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.
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.