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Healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner options on the Starbucks menu

On the run? Try these nutritionist-approved healthy options to grab with your cold brew.
Image: Starbucks to help workers obtain undergraduate degrees
Knowing the healthier options at your favorite chain is a great strategy for those days where you're running late or are short on time. JUSTIN LANE / EPA

Whether traveling during your everyday commute, racing through the airport to catch a flight or on vacation either here or abroad, there’s one thing that’s a sure bet: You’ll encounter a Starbucks along the way. Knowing that there are healthier options available is a great strategy for times when you’re out of your routine (say, a business trip) or on days when you got a late start and couldn’t pack breakfast or lunch. No matter where or when hunger strikes, a Starbucks meal can come to the rescue.

Best Starbucks Breakfasts

  • Classic Oatmeal. With 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein, this pick — made with steel cut oats — packs a lot of whole grain goodness. When eating grains, whole grains are the best choice because they lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, and they help with weight management. You may see the calories listed at 160, but note that this doesn’t include the optional dried fruit, nut medley or brown sugar. The nuts bring more flavor and crunch to the chewy oats — an ideal touch, that also adds vitamins, minerals, and healthy, plant-based fats. Since the dried fruit adds a hint of sweetness, see if you can get by without the sugar packet, or sprinkle lightly.
  • Spinach, Feta & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap. This flavorful breakfast sandwich is a good grab-and-go option that packs 19 grams of protein and 6 g of fiber. The combo of egg-based protein plus a fiber-rich food has been shown to increase fullness and reduce calorie intake later in the day when compared to eating a lower protein and fiber breakfast cereal. When you know you need a meal that’s going to last, this one will go the distance. One thing to keep in mind: Like many restaurant and fast casual meals, this breakfast is higher in sodium than a home cooked meal. It has 830 mg of sodium— more than I’d normally suggest. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and veggies to keep potassium levels up. This mineral helps flush out the sodium in your diet. Drinking plenty of water will help, too.
  • Egg White & Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg Bites. If you’re watching your carb intake, these egg bites are a good choice. They have just 13 g of carbohydrate for the pair. Having them with the packaged Avocado Spread is a tasty way to go that also brings a lot of nutrition. You’ll get 4 grams of fiber in the spread, plus heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, vitamins, minerals and other plant health-promoters. Another cool avocado fact: Research shows that adding avocado to a meal leads to increased fullness and less hunger later on.

Best Starbucks Lunches

  • Lentils & Vegetable Protein Bowl with Brown Rice. For those looking to fill up on a fiber-rich, plant-based lunch, this meets the mark. With lentils, brown rice, butternut squash, broccoli and kale, you’ll be getting plenty of nutrition in this vegan bowl. The filling dish is an ideal mid-day meal when you’re in for a long afternoon. Another plus: Pulses, like lentils, are known to be nutritional powerhouses. In addition to protein and fiber, lentils are a good source of iron. Since iron carries oxygen to your cells, low iron stores can cause fatigue. Including lentils in your diet helps keep your iron stores (and energy levels) up.
  • Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl. If you’re looking for a lower-calorie Starbucks lunch, have this protein-packed bowl. The 450-calorie meal has flavorful fillings, which include roasted corn, black beans, chicken and quinoa to keep your belly happy without weighing you down. However, note that this lunch has more than 1,000 mg of sodium. That’s high, though not entirely out of line with other fast-casual and restaurant fare. Skipping the dressing will lower the sodium a bit. Studies confirm that most of the sodium in our diet is added outside the home so balance out your sodium intake by dining in more often than you dine out.
  • PB&J Protein Box. You may be surprised to see PB&J made the cut but it’s a meal that can make good nutritious sense. Peanuts and peanut butter are high in monounsaturated fats — the same type that avocados and extra-virgin olive oil are known for. And though it seems counter-intuitive given that nuts are high in calories and fat, people who report frequent nut intake have less weight gain and are at a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than people who eat nuts less often. Here, the classic sandwich is served with a side of fruit and veggies to bump up the fiber (as well as other nutrients), along with a cheese stick to give protein levels a boost. The small portion of chocolate-covered raisins is a reasonable way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Studies confirm that most of the sodium in our diet is added outside the home so balance out your sodium intake by dining in more often than you dine out.

Best Starbucks Beverages

You can’t go wrong with plain, unsweetened coffee or tea. Iced or hot, these sips provide antioxidants along with the caffeine boost. Though many associate tea with health benefits, coffee has been linked to several of its own: Drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers, and may protect against Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, the caffeine in both beverages helps you stay focused and alert.

Where these beverages go wrong is in the add-ins. More on this in a moment, but to keep your sips on the healthy side, have them plain or with 2% or nonfat milk, coconut milk or almond milk. Skip the sweetener if you can, or use a light touch. Here are a few options that are in line with this advice:

And Then a Few Things to Steer Clear Of

Certainly, the bakery case is a landmine of sugary, belt-busing fare. It’s not just that these goodies have loads of calories and sugar; they’re also made primarily of refined grains (read: white flour), which means they’re an energy slump waiting to happen.

  • Reduced-Fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake. It might taste good going down, but the 41 grams of sugar it contains (that’s 10 teaspoons!) in lieu of a few grams of fat make this a poor choice. It has “cake” in the name for a reason.
  • Lemon Chiffon Yogurt. This is a case of yogurt gone horribly wrong. The same amount of plain, whole milk Greek yogurt has about 200 calories and 8 grams of sugar. Thanks to the lemony mixture, you’ll get an extra 140 calories and 27 grams of sugar, which amounts to almost 7 teaspoons of added sugar. Truthfully, none of the yogurt parfaits are terrific in my book. You can usually find Siggi’s Vanilla Yogurt at Starbucks so if you’re in the mood for yogurt, it’s an option that will spare you a sugar crash.
  • Horchata Almondmilk Crème Frappuccino. If the above example is a case of yogurt gone wrong, this drink takes almond milk to the next level of wrongness. Plain, unsweetened almond milk has just 30 calories a cup. The typical 16-ounce grande serving of this drink has 330 calories. It also has more than 12 teaspoons of sugar — twice the daily limit for women, and three teaspoons more than the daily cap for men. Skipping the whip brings the sugar down a tad, but not enough. Don’t be fooled. Frappuccino drinks are more like milkshakes than coffee — fine if you’re treating yourself to dessert, but probably not okay if it’s a daily pick-me-up.


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