It can be tricky to eat well when dining out, but seeking out healthy fare is worth the effort: According to recent research, each meal eaten out is associated with a slight increase in body mass index (or BMI). And who eats out just once a week? Taken with another analysis showing that meals from fast-casual restaurants, including Panera, can have significantly more calories than a fast food meal, a several-times-per-week dining out habit (be it breakfast, lunch or dinner), can lead to a lot of unwanted pounds.
If unwanted pounds aren’t bad enough, restaurant meals are also typically high in sodium, yet low in fiber and whole grains, and many don’t contain adequate produce. That’s true even at Panera, where the health halo of clean ingredients may trick you into thinking that everything on the menu gets the green light. It doesn’t. (Chicken Tortellini Alfredo and Frontega Chicken Panini, I’ve got my eyes on you!) Still, dining out is a convenience we all rely on so to help you avoid the unhealthiness and keep things light, I drilled down into the nutrition information of the Panera menu for the best offerings and looked for ways to make them even better. Here are your healthy Panera Bread picks.
- Avocado, Egg White & Spinach
- Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa and Honey
- Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries, Granola & Cinnamon Crunch Topping
- Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich
- Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT
- Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa
- Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken
- Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
- Black Bean Soup
- What makes a good pick?
- MORE TIPS AND TRICKS FROM A NUTRITIONIST
- The 4 Healthiest Menu Items at Panera Bread (Plus 3 Things to Avoid)
- 1. Black Bean Soup
- 2. Low-Fat Chicken Noodle Soup
- 3. Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
- 4. Vegan Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl
- 5. Soba Noodle Broth Bowl with Chicken
- The Healthiest (and Unhealthiest) Things You Can Order at Panera Bread
- Healthiest breakfast
- Unhealthiest smoothie
- Healthiest sandwich
- What Are the Healthiest Menu Options at Panera?
- Is Panera Bread Healthy?
- What Is Healthy to Eat at Panera?
- What is the Healthiest Sandwich at Panera?
- Take a Walk on the Light Side
- Enjoy breakfast
- Take a (virtual) trip
- Pack a snack
- Dine out the right way
- Oh, and embrace bread!
- Artisan & Specialty Breads – Better Choices
- Artisan Breads – Worst Choices
- Bagels – Better Choices
- Bagels – Worst Choices
- Cream Cheese Spreads – Better Choices
- Cream Cheese Spreads – Worst Choices
- Artisan Pastries, Brownies & Blondies, Cookies, Cakes, Specialty Pastries, Sweet Rolls, Scones, Muffins, Muffies – Worst Choices
- Baked Egg Soufflés, Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches, and Granola Yogurt Parfait – Better Choices
- Baked Egg Soufflés & Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches – Worst Choices
- Hot Paninis, Signature Sandwiches, and Cafe Sandwiches – Better Choices
- Hot Paninis, Signature Sandwiches, and Cafe Sandwiches – Worst Choices
- Soups & More – Better Choices
- Soups & More – Worst Choices
- Hand-Tossed Salads – Better Choices
- Hand-Tossed Salads – Worst Choices
- Sides – Better Choices
- Sides – Worst Choices
- Panera Kids™ – Better Choices
- Panera Kids™ – Worst Choice
- Related posts:
Avocado, Egg White & Spinach
This sandwich would make a filling and nutritious start to your day. I’m a fan of the flat bagel, which cuts about 20 g of carbs when compared to Panera’s whole grain bagel. Plus, it contains sprouted grains, which are easier to digest than regular whole grain breads. Sprouted grains also make the nutrients in grains more bioavailable. The healthy fat from the avocado together with the 21 grams of protein (mainly from the egg whites) and 7 grams of fiber (from the bagel and veggies) means this is a meal that will curb hunger and fuel busy days.
Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa and Honey
The combo of steel cut oats and quinoa gets the thumbs up in my book. I can’t even quibble with the drizzle of honey since it’s only providing about a teaspoon of added sugar. The only thing missing from this meal is produce, so I’d pair it with the Summer Fruit Cup to balance out breakfast.
Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries, Granola & Cinnamon Crunch Topping
The steel cut oatmeal base makes this another winning breakfast. When compared to cold cereal, oatmeal has been shown to increase feelings of fullness and satisfaction, so if cereal is your morning jam, oatmeal is a good choice. However, too much added sugar is a personal pet peeve so I’d skip the cinnamon crunch topping here. You’ll still get one and a half teaspoons of added sweetener from the granola it comes with. To cut back even more, you can skip both toppings and opt for pecans, instead. Doing so boosts your healthy fat intake, which is a nutritious move.
Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich
This sandwich is layered with lots of veggies, which is why it makes the cut. Instead of the tomato-basil bread it’s served on, get it on the sourdough. Doing so brings the sodium down 250 mg — still high at 980 mg, but an improvement. Bring it down another 250 mg by choosing avocado instead of feta. The swap brings avocado’s vitamins and minerals to your meal and ups the fiber another 4 grams.
Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT
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For those craving a turkey sandwich, this one gets my vote, but I’d suggest eating it open-faced since most adults could do without the extra carbs, calories and sodium from refined breads. Skipping the bacon would shave 200 mg of sodium (and 100 calories) from this meal — worthwhile nutritional savings if you ask me.
Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa
There are plenty of healthy ingredients, like olives, kale and romaine lettuce, in this main-sized salad. Like most restaurant meals, the sodium is high, but 300 mg of salt is coming from the Greek dressing. Order the dressing on the side and drizzle lightly — just enough to add flavor. That will keep the sodium in a healthy range.
Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken
The Caesar Salad is a classic choice, although not without its landmines. As with other salads, my advice is to get the dressing on the side and use just enough to coat your greens. Since the black pepper croutons don’t add anything by way of nutrition, try skipping them and getting your crunch from the optional pecans instead. Whole foods provide a nutritional boost over processed ones, and in this case, pecans stand out with more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including key nutrients like vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Choosing pecans over the croutons also lightens the carb load.
Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
This meal meets all of my nutritional requirements: Not too much added sugar, lots of produce, hearty levels of protein and fiber (to keep your belly full), and sodium levels (just 280 mg) that are hard to match in restaurant meals. Have it with the Sprouted Whole Grain roll if you like (yes, you heard me right!).
Black Bean Soup
This bean-based soup is a satisfying, plant-based choice that provides almost 70 percent of your daily fiber needs. Note, however, that it’s really high in sodium — above 1,000 mg out of the 2,300 mg limit recommended for healthy adults. To lighten the sodium load, choose off the “You Pick Two” menu. You’ll get a smaller portion, which naturally lessens the sodium levels. Pair it with the Seasonal Greens Salad and remember to go easy on the side serving of dressing. And make sure you drink plenty of water and meet your fruit and veggie quota throughout the day. Both will help your body flush out the extra sodium.
What makes a good pick?
In general, meals that meet the following guidelines are good choices when you’re dining out. As you’ve seen above, however, it’s often hard to meet these requirements at a restaurant. In those instances, you may have noticed I’ve suggested some hacks to keep these meals more in line with my recommendations. Though I’ve customized them specifically based on Panera’s options, you’ll get ideas for how to upgrade your meals elsewhere, too. Tips like eating an open-faced sandwich, skipping the bacon, ordering dressing on the side, and adding flavor- and nutrition-boosters, like avocados and nuts, are strategies that can be applied no matter where you’re dining. Below are other eat-well commandments to be on the lookout for:
- Meals have less than 700 mg of sodium
- Grain-containing dishes are made with whole grains
- Fruits and/or veggies are included in the meal (and preferably in abundance)
- Calorie levels are appropriate for most adults (under 550 calories, though those looking to lose weight may want to aim for less)
- Dishes contain healthy fats from foods like avocados, olives and nuts
- Added sugars are kept to a reasonable limit
MORE TIPS AND TRICKS FROM A NUTRITIONIST
- How to build a better smoothie
- Healthy Trader Joe’s products nutritionists swear by
- 11 delicious avocado recipes that don’t involve avocado toast
- Seriously filling salads you’ll want to eat all summer
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Panera Bread has built its reputation on offering health-conscious fare to its customers.
In 2004, Panera was the first chain to use antibiotic-free chicken. Ten years later, Panera targeted 96 ingredients on its menus to blacklist by 2016. Today it showcases a menu free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, and colors.
And its succeeded. As of 2018, Panera had become the 11th-largest chain in America in terms of sales, and its competitors—from McDonald’s to Wendy’s—were copycatting its menu.
But for every “clean” salad, there’s a bread bowl filled with mac ‘n’ cheese waiting to derail your diet. There are delicious, high-fiber, high-protein options. And then there are, well, clunkers.
And before we get to what you should order, a note about that word “clean.”
Panera says, “100 percent of our food is 100 percent clean. Food without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources.” But what does “clean” really mean?
Not all that much, found a 2017 study in Food Research International. The term clean isn’t regulated, so businesses like Panera decide. Just know up to 73 percent of people were happy to pay more if a product had a clean and clear ingredients list, reports a 2017 survey.
Regardless, here’s how you should order if you want healthy food at Panera Bread.
Stick with the salads.
Panera has many salads that hit the magic hunger-delaying, muscle-building number of 30 grams of protein. (The Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken and the Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken are good, low-sugar options.)
But its whole order of Caesar Salad with Chicken reigns supreme with 34 grams of protein for only 1 gram of sugar and 450 calories. Even the dressing is relatively low calorie.
Look for unsweetened teas.
Ignore the health halos that hover over most of Panera’s beverages. Every smoothie has at least 29 grams of sugar and not enough fiber to help blunt blood-sugar-spiking effects.
Some of its other drinks are culprits, too. A large Passion Papaya Green Tea has 31 grams of sugar. A large Blood Orange Lemonade has 63—about as much as a 20 oz Dr Pepper. If you need something to drink, the unsweetened brewed iced tea and the Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea are zero calorie.
Avoid the muffins.
Muffins aren’t good picks anywhere, even if they have “clean” ingredients. Case in point: Panera’s Cranberry Orange Muffin, which has 480 calories and 71 grams of carbs, 40 of which are sugar, and only 2 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein.
Instead, order the Avocado, Egg White & Spinach on Sprouted Grain Bagel Flat, which has 21 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and only 5 grams of sugar—all for 410 calories.
Fight dessert with soup.
Pastries and double fudge brownies tempt those left unsatisfied, so better to fill up on fiber. Order an apple (4 grams of fiber), banana (3), or sprouted grain roll (3) as your side.
Or tack on a bowl of Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice (2 grams of fiber, 310 calories) or Ten Vegetable Soup (4 grams of fiber, 100 calories).
“Higher-fiber meals can take longer to eat and are digested slower,” says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., author of The MetaShred Diet and an MH advisor.
Effect: You’ll feel fuller and keep up your energy level, and you’ll be less likely to reach for a sweet snack in a few hours.
Paul Kita Paul is the Food & Nutrition Editor of Men’s Health.
The 4 Healthiest Menu Items at Panera Bread (Plus 3 Things to Avoid)
Fast casual dining is taking over, and it makes a lot of sense: When you don’t have time to go to a sit-down restaurant but want to avoid fast food, restaurants like Panera Bread are the perfect solution. But the perception that the cuisine at fast casual establishments is healthier than fast food may or may not be accurate. It all comes down to the ingredients and the nutrition facts. Below, a handful of menu items at Panera Bread that earn higher marks for their clean-ish recipes, macronutrient balance, and portion sizes—plus, a few orders that pack more calories than you might expect.
What to order at Panera Bread
Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
This salad consists of a base of greens topped with chicken (raised without antibiotics), fresh strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, and toasted pecan pieces. Because it’s tossed in fat-free poppyseed dressing, you might want to bump up the good fat a bit by adding avocado. The addition of a quarter of an avocado to a full portion would bring this meal to 397 calories, 18 grams of fat, 34 grams of carb with 8 as fiber, and 30 grams of protein. That’s a nice macro balance, and gets you about a third of the way to the recommended daily fiber goal.
Black Bean Soup
This plant-based, fiber-packed bowl is my pick for the best soup option. I wish that Panera used olive oil instead of corn oil, and skipped add-ins like modified corn starch, but the soup is packed with lots of good stuff: black beans, onions, celery, tomato paste, and potato flour. Because it’s low in fat, I recommend adding avocado. With a quarter of an avocado, the nutrition facts would come to 199 calories, 7 grams of fat, 43 grams of carb with 19 as fiber, and 8 grams of protein.
Peach & Blueberry Smoothie with Almond Milk
This 180-calorie blend is the lowest calorie smoothie at Panera Bread. It combines mango and peach purees with white grape and passionfruit juices, and unsweetened almond milk. While there is no added sugar, one serving packs 43 grams of carb, along with a gram of fat and a few grams of protein. It’s a good choice for fueling a longer hike, tennis match, soccer game, or any other similar workout. Because it’s low in protein and fat, I would not recommend this smoothie as a solo breakfast or meal replacement; and the calories and carbs are too high to pair it with a meal as a beverage.
Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa & Honey
One of the cleanest and lower-sugar breakfast options at Panera Bread, this bowl is made with steel cut oats, golden and red quinoa, honey, toasted almonds, and cinnamon. It is high-carb at 51 grams, but 8 of those are from fiber, balanced a bit with 7 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein (300 calories total). This would be a good on-the-go breakfast choice en route to an a.m. workout.
RELATED: 24 Fast Food Breakfasts That Aren’t Terrible for You
3 items for special occasions
Now, here are some comfort foods that probably aren’t the right choice when you need a meal that leaves you energized.
Mac & Cheese
A portion of this shell pasta, swimming in cheddar cheese sauce, clocks in at 950 calories (about 60% of a day’s needs for most women), 61 grams of fat, 83 grams of carb with just 2 as fiber, and 33 grams of protein. Despite the high protein content, this heavy dish, which is also lacking in veggies, may leave you feeling sleepy and sluggish.
Steak & White Cheddar Panini
This hoagie roll filled with beef sirloin tip, white cheddar cheese, and horseradish sauce contains 940 calories, 48 grams of fat, 79 grams of carb with 5 as fiber, and 46 grams of protein. It’s also provides a whopping 1520 mg of sodium, over 65% of the max recommended intake for healthy adults.
Kitchen Sink Cookie
Aptly named, this treat includes both semi-sweet and milk chocolate, caramel, and pretzel pieces, baked into a salty dough. One cookie contains 800 calories, 44 grams of fat, 97 grams of carb with just 3 as fiber, 8 grams of protein, and 770 mg of sodium. That’s more than twice the calories in Panera Bread’s Chocolate Chipper Cookie, and nearly six times the calorie count of the Coconut Macaroon.
RELATED: 24 Things You Should Never Order at a Restaurant
When you dine at any fast casual restaurant, be sure to hop online to check both the ingredients and nutrition facts for the menu items. A few minutes of sleuthing can help you make a more informed choice that will impact your energy level and mood all day, and even into the next day!
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.
We all know that feeling—you rush into Panera Bread after a long day, and all you want is a hearty, delicious, filled-to-the-brim soup to warm you up. Panera can never seem to go wrong when it comes to comfort food, which is why their soups have become so popular over the past few years.
But not all of Panera’s soup options are uber healthy, and this can be a turn-off for someone who’s looking to maintain a balanced diet. The following options are five of the best Panera soups to order if you’re looking for a filling, yet healthy meal from our favorite bakery chain.
#SpoonTip: For a full list of Panera’s nutrition facts, be sure to check out their complete nutrition guide.
1. Black Bean Soup
Calories: 140 Fat: 2g Carbs: 40g Protein: 7g
Although it may look dark and intimidating, this heartily seasoned black bean soup is one of the lightest and healthiest options on Panera’s menu. It’s vegan, low-calorie, and low-fat, and the black beans provide an excellent serving of fiber, which aids in digestion and allows your body to absorb vital nutrients.
2. Low-Fat Chicken Noodle Soup
Calories: 160 Fat: 5g Carbs: 19g Protein: 14g
You can never go wrong with Panera’s chicken noodle soup, especially ever since they made it low-fat. That way, you can still have that good chicken protein while keeping it light. And it’s always nice to pop some carrots in there for some Vitamin A. This classic is sure to brighten your day!
3. Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
Calories: 260 Fat: 16g Carbs: 27g Protein: 10g
The next time you find yourself going for the infamous Panera broccoli cheddar soup, try out the cream of chicken and wild rice instead. This healthier option is lower in calories, fat, and carbs, but the flavors are just as satisfying. Plus, the long grain and wild rice are great for protein and healthy carbs. If you’d like, this is the perfect soup to go You Pick Two with a salad or sandwich for a well-balanced meal. But be careful—this soup is only available Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
4. Vegan Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl
Calories: 280 Fat: 7g Carbs: 47g Protein: 12g
Alright, you caught me. This isn’t technically on Panera’s “soup” menu, but in my mind, broth + quinoa + veggies = soup…and a delicious one at that. This vegan lentil quinoa broth bowl is perfect for the health-conscious who still need their share of brothy goodness. Quinoa and an umami broth that’s a savory mixture of soy, miso, and spices, make for the perfect combo.
5. Soba Noodle Broth Bowl with Chicken
Calories: 390 Fat: 10g Carbs: 46g Protein: 30g
While higher in calories, this broth bowl is sure to provide you with one of the most nutritional meals on Panera’s menu. The soba noodle broth bowl with chicken is chock full of protein and Vitamin A. Plus, the chicken is raised without antibiotics, and the noodles are made with buckwheat, so you know you’re eating the best ingredients possible. You’ll also get a full portion of veggies, including spinach, cabbage, and mushrooms, a perfect option for a sustaining midday lunch!
I hope this list of the best Panera soups to order when you’re trying to be healthy helps you maintain your Panera obsession while still feeling good about it. After all, everyone needs their fair share of soup!
#SpoonTip: If you really love Panera, check out these menu hacks before your next trip.
The Healthiest (and Unhealthiest) Things You Can Order at Panera Bread
Panera Bread cafes are like one of your oldest friendships. They’re cozy, pretty consistent (with a few seasonal twists), and they’re there for you no matter where you live.
But all friendships can have healthy and unhealthy choices. Steer clear of Panera’s unhealthy sandwiches, salads, and soups and opt for some of these nutritious picks instead.
Grab some oatmeal on your way to work — no guilt here. | Mizina/iStock/Getty Images Plus
The tie for the healthiest breakfast option goes to Panera Bread’s Steel Cut Oatmeal and its Turkey Sausage, Egg White & Spinach Breakfast Power Sandwich. According to Health, a good breakfast is relatively high in calories, protein, and fiber. Both of these options fall in the 300-calorie range.
For a meal higher in fiber opt for the Steel Cut Oatmeal with almonds, quinoa, and honey. If you’re looking for something higher in protein then the Power Sandwich is your best bet.
A bagel and cream cheese has more calories than you think. | Bhofack2
Avoid Panera’s bagels and bakery items! Most of them have a high carb count and all of their bagels with cream cheese pack more fat than is recommended in the morning.
Also steer clear of the breakfast menu’s Spinach and Bacon Soufflé. It has the highest saturated fat content at 18 grams, only 1 gram of fiber, and 910 milligrams of sodium is way too high.
Greek yogurt smoothies are refreshing and filling. | Breaking The Walls/iStock/Getty Images Plus
If you believe in the power of smoothies to help curb cravings, Panera has some good options. Their Superfruit Smoothie with Greek yogurt has the highest protein and lowest sugar content of all their smoothies. It’s also low-calorie and high in fiber.
Not all green smoothies are made equal. | Jenifoto/iStock/Getty Images
Don’t let Panera’s Green Passion smoothie fool you. Just because it sneaks in spinach and mango doesn’t make it a healthy option.
This smoothie is the lowest in protein out of the bunch at only 2 grams and packs the most sugar at 47 grams.
Just avoid the temptation to slather on too much honey mustard. | Rez-art/iStock/Getty Images
Panera Bread’s Turkey Breast Sandwich on Whole Grain is a good variation of some of their healthiest sandwiches. It’s one of the lowest in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar without compromising healthy levels of protein and fiber.
Check out the full list of ingredients and nutrition facts here.
The steak sandwich may look sensible, but it’s loaded with calories. | GladiusStock/iStock/Getty Images
While the Steak and White Cheddar Panini tastes as good as it sounds, it’s not your best bet for a nutritious lunch. It’s one of the sandwiches that’s high in sodium, saturated fat, and carbs. With over half of your recommended daily caloric intake, it’s on the list of the unhealthiest items you can order at Panera.
The grilled chicken in this salad will satisfy your mid-day hunger. | Jatrax/iStock/Getty Images
The Green Goddess Salad with Chicken is one of the most balanced and healthiest protein-packed salads on the menu. It’s an updated classic that is usually only featured on their summer salad menu.
Try the Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa for a vegetarian option that has just as many nutrients and an impressive amount of protein.
Steer clear of the ranch dressing, cheese, and fatty toppings! | Philly077/iStock/Getty Images
Another seasonal salad that is a customer favorite is the Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad. Unfortunately, it’s the highest in calories, fat, and carbs.
Panera Bread’s website offers an at home recipe that you can alter to lower the calorie and fat content of the salad.
A cup of Panera’s vegetable soup will fill you up without weighing you down. | Marcomayer/iStock/Getty Images
The Low-Fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto was ranked the healthiest Panera Bread soup by Eat This, Not That and has the benefits to prove it. It’s the only soup that’s under 1,000 milligrams of sodium and 200 calories.
In addition, it has one of the lowest amounts of saturated fat out of the soups. Its ingredients include zucchini and appetite-suppressing barley, and its sure to keep you energized for hours.
Clam chowder (along with the dozens of crackers we tend to sprinkle inside) should only be an occasional lunch treat. | Louno M/iStock/Getty Images
While none of Panera Bread’s cream-based soups are particularly good for you (how we wish the Broccoli Cheddar soup had hidden health benefits) the New England Clam Chowder ranks the lowest. It’s the highest in calories, packs 62 grams of fat (41 are saturated fats!), and nearly as much sodium as you’re supposed to consume in one day.
What Are the Healthiest Menu Options at Panera?
With a wide array of salads, soups, and grain bowls on its menu, the healthy options at Panera are a far cry from the deep-fried fare you typically see at fast food and “fast casual” restaurants.
But there are still some less-than-healthy options lurking on the Panera menu. (For example, a large BBQ Mac and Cheese has 1,130 calories, 2,790mg of sodium, and 84 grams of carbohydrates.) So how can you find the healthiest options at Panera?
We spoke to Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, dietitian, and author of The Little Book Of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits For Managing Stress & Anxiety to find out which Panera options have the most to offer from a nutritional standpoint.
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Is Panera Bread Healthy?
Compared to other counter-service restaurants, Panera has a pretty impressive variety of healthy menu items. But you still have to do a bit of homework to find the healthiest options at Panera.
The menu boards at Panera list the calorie count of each item — but don’t just look for the lowest-calorie foods, Cording says. You’ll also want to check the full nutritional stats to get an idea of how much protein and fiber your meal includes, plus how much sodium and added sugar you can expect.
What Is Healthy to Eat at Panera?
From scones to seasonal soups to soba noodle bowls, the menu at Panera can be overwhelming. We’ve broken it down into the healthiest breakfast options, soups, salads, bowls, and sandwiches at Panera.
Healthy Breakfast Options at Panera
Panera has a ton of enticing bakery items, but let’s face it: a “French toast bagel” probably isn’t the healthiest pick. Here are a few breakfast options that don’t fall under the dessert-for-breakfast category.
- Latte plus fruit. Cording suggests ordering a small latte with skim milk for a bit of protein and calcium. “If you pair that with a piece of fruit or the fresh fruit cup, that’s an easy on-the-go option,” Cording says. This combo probably doesn’t contain enough protein or calories to keep you satiated for long, but it’s a good pick if you have early lunch plans and just need a light breakfast to hold you over.
- Mediterranean Egg White Wrap. For just 260 calories, you’ll get 19 grams of protein in a tasty combo of egg whites, feta, parmesan, spinach, tomato confit, and basil-white bean puree, all tucked inside a whole-grain wrap.
- Avocado, Egg White, and Spinach Breakfast Sandwich. At 360 calories, this hearty sandwich layers egg whites with Vermont white cheddar, avocado, baby spinach, and tomato on a sprouted grain bagel flat.
- Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds and Quinoa. Panera’s steel-cut oats contain 340 calories and provide 8 grams of filling fiber plus 10 grams of protein. “It’s a really good option — just be careful with the optional add-ons,” Cording says.
Healthy Soup Options at Panera
If you’re looking to warm up on a cold day, soup is a great option — but some soups are healthier than others. You’ll probably want to steer clear of creamier options like New England Clam Chowder or the Broccoli Cheddar. (A bowl of chowder, for instance, racks up 570 calories and 39 grams of fat.) These three soups are smart options.
- Turkey Chili. This is a great standalone meal option. “You get protein from the chili; the beans also provide plant protein and fiber; and you’re also getting some veggies in there,” Cording says.
- Ten Vegetable Soup. As the lowest-calorie soup at Panera — only 100 calories per bowl — it’s not likely to fill you up, but it’s a great side option that provides a variety of veggies and some fiber.
- Low-Fat Chicken Noodle Soup. A bowl of this comforting soup provides 13 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, and only 170 calories.
One important note: “When it comes to soup we get outside of our homes, you just have to walk into it knowing it’s going to be a total sodium bomb,” Cording says. For example, a bowl of low-fat chicken noodle soup contains 1,490mg of sodium — more than 60 percent of the recommended daily intake for most people.
Healthy Salads at Panera
Salad sounds inherently healthy, but “salads trip people up more than any other category,” Cording says. That’s because topping your greens with croutons, loads of cheese, and creamy dressing can turn your healthy salad into a calorie bomb. When ordering the salads below, request a light serving of the dressing, or ask for it on the side.
- Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken. This well-rounded salad starts with a mix of arugula, romaine, kale, and radicchio. Cording suggests asking your server to go easy on the bacon — or skipping it altogether — and replacing the regular dressing with olive oil and lemon juice or balsamic vinaigrette.
- Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa. “You get a lot of protein from the quinoa and a lot of fiber,” Cording says. And you can go easy on the dressing since you’ll get a ton of flavor from the kalamata olives, crumbled feta, and tomato sofrito.
- Seasonal Greens Salads. This may not be as exciting as some of Panera’s other options, but it’s a great base to customize. Just add any protein to make it a meal, Cording says.
Healthy Grain Bowls at Panera
The grain bowls at Panera “all seem to be pretty solid in terms of the fiber content,” Cording says. But keep in mind the calorie counts can be on the high side — most options are in the 500- to 700-calorie range — so Cording recommends splitting your bowl in half and saving some for dinner, or customizing the bowl (for example, nixing the feta cheese) to reduce calories, fat, and sodium.
- Mediterranean Grain Bowl. You’ll get 16 grams of vegetarian protein and 7 grams of fiber in this flavorful bowl that includes cilantro lime rice, quinoa, arugula, hummus, crumbled feta, and Greek yogurt.
- Baja Grain Bowl. This rice and quinoa bowl features tasty Mexican flavors, including black bean and corn salsa, avocado, and salsa verde. Add chicken to bump up the protein count from 18 grams to 30 grams.
What is the Healthiest Sandwich at Panera?
Bread has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying bread in moderation. And since we’re talking about healthy options at Panera Bread, we can’t overlook the delicious sandwiches. Here’s how to spot a healthy sandwich on the menu.
1. Choose your bread.
Cording suggests starting with a whole grain or sprouted grain bread. (Sourdough can be a healthy option too — research suggests this fermented bread has higher levels of antioxidants than other bread options.) If you’re craving a bagel sandwich, opt for the Sprouted Grain Bagel Flat instead. (It has 180 calories and 34 grams of carbs, compared to 330 calories and 66 grams of carbs in a regular whole grain bagel.)
2. Watch the fixings.
“You want to make sure you’re getting good balance of nutrients,” Cording says. She suggests starting with a protein — like turkey or grilled chicken — and then loading on veggies like spinach, arugula, tomatoes, red onions, peppers, and cucumbers.
3. Add filling fats.
To sneak in more nutrition, Cording suggests adding one higher-calorie extra like avocado or cheese. “Avocado gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck,” she says.
Here are four of the healthiest sandwiches on the Panera menu:
- Steak and Arugula Sandwich. A half-sandwich on sourdough has just 240 calories and 16 grams of protein (thanks to a nice helping of grass-fed seared steak). Ask your server to go easy on the herb cream cheese spread.
- Turkey Sandwich. This simple sandwich sticks to the basics: oven-roasted turkey breast, greens, tomatoes, red onions, mayo, spicy mustard, and salt and pepper on whole-grain bread. A half-sandwich has 270 calories and 18 grams of protein. Consider swapping the mayo for sliced avocado to add some healthy fats.
- Mediterranean Veggie. This veggie filled option is the lowest calorie sandwich at Panera — a half-sandwich has just 220 calories and provides 9 grams of protein with the help of the cilantro-jalapeño hummus and feta.
- BBQ Chicken Flatbread. As the only flatbread option on Panera’s menu, this faux sandwich boasts 24 grams of protein in a 370-calorie package. Consider swapping the frizzled onions with sliced red onions to make this whole-grain flatbread a little healthier.
Take a Walk on the Light Side
The bright side of lighter choices is simply this: the Panera Bread® menu is loaded with flavorful options for anyone watching calories or trying to eat meals and snacks that are more wholesome. And while nearly all of our salads, in both full and half portions, fit the bill, you may be surprised to find that many of our soups, sandwiches, and breakfast items are equally satisfying. We offer some easy tips to help you improve your diet choices.
Familiar weight-control wisdom suggests that you eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper. If that’s your approach, you’re in luck with Panera’s breakfast options, which fill your morning bowl with way more than cereal, says Panera Bread head chef Dan Kish. Try our summer Steel Cut Oatmeal topped with cinnamon crunch, summer glueberries, and maple butter pecan granola (350 calories) this bowl provides lasting energy for your morning.
Take a (virtual) trip
Consider sampling cuisine from other regions or parts of the world. Bold spices and unique flavors will wake up your taste buds and provide options for your dietary needs. Our Thai Chicken Salad (240 calories in a half portion, 490 in a full) and new Mediterranean Chicken Flatbread Sandwich (310 calories) are two dishes to try.
Pack a snack
Your own grab-and-go packs offer convenience as well as control (you choose the portion size). Measure out servings of nuts, diced fruit, vegetables, string cheese, homemade granola, or other healthy choices, and pack them into snack-size containers. Fresh, whole foods make far better between-meal boosts than packaged, processed items.
Dine out the right way
When you are on the go (or have run out of ideas to try at home), here are a few other items from our seasonal menu to try.
- You Pick Two: Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup (170 calories) and Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT on Sourdough Bread (250 calories)
- Our seasonal Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries & Granola (350 calories)
- You Pick Two: Low-Fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto (90 calories) and Asian Sesame Chicken Salad (210 calories)
Oh, and embrace bread!
Whole grains are great for getting plenty of fiber and important nutrients into your diet. Skip white supermarket loaves in favor of delicious options such as those at Panera Bread (some of which you can find in some supermarkets!). The Sprouted Grain Bagel Flat (240 calories) is just one example of the kind of bread that can make your meals tastier and nutritious.
Panera is one of those places that seems healthy, but has a lot of pitfalls, so you have to be very diligent in what you order. The bagels are large, and therefore very high in calories. Of course, they also have a variety of healthy and delicious options.
Their website also includes a cool interactive Nutrition Calculator, so if you buy more than one item, you can have it do the math for you.
Artisan & Specialty Breads – Better Choices
Most of the breads are pretty reasonable, though a few are high in fat or sodium. Most are low in fiber, which means they’re from refined flours. Best choice is the Whole Grain Bread, of course.
Whole Grain Bread
(miche, loaf, or baguette), per 2 ounce serving:
140-150 cal, no sat fat, 1-1.5g total fat, 260-330mg sodium, 27-30g carbs, 2g sugars, 3g fiber, 6g protein
Three Seed Demi, per 2 ounce serving:
160 cal, no sat fat, 3.5g total fat, 300mg sodium, 27g carbs, no sugars, 2g fiber, 6g protein
Artisan Breads – Worst Choices
These are all made with refined flour and don’t have much nutritional value. They’re also lower in fiber than the “Best Choices.”
Focaccia, per 2 ounce serving:
180 cal, 0.5g sat fat, 4.5g total fat, 320mg sodium, 28g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein
Focaccia with Asiago Cheese, per 2 ounce serving:
160 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 5g total fat, 230mg sodium, 23g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein
Cinnamon Raisin Loaf
, per 2 ounce serving:
180 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 3g total fat, 135mg sodium, 34g carbs, 11g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein
Sourdough Roll, per 2.5 ounce serving:
200 cal, no sat fat, 1g total fat, 400mg sodium, 39g carbs, no sugars, 1g fiber, 7g protein
The Sourdough Soup Bowl and Sourdough Round loaf are similar (per serving). They’re made with refined flour (like most of their breads), and are higher in sodium than most of the other breads.
Bagels – Better Choices
Panera’s bagels range in calories from 290 to 430, in fiber from 2 to 6 grams, in sugars from 3 to 30 grams, and in sodium from 420 to 740 mg.
Whole Grain Bagel
370 cal, no sat fat, 3.5g total fat, 420mg sodium, 70g carbs, 5g sugars, 6g fiber, 13g protein
Although on the high end in calories, it’s also highest in fiber, second-highest in protein, and lowest in sodium of all the bagels.
290 cal, no sat fat, 1.5g total fat, 450mg sodium, 59g carbs, 3g sugars, 2g fiber, 10g protein
(lowest in overall calories)
310 cal, no sat fat, 3g total fat, 450mg sodium, 59g carbs, 3g sugars, 2g fiber, 10g protein
Bagels – Worst Choices
Cream Cheese Spreads – Better Choices
The Reduced-Fat Spreads are the better choices here, though it’s tough to tell from the nutrition facts, since the portions are “small enough” to allow for many of the nutrients to be rounded-down to zero.
Several of the 2-ounce servings listed in the nutrition guide include 0.5g trans fats, which means the 1-ounce servings also contain some trans fats, even though it says zero.
The “Better Choices” then, are the ones that show no trans fats in the 2-ounce serving, meaning they’re lower in trans fats than the others, though it’s impossible to tell by what degree. Trans Fats are so bad for you that I think it’s worth a few extra calories to avoid them.
Reduced Fat Honey Walnut, per 2-ounce serving:
150 cal, 6g sat fat, 11g total fat, 200mg sodium, 8g carbs, 7g sugars, 1g fiber, 5g protein
Reduced Fat Raspberry, per 2-ounce serving:
130 cal, 6g sat fat, 10g total fat, 200mg sodium, 7g carbs, 6g sugars, 1g fiber, 4g protein
Cream Cheese Spreads – Worst Choices
Plain (highest calories, highest fat, 1g trans fat!), all the other Reduced Fat Spreads (Plain, Hazelnut, Sun-Dried Tomato, Veggie) are listed as containing 0.5g trans fat per serving, so they should be avoided.
Artisan Pastries, Brownies & Blondies, Cookies, Cakes, Specialty Pastries, Sweet Rolls, Scones, Muffins, Muffies – Worst Choices
I’m not even going to bother listing any of these; they’re high in fat, sugar, sodium… then again, if you compare them to a bagel with 2 ounces of cream cheese, they’re often about the same. Let’s move on.
Baked Egg Soufflés, Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches, and Granola Yogurt Parfait – Better Choices
Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta
380 cal, 6g sat fat, 14g total fat, 620mg sodium, 43g carbs, 1g sugars, 2g fiber, 18g protein
Breakfast Power Sandwich
360 cal, 6g sat fat, 14g total fat, 860mg sodium, 36g carbs, 3g sugars, 4g fiber, 23g protein
Strawberry Granola Parfait
310 cal, 4g sat fat, 11g total fat, 100mg sodium, 44g carbs, 28g sugars, 3g fiber, 9g protein
Baked Egg Soufflés & Grilled Breakfast Sandwiches – Worst Choices
The Egg Soufflés are very high in saturated fat, so they’re all in the Worst Choices category, unfortunately. Most of the breakfast sandwiches are very high in calories and/or sodium.
Bacon, Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta; Sausage, Egg & Cheese on Ciabatta (high calories, fat, and sodium)
Asiago Cheese Bagel Breakfast Sandwiches (high calories, fat, and sodium) – The ones with bacon and sausage are over 600 calories, and all of these have trans fat.
Jalapeño & Cheese Bagel Breakfast Sandwiches (high in calories, fat, and sodium).
Hot Paninis, Signature Sandwiches, and Cafe Sandwiches – Better Choices
These are all under 400 calories, 16 grams fat or less, and under 1,000mg sodium — per HALF SANDWICH.
Half Mediterranean Veggie Cafe Sandwich on Tomato Basil
300 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 7g total fat, 730mg sodium, 50g carbs, 3g sugars, 5g fiber, 11g protein
Half Tomato & Mozzarella Panini on Ciabatta
380 cal, 5g sat fat, 15g total fat, 650mg sodium, 48g carbs, 5g sugars, 3g fiber, 15g protein
Half Napa Almond Chicken Salad Cafe Sandwich on Sesame Semolina
350 cal, 2g sat fat, 13g total fat, 660mg sodium, 44g carbs, 6g sugars, 2g fiber, 15g protein
Half Asiago Roast Beef Signature Sandwich on Asiago Cheese
350 cal, 7g sat fat, 13g total fat, 630mg sodium, 32g carbs, 2g sugars, 1g fiber, 24g protein
Half Chicken Caesar Signature Sandwich on Three Cheese
360 cal, 4.5g sat fat, 16g total fat, 730mg sodium, 33g carbs, 2g sugars, 2g fiber, 21g protein
Half Smoked Turkey Breast Cafe Sandwich on Country
280 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 9g total fat, 980mg sodium, 34g carbs, 2g sugars, 2g fiber, 16g protein
Honorable Mention: Half Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat
380 cal, 4.5g sat fat, 23g total fat, 570mg sodium, 32g carbs, 6g sugars, 3g fiber, 10g protein
The Tuna is fairly good on calories, has the lowest sodium of any sandwich, but it’s a high in fat.
Hot Paninis, Signature Sandwiches, and Cafe Sandwiches – Worst Choices
Cuban Chicken Panini (high calories & fat), Frontega Chicken® on Focaccia (high calories, fat and sodium), Smokehouse Turkey® on Three Cheese (high sodium), Turkey Artichoke on Focaccia (high sodium), Bacon Turkey Bravo® on Tomato Basil (high calories, very high sodium), Chipotle Chicken on Artisan French (very high calories, very high fat, high sodium), Italian Combo on Ciabatta (very high calories, high fat, very high sodium), Sierra Turkey on Focaccia with Asiago Cheese (high calories, very high fat), Smoked Ham & Swiss on Stone-Milled Rye (high sodium), Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat (high fat).
Soups & More – Better Choices
When part of a “You Pick Two” order, these are about 8 ounces. If ordered separately, they’re about 12 ounces. I’ll use the 8 ounce nutrition information here. (Get a bowl and add 50% to these numbers).
Best choices are under 200 calories and 1,000mg sodium.
Low Fat Chicken Tortilla
140 cal, 1g sat fat, 4.5g total fat, 750mg sodium, 18g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 7g protein
Low Fat Garden Vegetable with Pesto
110 cal, no sat fat, 2g total fat, 830mg sodium, 19g carbs, 5g sugars, 4g fiber, 4g protein
Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean
110 cal, 1g sat fat, 2.5g total fat, 980mg sodium, 18g carbs, 3g sugars, 3g fiber, 6g protein
Soups & More – Worst Choices
Hand-Tossed Salads – Better Choices
These are also available as part of the “You Pick Two” menu, so I’m using the smaller portion nutrition information. If you order the full salad, you should roughly double these numbers.
Best choices are 200 calories or less, and under 500mg sodium.
Half Classic Cafe Salad
80 cal, 1g sat fat, 5g total fat, 135mg sodium, 9g carbs, 6g sugars, 2g fiber, 1g protein
Half Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
140 cal, no sat fat, 4g total fat, 260mg sodium, 14g carbs, 9g sugars, 2g fiber, 14g protein
Half Asian Sesame Chicken Salad
200 cal, 2g sat fat, 10g total fat, 460mg sodium, 14g carbs, 3g sugars, 2g fiber, 15g protein
Half Caesar Salad
200 cal, 4g sat fat, 14g total fat, 310mg sodium, 13g carbs, 1g sugars, 1g fiber, 6g protein
Hand-Tossed Salads – Worst Choices
Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken (high calories), Greek Salad (very high sodium), Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (high calories, high sodium), Tomato Mozzarella & Basil Salad (very high calories, high sodium), Chopped Chicken Cobb Salad (high calories, high sodium), BBQ Chopped Chicken Salad (high calories).
Sides – Better Choices
Sandwiches, Soups, Salads, and You Pick Two all come with a side option.
Apple or Fruit Cup
Whole Grain Baguette (unless, of course, you’re already having a sandwich — then you’re getting plenty of bread!)
Sides – Worst Choices
Regular Potato Chips (fat, sodium)
French Baguette (refined flours, sodium)
Baked Potato Chips (sodium)
Panera Kids™ – Better Choices
Except for the Roast Beef, each of the sandwiches is too high in something, whether that’s calories, fat, or sodium.
Panera Kids Deli Sandwich – Roast Beef
320 cal, 6g sat fat, 10g total fat, 790mg sodium, 35g carbs, 3g fiber, 3g sugars, 23g protein
Panera Kids Organic Yogurt (blueberry, strawberry)
70 cal, 0.5g sat fat, 1g total fat, 40g sodium, 12g carbs, 11g sugars, no fiber, 2g protein
Panera Kids Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
410 calories, 3.5g sat fat, 18g total fat, 550mg sodium, 56g carbs, 21g sugars, 4g fiber, 12g protein
Although the PB&J is higher in calories, it’s mostly from unsaturated fats — this is what I’d choose for my kids.
Panera Kids Deli Sandwich – Smoked Turkey
300 cal, 5g sat fat, 10g total fat, 1,160mg sodium, 35g carbs, 4g sugars, 3g fiber, 21g protein
Panera Kids Deli Sandwich – Smoked Ham
300 cal, 6g sat fat, 9g total fat, 1,210mg sodium, 34g carbs, 3g sugars, 3g fiber, 21g protein
Panera Kids Grilled Cheese Sandwich
300 cal, 9g sat fat, 12g total fat, 890mg sodium, 35g carbs, 4g sugars, 3g fiber, 15g protein
Panera Kids™ – Worst Choice
Panera Kids Mac & Cheese
A whopping 490 calories, 13g sat fat, 30g total fat, and 1,020mg sodium. Yikes.
Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.
indicates the “best-of-the-best,” and indicates the “worst-of-the-worst,” more or less.
Panera Nutrition Information (PDF)
Drawing by poldee.