Kaamilah Mitchell and Suraya Bunting compiled the information for this article.

What’s new—and what’s good—at Starbucks, Panera, and other coffee shops? Here’s how to pick or customize your way to better sandwiches, boxes, bowls, bites, beverages, and more. Our examples are from chains, but the advice should hold up pretty much anywhere.

Egg sandwiches

Some of the best egg sandwiches:

Panera. The yummy Avocado, Egg White & Spinach with cheese and tomatoes (on Panera’s 62% whole-grain bagel flat) beats just about any sandwich on the menu, especially those with bacon, ham, or sausage. (Processed meats are linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.)

Tip: You can drop the meat or add avocado (79 cents) to any Panera sandwich.

Avocado, egg whites, tomato, spinach? Well done, Panera.

Starbucks. Go for the 230-calorie Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon & Cage Free Egg White, which comes on a part-whole-grain English muffin. (Try it sans bacon.) It trounces the 500-calorie sandwiches that come on croissants.

Au Bon Pain. Ask for egg whites and avocado on a skinny wheat bagel, which is all whole grain.

And wherever you are, customize. (It’s easier if the chain has an app.) Even McDonald’s will drop the Canadian bacon and add tomatoes (for 50 cents or so) to an Egg McMuffin.

LOOK FOR: Whole grains, and veggies or avocado instead of processed meats.


Why not try a wrap? They’re often at least half whole-grain and roomy enough to stuff in a few veggies. Some of our picks:

Try Panera's Mediterranean Wrap.

Panera. The Mediterranean Egg White—egg whites, feta, tomatoes, spinach, and white bean pesto on a 63% whole-grain wrap—is a winner. The Chipotle Chicken, Scrambled Egg & Avocado is also decent (skip the gouda cheese).

Starbucks. The sodium (830 milligrams) in the Spinach, Feta & Cage Free Egg White Wrap is higher than Panera’s Mediterranean wrap (650 mg), and its spinach isn’t as tasty as Panera’s fresh greens. But a sandwich with no ham, bacon, or sausage? Beats the rest at the ‘bucks.

LOOK FOR: A veggie-rich wrap.

Egg bites & beyond

Want eggs but not in a sandwich? Bypass Panera’s petite Baked Egg Soufflés. Each has enough croissant dough and cheese to supply some 500-plus calories and a day’s worth of saturated fat. Instead, try:

Cutting back on carbs? Get Egg Bites.

Egg Bites. Starbucks’ Egg White & Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg Bites (egg whites, cheese, veggies) offer 13 grams of protein per 170-calorie, two-bite order.

Bowls. Some small chains like Le Pain Quotidien and Bluestone Lane offer breakfast bowls with an egg perched atop kale, cabbage, and avocado. Imagine that!

LOOK FOR: Less white flour and cheese.

Egg & fruit boxes

In a pinch, Starbucks’ Eggs & Cheese Protein Box is a solid breakfast. For 470 calories, you get two hard-boiled eggs, a cup of fruit (apples and grapes), a few slivers of white cheddar cheese, plus a hunk of bread and a packet of peanut butter spread.

Pack your own "protein box."

It’s got less than a teaspoon of added sugar and just a quarter of a day’s sodium. Too bad the “multigrain” muesli bread is mostly white flour.

Want to sidestep the white flour—and the single-use plastic—in Starbucks’ and other chains’ boxes? Pack your own fresh fruit, egg or nuts, and maybe a whole-grain mini bagel in a reusable container.

LOOK FOR: Some chains sell hard-boiled eggs alone. Add a piece of fresh fruit, and breakfast is served.


Oatmeal is 100% whole grain…and just about everywhere. Some tips:

Our tasters' favorite: Panera's steel-cut oats with quinoa.

Sugar. Most oats are sweetened with 1 to 3 teaspoons of added sugar. Starbucks’ brown sugar or agave syrup comes in a packet, so it’s easy to skip or cut back. Most chains will leave it out if you ask.

Texture. Our favorites: chewy, nutty steel-cut oats at Corner Bakery Cafe and Panera. Runner-up: Au Bon Pain’s creamy rolled oats. All three beat the just-add-water oats at McDonald’s and Starbucks.

Toppings. Fresh fruit—like in Starbucks’ Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal—isn’t easy to come by. Second best: dried fruit and nuts. The chocolate chips on Au Bon Pain’s self-serve toppings bar turn breakfast into dessert.

LOOK FOR: A way to skip the added sugar.


Too bad many parfaits layer only a smattering of (sweetened) fruit between (sweetened) granola and (sweetened) yogurt.

Skip the 4 to 6 tsp. of added sugar in Starbucks' parfaits.

For example, a Starbucks Berry Trio Parfait (nonfat vanilla yogurt, berries, granola) has 4 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s a third of a day’s limit. The Lemon Crunch Parfait has no whole fruit and 26 grams (6 tsp.) of added sugar, thanks in part to its sugary lemon curd.

Consider this: Many Starbucks sell Siggi’s yogurt. A 5.3 oz. 0% Vanilla has a mere teaspoon of added sugar, but just as much protein (15 grams) as either parfait. It also packs less than half the calories (110). Want fruit? Add a banana. Most Starbucks stock them near the cash register.

LOOK FOR: Plain (or less-sweet) yogurt and fresh fruit.

Baked goods

Most of the bakery case is white flour, sugar, and butter, cream, or oil.

Schmear nut butter, hummus, or avocado on half a whole-grain bagel.

Doughnuts & scones. Expect 300 to 400 calories of mostly white flour plus sugar and a quarter to half a day’s saturated fat (thanks to doughnuts’ palm oil and scones’ butter and cream).

Croissants & danish. These uber-buttered pastries reach half to three-quarters of a day’s sat fat and 300 to 500 calories.

Muffins & cinnamon rolls. They’re usually oversized (400 to 600 calories). And we’re talking around 10 teaspoons of added sugar. Even bran muffins—if you can find them—can hit 400 calories.

Whole-grain bagels. Even many “whole grain” or “sprouted grain” bagels (300 calories without cream cheese) are roughly half white flour.

LOOK FOR: Half a whole-grain bagel (or a piece of toast) schmeared with a healthier fat—nut butter, hummus, or mashed avocado—rather than cream cheese.

Coffee drinks

A shot of espresso, an Americano (espresso plus water), or a coffee has next to no calories (about 5). Each packet of sugar adds 10 to 20.

The takeaway: The best drinks mix coffee or espresso with milk, water, or ice, not sugary syrups, cream, or whipped cream.

Here’s a quick rundown. All numbers are for Starbucks grandes (16 oz.), unless noted:

For iced drinks, cold foam beats whipped cream.

Iced coffee. Go unsweetened to skip the syrup’s 5 teaspoons of sugar.

Cold foam. Try the new Cold Brew with Cold Foam. It’s 35 calories’ worth of cold-brewed coffee topped with cold nonfat milk foamed with a little vanilla syrup. That beats the 80-calorie Cascara Cold Foam (about 3 teaspoons of added sugar) and the 230-calorie Salted Cream Cold Foam (about 4½ tsp.).

Cappuccino, misto, or latte. A cappuccino’s espresso plus foamed nonfat milk means just 80 calories and a nice dose of calcium (255 milligrams) and protein (8 grams). It’s about the same as a nonfat misto (coffee with steamed milk). A nonfat latte has more milk, calcium (450 mg), protein (13 grams), and calories (130).

Sweetened espresso drinks. The Cocoa Cloud Macchiato (300 calories), Cinnamon Dolce Latte (340), and White Chocolate Mocha (430) go from bad to worse.

Frozen blended drinks. Think of Frappuccinos and their competitors as caffeinated milkshakes. At Panera, the Frozen Cold Brew drinks blend cold brew concentrate with nearly 500 calories’ worth of half and half, sugar, chocolate or caramel syrup, and whipped cream. A large Dunkin’ Frozen Coffee (mostly light cream and sugar) tops 800.

Skip the whip. It adds at least 70 calories of cream and sugar.

LOOK FOR: An espresso or Americano, or a coffee, cappuccino, misto, or regular latte. See “What Milk?” for milk tips.

What milk?

Prefer dairy in your coffee? Try nonfat or 1%. (Ask for half nonfat, half 2% if they don’t have 1%.)

Plant milks—which often come with added calcium—have pros and cons:

Go for dairy, soy, or almond over coconut milk.

Soy milk. It has nearly as much protein as dairy milk but is usually sweetened. A 16 oz. Starbucks grande Soy Latte has more added sugar (4 teaspoons) than it needs.

Almond milk. If you’re looking for protein, look elsewhere. As for sugar, it varies. For example, a 16 oz. Panera Almond Milk Latte has no added sugar (but no added calcium). At Starbucks, the same-size latte has a teaspoon of added sugar. At Dunkin’, it’s 3½ tsp. in a medium (14 oz.) latte, thanks to vanilla almond milk.

Coconut milk. At Starbucks, it has more calories than almond milk, yet no more protein. Why bother?

LOOK FOR: Nonfat or 1% milk, or (preferably unsweetened) soy or almond milk.

Tea lattes

You can't always dodge the added sugar in matcha or chai lattes.

Lattes made with espresso typically have no added sugar unless they’re flavored with caramel, mocha, vanilla, etc. But tea lattes vary.

Take Starbucks:

Chai Latte. Its sugar and honey come pre-mixed in the “chai tea concentrate,” so you can’t leave out the estimated 7 teaspoons of added sugar in a 240-calorie grande (16 oz.). That’s more than half a day’s max.

Matcha Latte. You also can’t dodge the sugar that’s added to the “matcha tea blend.” A grande has 3 teaspoons, we estimate. A Matcha Lemonade gets its added sugar (about 6½ tsp.) from the tea blend and lemonade.

Black tea lattes. The London Fog and Royal English Breakfast Tea Lattes are brewed tea with steamed milk and syrup. Ask for no syrup or get just a single pump (about a teaspoon’s worth). Don’t worry. With the milk, they’re plenty sweet.

LOOK FOR: Unsweetened tea lattes...or plain old brewed tea.

Photos: StockSnap/pixabay.com, Kaamilah Mitchell/CSPI (sandwich, wrap, egg bites, oatmeal, coffee), Suraya Bunting/CSPI (protein box & yogurt), JJAVA/stock.adobe.com (bagel), pilipphoto/stock.adobe.com (milk), nblxer/stock.adobe.com (matcha).