Food & Fitness

How to Eat a Healthy Breakfast at Restaurants

I am a seasoned breakfast/brunch goer.  When I moved to the city about five years ago with my family, we started going out for breakfast every Sunday. Over the years this tradition petered out, but the boyfriend and I now go for breakfast pretty much every Saturday together. Breakfast is delicious and it’s really nice to go out every weekend for a tasty meal at a local cafe.

The problem is that going out for breakfast can mean a lot of calories and fat grams, even if you are at a healthier place that focuses on free-run eggs and made-from-scratch recipes. Fear not! I’ve devised a number of ways to handle any breakfast situation so that you can eat a nutritious and delicious, decadent weekend meal:

1) Watch your portions. In a typical “cafe breakfast”, or the signature breakfast which includes toast/hashbrowns/meat/eggs, the amount of food is ridiculously large. Know what you want and what can be eliminated. I tend to eat the second slice of toast if it’s there, but I definitely don’t need it, so I request only one slice of toast when I order my meal. Nothing goes to waste, and the business doesn’t lose at all because I’m still paying full price.

If hashbrowns aren’t your “thing”, ask for half of the usual amount. Or one egg instead of two. Or no meat, if you don’t mind having a vegetarian breakfast. Once you’ve gone for breakfast a few times (especially to the same place), you’ll know what you crave and what you don’t care much about. Ask for less of the latter and you’ll be all set.

2) Cut the fat. Ask for “dry toast”, which means that the cook doesn’t put any butter on it. If you still like butter on your toast, you can ask for them to bring out a butter dish so that you can put the amount you want on it. Or you can take the super classy move and squeeze out the excess butter from your toast, which I have done before (like I said. Classy).

Choose leaner meat such as ham over sausages. I’m a bacon fan (true story: my mum’s dad used to affectionately refer to me as “bacon face” when I was a kid because I liked bacon so much), so I frequently choose bacon. It’s not as bad as you might think; one slice is about 60 calories (of course, once it’s been fried, extra calories and fat are added from the oil it’s cooked in). Ask for the bacon to be “crispy”, and just tear off the fatty pieces.

Don’t be afraid to use a napkin to blot any grease – chances are that you’re very well acquainted with your breakfast partner(s), so I wouldn’t worry about being judged on this one. And you can always use the discreet method: “Can you pass me a napkin? Oops, I dropped it on my plate! Onto my greasy bacon! Whoops! Let me just soak up as much grease as I can into the napkin while I retrieve it off my plate…”

3) Make the most of your eggs. Eggs are always cooked in oil, and it’s tough to control how much the cook will use… unless you choose poached eggs! Poached eggs are when the egg is cracked into a pot of boiling water. The only other thing that might be added is a bit of vinegar to make the egg white stay together. Hard-boiled is another good one, because no oil can be added to those eggs, either.

Something great about poached eggs is that if you order them soft-poached, the yolk will be runny, and you can eat it over your toast: the egg yolk is a wonderful replacement for butter so you don’t need to add any butter at all.

4) Share. Sometimes it all looks so good that you just can’t decide between two or three things. Instead of ordering something plus a side, why not split two meals with your breakfast partner? You can order one healthier meal and one decadent meal to have a nice balance between the two!

5) Ask for sides. Since I’ve decided to drastically reduce the amount of gluten and dairy I eat, I have lately had to re-think my usual “cafe breakfast” (which includes toast – gluten!) or pancake breakfast (which includes, obviously, pancakes, and therefore gluten). This past weekend, I ordered three sides: hashbrowns, bacon, and a fruit cup. It was wonderful! I didn’t miss my usual toast and eggs at all. Plus the serving of hashbrowns was really big. And the fruit cup had a great variety of different fruits (melon, grapes, banana slices) that I wouldn’t normally have at home.

6) Go for quality. Chain restaurants are boring. The food usually tastes bland, the atmosphere is generic, and it’s all-around not the greatest experience. Do some hunting around your city to scout out the local places that make from-scratch recipes using fresh ingredients from local farmers. Often they’ll make their own condiments, too!

7) Whatcha drinking? Adding a packet or a spoonful of sugar to a cup of coffee adds 15 calories and 4 grams of sugar. If you have a few cups, that adds up! Drinking orange juice or a smoothie for breakfast or adding cream to your tea can really pack on calories quicker than you’d think.

Sometimes smoothies and hot chocolate can have enough calories and fat to equal a small meal. Think about that before you order your beverage. Ask your server questions about the ingredients and the amounts of ingredients in smoothies and hot chocolate if they are specialties at their restaurant.

When in doubt, stick with green, white, or mint tea, or a cup of water. Your breakfast is so delicious that you probably won’t miss drinking calories/sugar/fat, anyways.

8 ) Make it special. I really like getting hashbrowns and bacon or ham when I go out for breakfast because I so rarely make either of those at home. I am a skilled soft-poached-egg-maker, but when it comes to hashbrowns I fail. I really look forward to breakfast each week and I’m content to forego toast if I can have tasty rosemary hashbrowns from Stella’s Cafe.

9) Be curious. If you don’t know, ask. Sometimes hashbrowns are deep-fried and sometimes they’re pan-fried. Sometimes toast is pre-buttered and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes there are whole wheat options not mentioned on the menu. Sometimes you can substitute fruit or veggies for something else. You don’t know until you ask! Be informed about what you’re putting into your body.

Many restaurants and cafes post their menus online, so you can peruse them ahead of time too to be extra aware of what to expect upon your arrival.

10) Enjoy it! If it’s a once-in-a-while type of thing, by all means order the French toast (with a side of sausages, if you’re hung over. I can attest to it being a good hangover cure from when I used to go out and party. My partying days lasted about a year when I was 19. So glad to be done with that now – fun as it was at the time, it is so not worth it!). Some places have whole wheat pancakes, so choose that over white pancakes for a slightly healthier option.

Choose what you really want and pay attention to when you start feeling full. You can often healthify by pinpointing what it is that you want and working around that to ensure that your dining experience is still fabulous but that your health doesn’t have to suffer.

Is breakfast your favourite meal of the day, too? What’s your favourite breakfast food? Do you go out to restaurants for breakfast very often? Share any tips you have on healthifying restaurant meals in the comments section below!


  1. Dr. J

    The traditional breakfast in the US is garbage 🙂 I did eat breakfast growing up, but after I was on my own ate it less and less. When I first came to Florida to work, there was a great breakfast place where everyone went. There could be the president of the university sitting next to some homeless person that had wandered in. I would go there on weekends. When I lived in France, I think their petit dejeuner was the best way to eat break-the-fast. I would also like to point out that if you can delay your breaking the fast in the morning, you will burn more fat as you are on a fat burning metabolism from the lack of food overnight..

    1. Sagan Morrow

      There’s so much conflicting info about breakfast out there! Research studies are constantly contradicting themselves.

      I’ve seen some people who eat nothing for breakfast, and they’re healthy and lean; others who do the same but are overweight. The same holds true for breakfast-eaters: some are lean, others are a bit heavier. Different bodies have different needs, I suppose!

      But I also think you have a good point about France. When I lived in Spain, all I’d eat was a big apple for breakfast. I’d eat something else later on in the morning, but the apple would keep me going for a solid few hours. I think that’s what I like about going out for breakfast on weekends: usually by the time you get going and walk to the restaurant, some time has passed so you work up a good appetite!

  2. Pubsgal

    These are great tips, Sagan! I love going out for breakfast! I think it’s one of my favorite meals to eat out these days, although we do make a pretty good brunch-style breakfast at home. Most places here are really great about substituting sliced tomatoes for the hashbrowns and toast, or offering fruit as one of the side choices (and not just 5 different types of potatoes!). And we’re big on sharing; if we’re going to a place with huge portions, we’ll often split a breakfast, or share what we’re eating if we get separate entrées.

  3. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    My recent road trip reminded me how much I enjoy a good breakfast out, so I’ll be experimenting with adding a Saturday breakfast to my rotation. While I was gone, the local bagel shop added oatmeal pancakes to their menu, which I had on Monday. In this case I didn’t order anything on the side, and it’s a good thing because the two oatmeal pancakes were enough. (And thank goodness I asked what they were served with–powdered sugar! Yikes! :))

    Around here we don’t fry bacon in oil, since it generates its own oil. Lots of people then use the pan drippings for other dishes, such as gravy or vegetable seasonings.

  4. Yum Yucky

    I used to chomp down a good ‘ole breakfast with the works, but the more I exercised in the morn and ate oatmeal and fruit, the more a “normal” breakfast was too heavy on my stomach. Now I’m at the point where breakfast is really small. But I live for lunchtime.. and dessert-lunch (the after snack).

  5. Jody - Fit at 52

    I am not one to eat out very often. I sit with other people but I don’t really eat out much. I like to control my food. I know many can’t do this OR they just want to enjoy but this is just me….

    I have eaten my bread dry for years now so that works for me.. I love bread dry! I love my own homemade protein bras & cookies chock full of protein & healthy carbs & fiber. I love my oatmeal with protein powder, fruit & spices in it… in fact may eat that for dinner a couple times a week! 🙂

    Good suggestions though! I am the Sally in When Harry Met Sally.. special order all the way! 😉

  6. Geosomin

    I love to go out to weekend breakfast at a local diner “hole in the wall” here in town. Local sourced food in a small town diner style. Amazing food…
    It’s funny, I’ve always loved dry toast and soft poached eggs over versions of breakfast stuff…then all you get is the flavour of the taost and eggs together. Oh, and the backbacon. Oh yes…mmm…

  7. T

    oh i am such a breakfast person! brandon and i love it so much that we’re actually doing a brunch reception (and a morning ceremony) for our wedding.

    in general though, i am a breakfast eater. if i don’t eat within 30 min to an hour of waking up, bad things happen with my blood sugar. i neeeeed food in the morning and preferably protein. i’ve gotten it down to eggs, oj and some milk (with the tiniest bit of coffee in it for flavor so i actually drink it. yes, i’m weird).

    I’ll still do big breakfasts from time to time, but don’t like doing it because i feel like i barely eat the rest of the day after. i’m used to my eggs in the am and then my oatmeal on my first break at work about three hours later!

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