5 Nutritionists Reveal Their Favorite Healthy Meals At Panera Bread
If I were grabbing breakfast from Panera, then it's all about the oats for me. I choose their Steel-Cut Oatmeal and customize it by adding fresh blueberries and almonds and going light on the cinnamon crunch granola. The fiber content in this brekkie, from the oats and berries, paired with the crunchy protein from the nuts, keeps me full and satisfied till lunch. I love breakfast all day long, and I've even been known to get this warming dish for lunch on colder days.
Avocado, Egg White & Spinach Sandwich
Panera has a ton of great options, and you can always customize there, which is great. For breakfast, I like their Avocado, Egg White & Spinach Sandwich, but I ask for a whole egg instead of the egg white to get more nutrients. With 21 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber, the sandwich is substantial enough to keep me full until lunch and has a very decent sodium count at 580 milligrams. For a fun summertime drink, I get the unsweetened iced tea and add a few splashes (at the fountain) of the agave lemonade.
Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
I like the Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken. Not only is it a fresh, tasty choice for summer, but it's also much lower in sodium compared to other fast food meals, totaling only 300 milligrams. When dining out at fast food/fast casual restaurants, one can typically find something healthy on the menu, but often the sodium content will be much higher than when cooking at home. To combat this, I recommend taking a look at the nutrition facts on the menu when deciding, or make substitutions like getting the dressing/sauce on the side so you can control the portion.
You Pick Two: Soup & Salad
At Panera, I would order either the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich or the Ten Vegetable Soup (or a half portion of each as a "You Pick Two"), and I'd order them to stay. At fast casual restaurants—and all restaurants really—I advise focusing on veggie-heavy dishes. I'd order the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich on sourdough bread, without feta (I'm vegan), and I'd add avocado for extra healthy fat. The avocado will add to the satiety of the meal, making you stay full for longer, which is great when traveling. I'd also ask for an apple instead of chips as a side. If I want something lighter, the Ten Vegetable Soup (loaded with plant-based goodies like chickpeas, tomato, red and yellow peppers, onions, corn, carrots, and Swiss chard) with a sprouted grain roll is a great choice.
Although my main motivation for ordering meals to stay (instead of to-go) is to avoid single-use plastic containers, it's also beneficial from a health perspective. When we eat at a table, sitting down, we naturally eat more mindfully and calmly. When we eat a meal in the car, we tend to eat really quickly, which isn't optimal for digestion! And, we don't enjoy our food as much!
Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa
Another option I'd choose at Panera would be their Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa with the dressing on the side and added grilled chicken. This salad contains lean protein from the added chicken, whole grains, plant-based protein from the quinoa, and healthy fats from the almonds, olives, and salad dressing. This is the perfect combination to help with satiety and hold you over until your next meal. Personally, I ask for the dressing on the side because I prefer a smaller amount (you can also ask for olive oil and lemon juice). This can also help control the sodium content as most fast-food dressings contain high amounts.
Order off the secret menu (or customize your meal!)
I love that Panera's menu lends itself so well to customization. It even has a "secret" menu with items like the Power Breakfast Egg Bowls, the Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, and the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl, which are all high in protein and fiber but lower in carbs than many of the other menu items. The Seasonal Greens Salad is a great option that you can customize by adding items like chicken and avocado to add protein and healthy fats. The Lentil Quinoa Bowls are also a delicious option you can customize with a cage-free egg.
—Jess Cording, R.D., mbg Collective member
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).