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.