The Healthiest Choices at Panera Bread

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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Updated on 1/10/17

These days, it can be tough to find a bite to eat on the go that won't break the calorie bank. Fast food chains are convenient, but most options are loaded down with excess calories, fat and sodium. Panera Bread has emerged in recent years as a healthier choice in a sea of burger joints. Although some of its offerings aren't the greatest (720 calories for a bowl of clam chowder, anyone?), we've scoured the menu to find some decent choices for the next time you find yourself in a pinch for food—right now.

To make it easier for those seeking more nutritious, diet-friendly meals, below are some of the smartest options on the Panera menu. (Note that salads do not include dressing nutritional information.)

Breakfasts


Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa & Honey
This fortifying breakfast will keep you full all morning long. Not only is it just 300 calories, but it also boasts eight grams of protein and nine grams of fiber. 

Strawberry Granola Parfait
For those seeking a lighter breakfast option, this vanilla yogurt parfait is just 330 calories, even when topped with maple-butter pecan granola, whole-grain oats and fresh strawberries.

Mediterranean Egg White on Ciabatta
Who says a sandwich can't be a healthy start to the day? Fresh-baked ciabatta is the foundation for egg whites, Vermont white cheddar, spinach, tomato sofrito and basil pesto—all for just 420 calories with 22 grams of fueling protein.

Soups


This satisfying yet diet-friendly soup features fresh veggies and tender, white-meat chicken for a high-protein lunch that will only cost you 160 calories and five grams of fat per serving.

Thai Garden Chicken Wonton
Clocking in at only 290 calories for the full-size bowl, this dish is packed with a flavorful medley of ginger-chicken wontons, fresh broccoli, spinach and roasted mushrooms. The 23 grams of protein are sure to keep you satisfied all the way to dinner.

Low-Fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup
When was the last time you enjoyed a full bowl of soup for just 110 calories—and with seven grams of fiber to boot?
 

Sandwiches


Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich
As the lowest-calorie sandwich on the menu, this healthy option is stuffed with fresh veggies and served on thin-sliced tomato basil bread. The full-size sandwich is just 460 calories and has a whopping 18 grams of protein.

Half Roasted Turkey & Caramelized Kale Panini

Just when you thought fresh roasted turkey couldn't get any better, it combines with fresh mozzarella and caramelized kale on black pepper foccacio—all for just 295 calories.

Half Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT 
You can have your sandwich and eat it too with this substantial, yet low-calorie lunch option. Creamy avocado and salty bacon are a perfect texture and flavor combination. Not only is this sandwich tasty, but it's also only 345 calories for a half portion, with 18 grams of filling protein.

Tomato Mozzarella Flatbread
At just 350 calories, this whole-grain flatbread is layered with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, baby arugula and basil-pesto sauce.

Salads


Half Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa
This healthy, filling salad option is a modest 255 calories, but it sure doesn't taste like it. This bowl is brimming with Romaine, kale, quinoa, diced cucumbers and kalamata olives, topped with Greek dressing, feta and roasted almonds. 

Half Fuji Apple with Chicken Salad
At just 290 milligrams of sodium, this meal is great for anyone watching his or her salt intake. We love the sweet and savory flavors and the crunch from the apple chips and pecans. This hearty salad is only 285 calories for a half portion, and will fill you up with 16 grams of protein.

Half Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken
With 255 calories, this satisfying choice packs more than 12.5 grams of protein. Tender chicken is joined by roasted cashews, edamame and a blend of fresh peppers and carrots.
 
Which one of these meals looks good to you? What's your favorite healthy choice at Panera? 


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Comments

  • 169
    I used to have working lunches or breakfasts at Panera at least once a week (the free wi-fi was as big a draw as the soufflees) when I lived in Michigan. I loved the baked egg souffles and the veggie offerings, and was willing to cut back on other meals and snacks in order to stay within my limits. It's a relief to be living in a place where there isn't a Panera tempting me every few miles. Thanks for the reality check. - 3/10/2009   2:27:23 PM
  • 168
    it really didn't surprise me. I've never eaten there. Any restaurant with BREAD in the name just seems to me to be "heavy" on the meal items.
    Would like to see a write up on Noodles & Co. My son loves that place and I cringe buying his favorite items there.

    - 3/8/2009   10:59:20 AM
  • 167
    These Panera folks are obsessed with SODIUM !!!!!

    Nasty! You take your life in your hands going there to eat.
    Too bad they rely so heavily on the salty stuff to add flavor to their foods - - or, rather, to numb people's mouths so folks just think they're tasting something good.

    Thanks for the heads up. I avoid this place like the Sodium plague that it is.
    - 3/6/2009   7:00:29 PM
  • KYSHARON1
    166
    Who would have thought! - 3/6/2009   9:51:24 AM
  • 165
    although it may not the best of places, it's my monday night dinner with one of my friends. we meet and catch up from the week before heading to rehearsal. even when she can't make it, i go. it gives me a chance to catch my breath and decompress before heading to a 2 hr rehearsal.
    lately, my choice is the chicken tortilla soup - has a great kick to it :) and i usually eat 1/2 there and the other 1/2 the next day...yummm - 3/6/2009   12:34:19 AM
  • 164
    Thanks for posting the nutritional info. It definitely reminds me that I need to cut the portions in half, again! - 3/5/2009   8:13:29 PM
  • HEALTHSMARTZ
    163
    When I "have to" eat out (business meetings), I love going to Panera because I can plan ahead. They have their nutrition menu on their website so when I know I'm going there for lunch, I eat a lighter breakfast and then I always pick something from the You-Pick-Two. This gives me lots of options and I can stay within my goals. You can also get the French Onion Soup without the cheese and croutons and it's only 90 calories! - 3/5/2009   7:45:22 PM
  • ANUMAK1
    162
    I like their pick 2 option... Makes me "feel" more satisfied knowing I had a sandwich and a soup :) - 3/5/2009   1:59:29 PM
  • 161
    I enjoy Panera and really appreciate the pick two option - a half a turkey sandwich and the smaller black bean soup are very satisfying (I typically can't finish this because even the 1/2 a sandwich is very large). Plus I get an apple as a side choice and save that for later. - 3/5/2009   1:52:03 PM
  • 160
    GREAT ARTICLE. WHEN I CAN FIND THIS BREAD I WILL TRY IT. - 3/5/2009   1:49:44 AM
  • 159
    Thanks for posting all the nutrition information. You look for "less than 10 grams of fat", but I look for a high protein or high fiber content, because I can stay on the low end of the "fat" range, but have to really work on keeping my protein up. So I would consider several sandwich choices healthier for me than the turkey on sourdough. I would consider the black bean soup the best for me (but I would have guessed that even without reading this article. Maybe that's what immersing yourself in Sparkpeople does - helps us make intuitive choices that are right for us). - 3/4/2009   4:24:56 PM
  • LISALU910
    158
    I am surprised that the turkey breast on country bread is 310 calories and 18 grams of fat per HALF - the whole sandwich contains 620 calories!?

    All it contains is bread, turkey breast, lettuce, tomato and mustard (I leave off the mayo). Sounds healthy and low fat to me.....heck I could eat a greasy cheeseburger for that many calories. WTH? - 3/4/2009   2:37:10 PM
  • 157
    Keep in mind that Panera's salad calculations INCLUDE the default dressing. You can make a lot of their salads healthier by substituting one of the lower calorie dressings for what they would normally put on it. I wish Panera would list the salad separate from the dressings so you could add up what you wanted. For now, if you want an approximate count, you can subtract the numbers for the dressing (look at the menu to see what the "default" is) from the salad to get just the salad without dressing. Then add back your dressing of choice. - 3/4/2009   1:12:57 PM
  • 156
    Having visited their website already, which helpfully provides this information, I wasn't surprised by any of it. I am disappointed that they don't make it clear at the counter that you have a choice of side options with the pick two. If I know my calorie intake for the rest of the day, I don't have a problem treating myself to the Asiago Roast beef, the French Onion soup (because I love it!) and an apple on the side, instead of more bread. All things in moderation. - 3/4/2009   11:27:48 AM
  • 155
    Panera used to be one of my favorite haunts, but with less spending money lately, it's a rare treat. I actually tried to order a half sandwich last time I was in there, but they said they couldn't sell me just a half sandwich, just a whole sandwich or You-Pick-Two. I took my second half home that day. - 3/4/2009   9:16:31 AM
  • 154
    last weekend I had to travel for a funeral. The only places to eat were fast food and Panera Bread- the choice was obvious. Panera Bread. I had the Half Mediterranean Veggie on Tomato Basil and it was the MOST FLAVORFUL SANDWICH I had in such a long time. I am already looking forward the the next one. - 3/4/2009   6:40:16 AM
  • 153
    Hey serverina418--I also wondered about Big Boys Nutrition info...so I went to google and put in a particular item...say Big Boy Slim Jim Sandwich Nutrition, and I got exactly the info I needed right from the source. You have to be pretty descriptive in what you are looking for, but I got the info on the Slim Jim just by using google search...hope this helps! - 3/4/2009   1:09:14 AM
  • 152
    I love Panera Bread, but I always thought that with all that bread, how can it be any good for you...now I know what to choose and have a better chance of ordering something healthier! - 3/4/2009   1:04:19 AM
  • 151
    I'm to frugal to eat there. I'd rather spend my "eat out" money at a Japanese restaurant having grilled salmon. - 3/4/2009   12:14:37 AM
  • 150
    We eat at Panera about 2 times a month and I have studied the nutritions so I am aware of it already. With breads and bagels as specialty you would expect higher calories and fat so healthy choices are needed. I love the French Onion soup and usually go for the Classic salad. You do get a choice of chips, baggette or apple as a side. Healthy choices are there. - 3/3/2009   10:24:59 PM
  • 149
    Looks great except for the salt content! Do you think we will ever have one in saskatchewan?? probably not. - 3/3/2009   9:32:32 PM
  • 148
    Just as with any other dining experience, moderation is the key. I enjoy the unique items on Panera's menu but with the sodium content wasn't so high. Glad to know that their salad dressings aren't outragiously unhealthy, but still not as good as what I can make at home. Will keep them as one of the places I go to as a treat. - 3/3/2009   9:26:39 PM
  • 147
    Having Panera tomorrow, now I know what I can eat! - 3/3/2009   9:23:34 PM
  • SERENITYSEL
    146
    It was nice to know I have been eating one of the healthiest choices even before I started with Spark People!!!!! I love the Asiago Roast beef (1/2 of course)..... - 3/3/2009   8:37:37 PM
  • 145
    This was an eye opener, but I still love there food. Good thing we do not go out to eat unless it is a birthday!!!!!!!!!!!! - 3/3/2009   8:12:22 PM
  • 144
    Thanks for the info - I only eat Panera food maybe once a year (usually because someone in the office ordered from them for a working lunch meeting). I'm not surprised to find that most of their menu options are high cal, high fat, and high sodium, just based on the taste of their food and common sense. Nothing that tastes that good can be guilt-free, especially with those serving sizes. - 3/3/2009   7:38:28 PM
  • ILLINITEACHER52
    143
    I go to Panera bread occasionally and usually ask for a scoop of chicken salsd on a piece of lettuce and have a cup of green tea with it. They have always been willing to give me exactly what I want. I'm not sure how many calories are in their chicken salad alone but it sure is good! - 3/3/2009   6:43:48 PM
  • 142
    I just love Panera Bread......Just to pricey! - 3/3/2009   5:05:47 PM
  • 141
    I have never heard of this restaurant, but it looks like I have dodged the bullet on this one!! The fat and sodium contents are suicidal!!
    Is there a hospital nearby with a cardiac unit for regular patrons??? I can go to Ponderosa for $5 and get their whole salad bar with fresh fruit and wine and oil dressing , cottage cheese, sugar free gelatin and steamed veggies,, glad this place has decided to feed people in other locations!! - 3/3/2009   4:52:16 PM
  • 140
    I stopped by here once for breakfast and had a bagel, again for lunch with half a sandwich and half a soup. I was shocked to taste the salty food. Most restaurants where food has extra sodium, one does not even taste it but, at Panera bread, both the soup and sandwich TASTED salty to me. I had to toss out most of the food. I have never gone back there again!! I came home and checked on line their sodium content and was grateful for trusting my tongue since I have to watch my sodium intade which I do mess up on my own but, surely do not need to pay someone to do make it worse!! Thanks for the research, well we know which salads are OK....I can't imagine having as much salt in breads!! Seems to me most fast food restaurants assume tasty food means salty foods!!

    I would love to find out about COSI since they seem to be Panera's competition and have excellent foods that you can combine yourself as you choose including terrific salads and pizzs besides soups and salads.

    Thank you in advance. - 3/3/2009   3:41:07 PM
  • 139
    I have never been under any illusion that Panera specifically offers "healthy" menu items. I worked there several times, and the nutrition information was always available to whoever wanted it. Their portions are large, and many offerings in the bakery are very high in calories and fat. I think it is about choices that are made when you visit. There are always options and patrons are always welcome to have things made for them which are not on the menu. I have always found them happy to oblige requests for changes in sandwiches, salads and coffee drinks. All that being said, i still am the one who puts the food in my mouth. I'll just be careful. - 3/3/2009   3:09:13 PM
  • KATHERINE-ALICE
    138
    Many soups, sauces, dressings, and cheeses are high in sodium and fat. That is just the name of the game. However, Panera Bread offers an amazing amount of selections that are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants. Many selections contain fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs, along with whole grains and healthy fats. As long as you fit the fat, sodium, and calories into your day, I would much rather you go to Panera Bread that Burger King, Sonic, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Checkers, Krystal, etc. Being smart is part of the healthy lifestyle process; this is true. So know before you go, and weigh out your options. Can you afford the "Half Turkey Artichoke on Focaccia" or should you get the "Half Mediterranean Veggie on Tomato Basil"? It's really your choice; just make it wisely. Choose whole grain breads, bagels, & pastas, salads, fruits, sandwiches and soaps loaded with veggies, and low-fat dressings & sauces (if any). When dining out on fast food every now and then, I'd say that Panera Bread is one of the healthier options.
    - 3/3/2009   2:53:11 PM
  • 137
    My family and I eat at Panera a few times a year. We like the soups, fresh bread, and homemade soups. I had no idea there was so much fat and sodium in their food! I will probably eat there much less often now. My favorite was their baked potato soup, but since my gastric bypass (11/2007), I'd ordered their broccoli cheese soup as part of a You Pick Two, along with a cafe salad with some grilled chicken on top. I thought I was being good! Just goes to show that you never know what you're eating when you dine out. Thanks for the great review! - 3/3/2009   1:57:59 PM
  • 136
    I've known for a while that many of Panera's offerings are quite high in calories and fat. They will show you their nutrition stats when you go in if you ask, which is what I did. Their food is deceptively fattening, although as noted here there are a few decent options. I just don't fool myself that I am eating healthy when I go there. - 3/3/2009   1:30:06 PM
  • RACERGIRL19
    135
    I love Panera but never go because I thought it was unhealthy. It's nice to know I can still eat there. - 3/3/2009   1:26:45 PM
  • 134
    I was shocked to see the fat content and sodium. If we are out for the day we tend to hit panera for lunch, assuming that is is the healthiest option available. While I still think it's miles better than other fast-food type restaurants, I'll have to pick a bit more carefully next time. (and I fell for the egg souffle trap the last time we went myself. spinach and artichoke, thought I was doing something good for myself and when I entered it in my tracker when I got home, I realized I would have done better to have the bagel and cream cheese that my DH did!) - 3/3/2009   1:21:43 PM
  • PEACHTREE45
    133
    I'm actually surprised at how much I could actually eat there. I have avoided it b/c I just figured, based on the food I've previously eaten there, that this wasn't the greatest choice. Thanks! - 3/3/2009   1:01:09 PM
  • JERSEYGIRL726
    132
    I really like Panera, but I don't go very often because everything is so high in calories. Someone gave me two loaves (uncut) of their raisin bread, which made an amazing bread pudding. (I brought it to fellowship meal at my church--I know better than to keep it in the house!) Those brownies with the caramel? Split one with somebody! - 3/3/2009   12:48:44 PM
  • 131
    As much as I love Panera, it's got to be a very rare treat for me. - 3/3/2009   12:41:21 PM
  • 130
    I still LOVE this series, even though I think only once or twice a restaurant near me has been done. Thanks so much! I'll keep this in mind if I ever travel. - 3/3/2009   12:14:07 PM
  • 129
    Sometimes circumstances land you in a place where you just shouldn't be eating, but you're hungrier than hungry. If that happens it's a great help to know which are the lesser of the evils on the menu; you make the most informed choice that you can. - 3/3/2009   12:07:48 PM
  • FIT4ME365
    128
    Panera Bread is one of the healthiest place to go, when dining out. - 3/3/2009   12:03:48 PM
  • 127
    Panera, while yummy, is not a friend to anyone on weight watchers. I hat a low fat chicken noodle soup which sent my sodium through the roof. - 3/3/2009   12:02:41 PM
  • 126
    Many Panera menu items are in the SP Nutrition Tracker, and I've often been shocked at how much higher in calories, fat, and sodium their selections are than equivalent items from other restaurants. It's hard to imagine what they do to salads to make them so unhealthy. I avoid Panera now because some of the most healthy-sounding menu items are fat- and sodium-bombs. - 3/3/2009   11:59:51 AM
  • 125
    Panera bread is a better choice for eating out than many other restaurants. They have a lot of options that don't do too much damage to your daily calorie range. It's a good option for lunch on those days when you are out all day shopping and running errands. - 3/3/2009   10:58:56 AM
  • AMICROTECHBABE
    124
    I've been looking at a lot of nutritional information from the places I go out to eat at and I try very hard to stay away from things that can actually wreak havoc on my eating habits. I love Panera and I used to go there a lot but I would try and pick the healthier options.

    This entry just made it a little easier for me to know what I really want to pick out next time I go to Panera. I haven't been there in quite a while now. - 3/3/2009   10:53:27 AM
  • MSSHEL330
    123
    My book club meets once a month at Panera so that's the only time that I eat there. I tend to think that most take-out foods aren't that healthy so I'm not surprised by this. Since I don't eat it that often, I'm okay with it not being the best for me. I love the Broccoli cheese soup, I have it with half a Turkey sandwich. - 3/3/2009   10:47:17 AM
  • 122
    Did I miss the tuna salad? I know it probably isn't a good option, but I'd like to see the numbers - sometimes I can't resist! :) - 3/3/2009   10:28:26 AM
  • 121
    I'm surprised that the lowfat balsamic vinaigrette was so high-cal! - 3/3/2009   10:23:03 AM
  • 120
    Panera has become a new favorite. Bread is one of my biggest downfalls though. Some things I do to try to make a difference....Get the pick two- Get half a sandwich and a salad or soup (chicken noodle or veggie). Take the top piece of bread off of the sandwich. Get an apple instead of a demi-loaf or bagguette (sp). This was good information to know. Thanks! - 3/3/2009   10:12:05 AM

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