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Healthy Eating at Panera

Panera is one of my favorite places to eat and it has many great healthy eating options, so just for kicks I thought I would investigate it for my “Healthy Eating at…” series.  If you missed my two other restaurant evaluations check out Healthy Eating at McDonalds and Healthy Eating at Qdoba.

And of course my friendly disclaimer that I’m not promoting eating fast food or  even “upscale fast food” as part of your routine eating. I do however, recognize that most eat out and need help making smart, healthy choices while doing so.



Panera is one of the best (in my opinion) upscale fast food places to eat because…

  • High quality food choices. I know it’s not as cheap, but I’m willing to spend a bit more for higher quality food choices!
  • I love that they have lots of real food on their menu, like apples.
  • They have chicken is antibiotic free and raised humanly.
  • Nutrition calculator available at http://www.paneranutrition.com; also the one near me lists calorie counts of most food choices on the menu so you can make more informed choices on the spot.
  • They donate their leftover baked goods to charity. Our local Panera actual donates to our church’s food pantry—how cool is that?
  • While they aren’t perfect they are making a lot of great strides towards openness and healthy eating at Panera is incredibly easy compared to some other fast food joints.



But Panera is not without its’ pitfalls…

  • Pastries and treats are mostly, ahem, quite unhealthy. I was blown away the first time I looked up the calorie count on my favorite menu item the cinnamon crunch bagel with walnut cream cheese. Wowee!  To think I used to chase one of those down with a full fat latte and call it a snack in college! Sigh…those were the days….they have some real “treat-worthy” desserts and pastries at Panera, just don’t get sucked into making them a regular part of your Panera stop like I did back in the day. Nowadays I have to run 10+ miles or it has to be my birthday for a cinnamon crunch bagel.
  • One thing I noticed they have not been able to reduce or eliminate high sodium counts in a lot of their foods.  I found over half a days worth of sodium in a salad for crying out loud!

Eating Healthy at Panera

For when you NEED some bread!

Low fat garden vegetable with pesto  150

French baguette side portion  180

330 total calories Enjoy your slice of bread dunked in the vegetable soup.

For when you want a little of everything

Half Smoked Ham and Swiss on rye 290 calories; 8 grams fat; 980 milligrams sodium (the sodium adds up fast on the sandwiches because of the deli meats—something to consider foregoing if you’re looking out for your heart health!)

Half Asian Sesame Chicken Salad 240 calories; 13 grams of fat (reduce dressing for less fat); 16 grams of protein

530 calories total. Grab an apple for your side and save it for a snack later in the day.

For when you crave greens

Fuji Apple Chicken Salad: 560 calories; 34 grams of fat; 670 sodium; 33 g protein

I would make some tweaks to make this choice even better: I would cut out the cheese because dairy is not my friend which would save me 280 mg of sodium and 6 grams of fat. I would also probably use only half of the dressing (there’s always too much anyways for me) which would cut another 90 grams of sodium and 6 grams of fat. So those simple tweaks would reduce my fat to 22 grams and sodium to 300.

Now it’s time for you to weigh in! What is your favorite healthy choice at Panera?

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  1. I love Panera! I wish that we had one where I live, but the closest one is in Seattle. Of course I always eat there when I am in town. In King County they list the calorie content on menus so it is easy to make healthy selections. Last time I got half a tuna sandwich, french onion soup and an apple.

    1. I’m not a big tuna fan, but I love the soup and sandwich deal! I think I most get in trouble when I get a sandwich with the rich bread, a “full flavor” soup, AND the baguette. Carb city! 😉

  2. I love Panera Bread for a quick relatively healthy lunch. Avoiding the fast food places is my norm, but I can always go for a meal at Panera!

    1. I agree! Our Panera is right next to my husbands favorite fast food place, Taco Bell so I eat Panera whenever he wants Taco Bell!

  3. I love Panera! It’s always a good treat or somewhere to go if I’m out and can’t fix something healthy. I get the 1/2 and 1/2 Turkey Breast Sandwich on Sour Dough instead of Country and the Fuji Apple Salad–yum!! It’s about 500 calories as well. The fruit salad in the summer is my favorite though, and it’s low calorie and no cheese!

    Did you know they also have a secret menu? A friend just told me about it last week!! Very cool!! It’s on their website 😉

    1. I had just heard about it on Roni’s Weigh and seemed neat, but honestly none of them looked that good to me or I’d rather just go for what I love, but they seem super paleo-friendly which I’m sure is hard to find at a restaurant!

  4. I haven’t been to Panera in FOREVER! I do recall getting a salad there once though and I liked it a lot… I love that restaurants list their nutrition information everywhere these days! It’s good to stay informed! 🙂

  5. I love Panera! As someone who is always wary of salt, I do wish they’d cut their sodium counts a bit.

    1. Agreed! That was the one troubling thing I found–some things are a dead giveaway to avoid, but even their healthy food have a lot of salt. 🙁

  6. I love getting a caesar salad (with balsamic dressing on the side), chicken noodle soup, and a baquette. I get the you pick two and it’s not that many calories!

    1. I get their turkey sandwich a lot too! It’s one of my favorites and the bagels….mmm…definitely for special occasions but so worth it!

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