your diabetes care team to determine personalized dietary guidelines and recommendations.  

Common Pitfalls 

Keep these common pitfalls at top of mind as you scan the menu and make a food decision:

  • High sugar condiments or toppings: Options such as syrups, sauces and sweeteners can be hidden in recipes, causing rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. 
  • Large portion sizes: Many restaurants serve oversized portions, which can lead to overeating and difficulty managing levels. 
  • Limited healthy choices: Menus may lack nutritious options, making it challenging to find suitable meals. For example, fiber is important to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates while also promoting satiety but often is the missing component from fast food meals. 
  • Skipping breakfast: Skipping breakfast can lead to unstable levels throughout the day so take the knowledge you learn to create a balanced on-the-go breakfast. 
  • Ignoring nutritional information: Ingredient lists and nutritional labels are typically available for all major fast food chains either in-store, online or via a mobile app. Take a moment to review this information before ordering. 

Best Restaurants for Diabetes

Restaurants that focus on fresh, whole ingredients while also providing customizable options are going to be the best choice when dining with diabetes. 

However, that is not always possible, which is why I am going to encourage you to use the guidelines in this blog and my 25/75 Method to build a balanced plate at any restaurant. 

Here are the top fast food restaurants where I find my clients dining. Below you will find specific breakfast meal recommendations for each location!

  1. McDonald’s
  2. Subway
  3. Wendy’s 
  4. Taco Bell 
  5. Dunkin’ Donuts 
  6. Chick-fil-A
  7. Panera Bread 
  8. Starbucks 
Fast Food Breakfast for Diabetes: Dietitian Approved Meals

Best Breakfast for Diabetes

McDonald’s

McDonald’s can often get a bad rap but there are plenty of blood sugar friendly options to pick from on the menu.

Consider an Egg McMuffin, Sausage McMuffin or Sausage Burrito with a small coffee, apple slices, 1% milk or water. Enjoy a black coffee or an unsweetened cappuccino or iced latte for more flavor. 

Subway

With the addition of flatbreads and wraps to the menu, many Subway locations now offer a breakfast option.

The Black Forest Ham, Egg & Cheese or the Steak, Egg & Cheese flatbreads offer balance, especially when choosing the 6” topped with spinach, tomatoes and red onions. For a heart healthy twist, consider swapping the cheese with smashed avocado. 

Wendy’s

Similar to McDonald’s, you can find English muffin breakfast sandwiches along with apple bites for a satisfying breakfast choice. The Sausage Biscuit is another option that offers a similar carbohydrate profile and less total fat per serving.

The regular hot coffee or cold brew are two coffee options that are unsweetened to promote balanced blood sugars.

Taco Bell 

Taco Bell does allow you to customize the breakfast choices, which provides additional options. 

For example, instead of ordering a plain Cheesy Toasted Breakfast Burrito (Sausage), order it with tomatoes and guacamole and without nacho cheese sauce. This will boost the fiber content while lowering the saturated fat content of the burrito. 

Another popular option is the Breakfast Steak Quesadilla. Consider a side of tomatoes and guacamole to increase satiety.

Dunkin’ Donuts

While a sugar laden donut may not be the best blood sugar friendly choice, Dunkin does offer a variety of sandwiches and wraps at breakfast

The Turkey Sausage, Egg and Cheese sandwich on an English muffin or the Wake-Up Wrap are two ways to incorporate protein and mindful carbohydrate intake in the morning. Pair with an unsweetened coffee or latte for an energy boost before heading out the door.

Chick-fil-A

The Egg White Grill is a fantastic option at Chick-fil-A and can be boosted with fiber by adding a fruit cup to the meal. 

There is also an option to order a Greek yogurt parfait with fresh berries as a balanced choice if seeking an option that isn’t a breakfast sandwich. 

For a non-traditional breakfast meal, consider ordering Grilled Nuggets, a side of kale crunch salad and a fruit cup to mix together for a savory breakfast bowl. 

Panera Bread

The choices extend far beyond a bagel with cream cheese at Panera. The Avocado, Egg white, spinach and cheese on a multigrain flat is a superb choice. Customize by adding an additional egg white to boost protein. 

For a fiber rich side, the seasonal fruit cup fits the bill and for a sweet breakfast option, consider the Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries Parfait. To reduce the sugar content of the parfait, customize by omitting the honey drizzled on top of the yogurt.

Starbucks

I have a full guide on how to order drinks from Starbucks that offers tips and beverage recommendations for balanced blood sugars. 

If including food with a drink, consider the Turkey Bacon, Cheddar & Egg White Sandwich, Egg Bites with a bowl of Oatmeal or the Spinach, Feta & Egg White Wrap

Restaurant menu items and nutritional information may change, verify the most up-to-date information with specific locations.

On-the-Go Eating Tips 

  • Plan Ahead: As I mentioned above, nutritional information is often available online via the website or a mobile app to allow you to review prior to arriving. Looking through this information, you can gain a detailed understanding of the nutrition content of each meal as you aim to build a balanced breakfast. 
  • Indulge in Mindful Portions: Consider splitting a breakfast with a family or friend instead of consuming an oversized portion. You can also opt for a kids size at some locations. 
  • Watch for Hidden Sugars: Be aware of the syrups, sauces, sweeteners and toppings added to certain meals that are packed with hidden sugars. Choose unsweetened beverages, sauces on the side and no sugar added syrups to minimize blood sugar spikes.
  • Stay Hydrated: Don’t forget a large ice water with your order! Typically this is zero or minimal cost to add to your order and sets you up for success as you start the day. This is a great way to kickstart your hydration first thing in the morning. 
  • Customize Your Order: As you take a look at the menu, advocate for changes to customize to your dietary needs. For example, ask for dressing on the side for salads, extra vegetables on a burger, steamed vegetables instead of fries or 1 pump of syrup instead of 6 in a coffee. 
  • Build Balanced Plates: Focusing on protein, fat and fiber as the bulk of the meal with mindful carbohydrate intake is the best approach to prevent elevated blood sugars. Your favorite foods can fit when using the 25/75 method as a guide!

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Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist/ Registered Dietitian/ Owner / Springtime Nutrition, LLC

Kari is a diabetes expert with more than 18 years of experience. Kari currently works as a diabetes educator with a large hospital system in Charleston, SC and is committed to improving the lives of people with any type of diabetes.

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