Nutritionist-Approved Healthy Choices at Panera

By: Marissa Donovan M.S., R.D.  |  EatingWell.com, December 2016

How to eat healthy at the food court
If you're stopping at Panera Bread when hunger strikes there are plenty of healthy options, but, as at any restaurant, what you choose to order is important. While Panera offers many meals packed with vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein and fats, it isn't hard to go overboard with your food and drink choices.
Before you go, check out Panera's menu ahead of time. This tactic helps you plan your meal without being overwhelmed by hunger or all the tantalizing options you see when you walk in the door. Panera's website makes it easy to compare different menu items, nutrition facts (including calories and sodium) and ingredients.
To help you out even more, here are some registered dietitian–approved choices at Panera Bread to keep you on track nutritionally and satisfy your taste buds.

Power Almond Quinoa Oatmeal


Photo by: PaneraBread.com
Breakfast kick-starts your day, giving you energy to power through until lunch (or snack) time. We like this Power Almond Quinoa Oatmeal because it's made with whole-grain steel-cut oats, which are packed with fiber to keep you full. Quinoa, also a whole grain, boasts a higher protein content than most grains. Protein is another nutrient that helps you stay satisfied, and most of us don't get enough at breakfast. Sliced almonds add a nice crunch, more protein and healthy fats. If you're trying to cut down on sugar, you can request this with no honey, but the small amount they drizzle on top can definitely fit into a healthy diet.
Power Almond Quinoa Oatmeal: 300 calories, 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 8g protein, 52g carbohydrates, 220mg sodium, 9g fiber, 7g sugar.
Related: High-Protein Breakfasts You Can Grab & Go

Ancient Grain & Arugula Salad with Chicken


Photo by: PaneraBread.com
Panera offers a lot of different tasty salad options. Just remember, a salad is only as healthy as the toppings piled on it. In general, opt for those topped with high-quality protein, like beans or grilled chicken (skip breaded or fried chicken). Also, you can always ask for your dressing on the side, which can shave off a lot of calories, sodium and even sugar. Panera's Ancient Grain & Arugula Salad with Chicken is packed with fruit, veggies and whole grains and topped with antibiotic-free, skinless chicken. Getting the dressing on the side, or ordering olive oil and vinegar as your dressing instead, can help cut down the total sugar in this meal.
Ancient Grain & Arugula Salad with Chicken: 410 calories, 14g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 25g protein, 41g carbohydrates, 290mg sodium, 6g fiber, 19g sugar.
Related: Healthy Recipes for Dinner Salads

Roasted Turkey Cranberry Flatbread


Photo by: PaneraBread.com
If you're craving a sandwich, the Roasted Turkey Cranberry Flatbread is a great option. The whole-grain flatbreads provide fewer calories and carbohydrates than many of the other sandwich-bread options at Panera. Their antibiotic-free roasted turkey is high in protein and a good source of many B vitamins. Spinach adds some green and nutrients like iron and fiber. Choose an apple on the side for a balanced meal.
Roasted Turkey Cranberry Flatbread: 310 calories, 12g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 11g protein, 34g carbohydrates, 480mg sodium, 3g fiber, 7g sugar.

You-Pick-Two: Creamy Tomato Soup and Greek Salad


Photos by: PaneraBread.com
Soup can be a great way to fill up on vegetables at a meal. Unfortunately at Panera the soups can also be very high in sodium. A bowl of their French Onion Soup has almost 2,000 milligrams of sodium. You may want to avoid the soups altogether if you're closely watching your sodium intake. The you-pick-two option at Panera is a healthier way to enjoy soup because it comes in a cup, rather than a bowl, making the sodium count more reasonable. The soup with the lowest sodium is Panera's Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup. Pair that with a salad like the Greek Salad, packed with high-fiber vegetables and a little feta cheese, which adds calcium. To cut back on added sugar, sodium and calories, get the dressing on the side or ask for light dressing. Here is the nutrition breakdown for the you-pick-two meal.
Creamy Tomato Soup: 200 calories, 9g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 4g protein, 25g carbohydrates, 640mg sodium, 3g fiber, 11g sugar.
Greek Salad: 200 calories, 18g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 4g protein, 7g carbohydrates, 510mg sodium, 2g fiber, 4g sugar.
You-Pick-Two Lunch Total: 400 calories, 27g total fat, 9g saturated fat, 8g protein, 32g carbohydrates, 1,150mg sodium, 5g fiber, 15g sugar.
Related: Easy Soup Recipes to Make at Home

Petite Chocolate Chipper


Photo by: PaneraBread.com
As for dessert options, many at Panera (including muffins, scones, brownies and pecan rolls) stack up over 500 calories for one serving. That's more than many of the actual meals at Panera! If your meal leaves you hankering for something sweet, opt for their Seasonal Fruit Cup (at just 60 calories) or the Petite Chocolate Chipper. While the regular chocolate chipper cookie comes in at 440 calories and 22g of fat, this more modest-size chipper gives you the chocolate fix you crave without setting you back.
Petite Chocolate Chipper: 100 calories, 5g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 1g protein, 14g carbohydrates, 75mg sodium, 1g fiber, 8g sugar.
Related: Mini Desserts Almost Too Cute to Eat

Drinks


Photo by: PaneraBread.com
In addition to watching what you choose to eat, be mindful of your drink choices. Many drinks can clock in unneeded (and many times unnoticed) calories. A lot of the yummy-sounding drinks are more like dessert. Their hot chocolate comes with whipped cream, caramel sauce and chocolate-chip marshmallows—and clocks in at 510 calories. If you still want a flavored beverage, try one of the unsweetened options at Panera like the Acai Berry Green Iced Tea or Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea.

Bottom Line

One meal isn't going to completely derail your healthy eating, but it may be helpful to keep these tips and menu items in mind so you can eat a little healthier the next time you're at Panera Bread. When you do order, many meals come with your choice of side: apple, chips, roll or baguette. Guess which one tops the list nutritionally? The apple. Don't forget that you can customize your order, asking for light dressing, no sauce, extra vegetables or even a sandwich sans bread, to make your choices exactly what you want.

How to eat Healthy at the Food Court