Best Vegetarian Choices at Panera

By: Alyssa Langer, R.D., L.D.N.

If you're a vegetarian, going out to eat can feel daunting sometimes. How do you order a meal that isn't just carbs or a salad that barely fills you up? The good news is some restaurants make vegetarian dining easier than others, and even more are changing their menus to reflect the shift to plant-based eating. We took a look at Panera's menu to give you a better idea of which items are not only vegetarian-friendly but also satisfying and nutritious all-around.

Related: Nutritionist-Approved Healthy Choices at Panera

Breakfast

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa & Honey

Photo by: PaneraBread.com

Dish: Steel Cut Oatmeal with Almonds, Quinoa & Honey
Nutritional Info: 300 calories, 7 g total fat, 220 mg sodium, 52 g total carb, 9 g fiber, 8 g protein
Choose this because: As far as breakfasts go, it's hard to go wrong with oatmeal. Packed with whole-grain fiber to keep you full all morning long, this breakfast also has an extra protein boost from a topping of quinoa (an underutilized breakfast ingredient) and almonds. A touch of honey provides just the right amount of sweetness without adding too much sugar, as can often happen with oatmeal and other hot cereals.

Recipes to Try: Healthy Vegetarian Breakfast Recipes

Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries

Photo by: PaneraBread.com

Dish: Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries
Nutritional Info: 300 calories, 10 g total fat, 55 mg sodium, 40 g total carb, 3 g fiber, 13 g protein
Choose this because: Though regular yogurt is chock-full of health benefits, Greek yogurt is an especially good choice for vegetarians because it contains more protein than its regular counterpart, while also boasting less sodium, sugar and carbohydrates. Fresh blueberries and strawberries provide vitamins and antioxidants, and rolled oats make a fiber-rich base for granola.

Avocado, Egg White & Spinach Breakfast Sandwich

Photo by: PaneraBread.com

Dish: Avocado, Egg White & Spinach Breakfast Sandwich
Nutritional Info: 410 calories, 14 g total fat, 590 mg sodium, 52 g total carb, 7 g fiber, 12 g protein
Choose this because: For vegetarians who eat eggs, an egg-white breakfast sandwich is a great way to start the day. Egg whites are packed with protein and their relatively neutral flavor pairs well with anything. In this case, fresh spinach (a great source of many vitamins and minerals, such as iron, vitamin A and folate), lycopene-rich tomato and creamy avocado (full of heart-healthy unsaturated fat) accompany the egg. All of these nutrient-dense ingredients are sandwiched between a sprouted-grain bagel flat, which provides more fiber than a traditional plain bagel made with refined flour.

Mediterranean Egg White on Ciabatta

Photo by: PaneraBread.com

Dish: Mediterranean Egg White on Ciabatta
Nutritional Info: 410 calories, 15 g total fat, 790 mg sodium, 47 g total carb, 2 g fiber, 21 g protein
Choose this because: For vegetarians who struggle to get enough protein, egg whites are the perfect solution. Though raw tomatoes are very healthful as they are, cooking tomatoes can actually make their lycopene easier for your body to absorb—making the roasted tomato sofrito slathered on this sandwich even more appealing as far as condiments go. Fresh spinach provides fiber and plenty of vitamins and minerals, and a basil pesto gives the sandwich an additional flavor and color boost. To get even more fiber into your breakfast, order this sandwich on a whole-grain bread option instead of ciabatta. And if sodium is a concern, request that they refrain from adding salt.

Salads

Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa

Photo by: PaneraBread.com

Dish: Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa
Nutritional Info: 530 calories, 41 g total fat, 870 mg sodium, 29 g total carb, 9 g fiber, 11 g protein
Choose this because: Move over, watery iceberg lettuce. A mix of romaine and kale makes a much more substantial, nutrient-packed salad base, and it provides over 100 percent of your daily value of vitamins A and C. We can thank Kalamata olives and sliced almonds for a dose of healthy unsaturated fat and protein. Though it's not a traditional Greek salad component, we'll accept the addition of quinoa because it offers so much nutrition to this salad—plant-based protein, iron and fiber. Ask for the dressing on the side so you can be in control of how much you use.

Try This Recipe: Vegetarian Taco Salad

Soups

Low-fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup

Photo by: PaneraBread.com

Dish: Low-fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup
Nutritional Info: 140 calories, 15 g total fat, 1,110 mg sodium, 40 g total carb, 17 g fiber, 7 g protein
Choose this because: Beans are arguably one of the most vegetarian-friendly foods out there. Bean-based soups can be a full meal; packed with fiber, protein and iron, hearty legumes will fill you up (for very few calories and little fat). As the sodium in this dish is relatively high, be mindful of other choices throughout the day. Or, better yet, take advantage of Panera's "You Pick Two" or kids' menu so you get a cup instead of a bowl. Steer clear of the tempting bread bowls Panera offers, as they will simply contribute more refined carbohydrates and sodium to your meal. If you want to dip bread into your soup, request a whole-grain sprouted roll instead. It is smaller in size and will also offer extra nutrients like fiber.

Try These: Healthy Vegetarian Soup & Stew Recipes

Dish: Low-fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto
Nutritional Info: 110 calories, 3.5 g total fat, 730 mg sodium, 16 g total carb, 7 g fiber, 4 g protein
Choose this because: A healthy dose of nutritious veggies—from Swiss chard to cauliflower to zucchini—gives this tomato-based soup plenty of substance and heartiness. Barley provides some whole-grain goodness in the form of protein and fiber, and a flavorful basil pesto tops it all off. Request a whole-grain sprouted roll for dipping into the soup. The rolls are smaller than the baguette pieces, and they offer extra nutrients because they're whole grain.

Sandwich

Low-fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto

Photo by: PaneraBread.com

Dish: Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich
Nutritional Info: 420 calories, 13 g total fat, 1,230 mg sodium, 65 g total carb, 6 g fiber, 18 g protein
Choose this because: Sandwiches are a go-to lunch staple, but there's no need for them to always contain sliced turkey, ham or other meats which are often loaded with sodium. A plethora of bright, fresh, vitamin- and mineral-packed vegetables, plus a schmear of hummus, makes for a satisfying, nutritious sandwich. For an extra fiber boost, ask for your sandwich to be made on whole-grain bread.

Recipes to Try: Vegetarian Sandwiches

Vegan Tricks for Dining at Panera

Increasingly, restaurants are willing to cater to specific diet needs, so don't be shy when ordering. Many vegetarian dishes can be made vegan-friendly with a few simple tweaks. For example, if your salad comes with chicken or cheese, feel free to request they are left off—and maybe ask for extra nuts or quinoa instead. If cheese is a major component of a vegetarian sandwich, ask if they can remove the cheese but add extra vegetables instead to bulk it up.

If you're craving a bagel and schmear, ask for avocado or peanut butter on the side, a delicious way to top your toast while also getting plenty of healthy fats. Though it may seem obvious, when ordering soups, be sure to check that cream isn't used, as it's not always in the dish's name; the same goes for broth—it's never a bad idea to confirm that vegetable broth is used, as opposed to chicken or beef.

Per Panera's website, note that new items are added to their menu constantly, and some items are available only on a regional, test or seasonal basis. To get the most up-to-date information, call or visit your local Panera, or check the nutrition information available at PaneraBread.com.

Watch: How to Make Creamy Broccoli Soup in Your Blender

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