The Healthy Breakfast Quesadilla this Dietitian Loves
Registered dietitian Christy Brissette shares her breakfast quesadilla recipe packed with protein and fiber, why it's healthy, and how to customize it to your specific diet.
Yes, breakfast quesadillas can be healthy
If you’re a fan of breakfast sandwiches and the ever-popular breakfast burrito, it’s time to give a breakfast quesadilla a try. It’s like a breakfast burrito in some ways: It’s a trendy spin on a traditional Mexican dish that makes the most important meal of the day even better. They’re both deliciousness wrapped in a tortilla, but it’s what’s inside that counts.
A breakfast quesadilla can be healthier and more balanced than a breakfast burrito because it isn’t stuffed full with extra carbs from hashbrowns. Rather than loading up on fast-burning carbs that could make you sleepy, a protein-packed breakfast quesadilla will keep you energized and alert all morning. When you load it up with vegetables, you’re also getting a head start on your vegetable quota for the day.
Eating breakfast and weight loss
The research is mixed when it comes to the effect of breakfast on weight. Skipping breakfast can lead to more hunger and cravings, making it difficult to make healthy choices and avoid overeating later in the day. A study, published in 2020 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, suggests that eating a small or lower-calorie breakfast could also make you crave sugar. That sounds like a compelling reason to enjoy a more substantial morning meal.
The National Weight Control Registry tracks over 10,000 adults who’ve lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a year or longer. And most of them—78 percent, to be exact—eat breakfast every day.
What to put in a breakfast quesadilla
My breakfast quesadilla recipe is a great starting point for giving this fun breakfast or brunch option a try. You can give it your own spin by changing up the vegetables or adding other ingredients you love. Go with classic Mexican ingredients or branch out to other cuisines for a fusion breakfast quesadilla. For example, you could make a French version with brie or Gruyere cheese and mushrooms. Or you can try a Mediterranean-inspired breakfast quesadilla with tomatoes, bocconcini, and fresh basil.
How to build a healthy breakfast quesadilla
Here are some tips to help you keep your breakfast quesadilla lighter and healthier:
Start with a healthy tortilla
- Go for a whole grain or a sprouted tortilla so you’re getting more fiber and nutrients. Whole grains such as whole wheat, whole corn, quinoa, and millet are rich in B vitamins, which help your body convert food into energy. And sprouted grains helps make some of their nutrients more bioavailable, meaning they’re easier for your body to absorb, according to a review of studies published in a 2019 issue of Nutrients.
- If you’re gluten-free, you can find gluten-free tortillas made from gluten-free grains such as corn, rice, or teff.
- For paleo folks, there are tortillas made out of plantains and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
- For low-carb lovers, egg-based wraps are now available at most grocery stores, along with cauliflower- and cheese-based tortillas.
(Corn vs. flour tortilla: here’s what you should know.)
Limit the saturated fat
To keep the fat content in check—and calories under control—saute ingredients with a bit of olive oil or use avocado oil spray rather than loading up on butter.
Add some protein
Cheese is essential—you need gooey cheese to keep all of the fillings together and to help them stay inside the tortilla. Here’s how you can enjoy cheese while limiting calories and saturated fat:
- Choose lower-fat options such as part-skim mozzarella, low-fat cheddar, or pepper jack cheese.
- Use half as much regular cheese (to limit calories) and rely on other ingredients to bulk up your quesadilla.
- If you’re vegan or dairy-free, try a tasty cheese alternative.
Include eggs for high-quality protein
Eggs are another key protein that puts the “breakfast” in a quesadilla. In this recipe, each serving contains two large eggs to provide 12 grams of high-quality protein. You’re also getting choline, an essential nutrient many of us can’t get enough of.
Another benefit of including eggs in your morning meal? A study, published in 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that participants who ate eggs at breakfast had fewer hunger pangs and ate less at lunch compared with those who had a higher carb, lower protein breakfast.
More protein ideas for your breakfast quesadilla
- Beans are another protein source that adds deliciousness and fiber to your breakfast quesadilla. Pinto beans, black beans, and low-fat refried beans are all nutritious options.
- Brown some lean ground beef or ground turkey or add in leftover chicken or pork. (For best results, shred before adding to your quesadilla.)
- If you want to make a sweet breakfast quesadilla, natural nut butters such as almond butter, walnut butter, or peanut butter provide delicious plant-based protein. Add in some berries for a fun twist on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Adding vegetables to your breakfast quesadilla ensures you’re upping the nutrition. My breakfast quesadilla recipe features spinach, an excellent source of vitamin K for healthy bones. It contains quercetin, a phytochemical that may help promote brain and heart health; along with the antioxidant kaempferol which may help prevent and fight cancer.
Some other nutrient-packed veggies for your quesadilla:
- Bell peppers
If you’re making a sweet quesadilla you can use fruit instead of vegetables. Peaches, berries, thinly sliced pears or apples, figs, mango, banana, or pineapple are all delicious options.
How to avoid a soggy quesadilla
You want the meltiness on the inside and crispness on the outside. Stuffing your quesadilla with too many vegetables or too much fruit can make it fall apart. Because vegetables and fruit release water during cooking, it’s best to cook them ahead of time and let any water evaporate from your skillet. You could also serve veggies or fruit on the side in a salsa or use them as a topping.
Dip it or top it
Another fun part of quesadilla eating is dipping it. This is another opportunity to pack in the nutrition along with the flavor. If dipping isn’t your thing, you can spread some of these delicious additions on top of your quesadilla.
Tasty dip/topping options:
- Salsa (go for low sodium and low sugar options or make your own salsa)
- Pico de gallo
- Guacamole (or mashed or sliced avocado)
- Light sour cream or Greek yogurt
How to make my healthy breakfast quesadilla
My tasty and healthy breakfast quesadilla features a whole grain tortilla stuffed with eggs, pinto beans, spinach, and green onions. It’s dietitian-approved because it packs in the nutrients for a filling breakfast that’s simple to make and oh-so-delicious.
Christy Brissette, MS, RD - Owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition
Protein-Packed Breakfast Quesadilla
Christy Brissette, RD, Owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: < 15 minutes
3 large eggs
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup spinach, roughly chopped
½ cup canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 thinly sliced green onion
Two 8-inch whole-grain tortillas
1 cup grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
Dips and toppings:
Avocado or guacamole
Hot sauce (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and pepper together.
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Pour in the eggs and scramble, stirring often, for about 2 minutes.
Add the spinach to the skillet and stir, cooking until wilted (about 1 minute). Remove from heat and stir in the beans and green onion. Set aside.
Fold each tortilla in half. In a large skillet over medium heat, add each folded tortilla to half of the pan. Inside each tortilla, sprinkle ¼ cup of the cheese, add half of the egg mixture, then top with the rest of the cheese. Close the tortillas, folding the top half so it rests on top of the fillings. Press each one with a spatula or flipper to compress and even out the fillings. Cover the skillet with a lid.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Heat one side of each of the quesadillas until it’s crispy and golden on the bottom (about 2 minutes), being careful not to burn it. Flip over and let crisp on the other side.
Put your quesadillas on a cutting board and cool for 1 minute to set. Cut in halves or quarters to create triangles. Serve with your choice of dips and sauces. Enjoy!
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/National Institute of Health/Medline Plus. "B Vitamins"
- Nutrients: "Sprouted Grains: A Comprehensive Review"
- Food & Function: "Functional Properties of Spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) Phytochemicals and Bioactives"
- The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Twice as High Diet-Induced Thermogenesis After Breakfast vs Dinner on High-Calorie as Well as Low-Calorie Meals"
- The National Weight Control Registry: "NWCR Facts"
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Energy Intake and Satiety Responses of Eggs for Breakfast in Overweight and Obese Adults—A Crossover Study"