Complimentary Hotel Breakfasts: Choose Wisely

Most mid-range hotels and motels these days offer a complimentary breakfast. Buffets range from only coffee or juice and grains like dry cereal, oatmeal, pastries and breads to huge spreads of breakfast foods, including hot dishes, fresh fruit and yogurt. Make-your-own waffle machines have become ubiquitous. It’s easy to fill your plate with empty pastry calories or fat-laden biscuit gravy on these buffets. The key is to think about whether the extra calories are worth consuming.

I stayed at three different accommodations over the weekend. Each of them offered a complimentary breakfast. Now in a weight loss mindset, I was determined to choose healthier options at breakfast and save the extra calories for tasty restaurant meals later in the day.

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I was disappointed when the “traditional continental breakfast” at the first property really was not much more than a true continental breakfast, typically coffee, juice and rolls. In this case there weren’t even good pastries. The choices were dry cereal, waffles and bread for toast. I found packets of instant oatmeal, which I would rather have had, after I had already started cooking a waffle. I put just a drizzle of syrup on the waffle because I’m a syrup snob. At home I use only real maple syrup since most bottled pancake syrups contain high fructose corn syrup, something I try to stay away from. Pleasantly surprised at finding a container of cinnamon, I sprinkled a little on for extra flavor. Not being a coffee drinker, I had a small glass of orange juice. While my meal wasn’t that exciting, and the orange juice was the only real nutrition, it was enough to stave off hunger for a while and the total calorie count wasn’t horrible.

At the next property I chose a hard-boiled egg over the scrambled eggs because scrambled eggs on a buffet are usually made from a powder or liquid with additives. I also had yogurt, and I chose an English muffin spread with honey, a lighter alternative than a muffin or a bagel, and once again, a small glass of orange juice. My meal was similar to what I might have for a weekday breakfast at home.

The third motel offered a wider choice, including whole fresh bananas (overripe), apples and oranges. That’s what I should have had, but it just didn’t look appealing. Instead, I splurged on a biscuit with a small sausage patty to make a sandwich, as well as yogurt and a bottle of water. My real downfall was taking some of those scrambled eggs that I usually avoid. Not only did they not have good flavor, but I was already over my breakfast calorie limit without them.

Overall, I thought I did pretty well on my four-day trip, and the scale proved it. By paying attention to what I ate at the complimentary breakfast buffets, I was able to splurge on foods I really enjoyed later in the day. My goal was to come home after four days weighing no more than when I left, with a stretch goal of losing. I lost a half-pound, and I’m patting myself on the back.


  • When choosing foods at a complimentary breakfast buffet, consider what else you’ll be eating throughout the day. If you’re planning on a calorie-laden meal later, go with lighter breakfast choices. On the other hand, if there is something you really want that is calorie loaded, don’t deprive yourself. Go for it, but watch your portion size and balance it with lighter options later.
  • As with all buffets, look over all of the choices before taking any food. That way you won’t go back to get something that looks better than what you’ve already eaten and end up consuming double the amount.
  • Keep in mind the basic food groups to keep balanced throughout the day. Since I don’t usually have much dairy when I’m on the road, I opt for yogurt whenever it’s offered on the breakfast buffet.

Share your own tips for eating healthy at breakfast buffets in the Comments section below.

Disclosure: I am not a dietitian, nutritionist or in any medical or health-related field. Please consult your physician before beginning any weight loss or exercise program.

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