Panera almost always disappoints me.
Not from a nutritional standpoint, but from a taste standpoint.
Don’t get me wrong- it’s quality food, and it’s pretty decent. But for the price, I almost never feel it’s worth it. Maybe I’ve just had bad experiences, but I always have really high hopes going in, and leave feeling disappointed. I mean, the menu always looks SO good!
But, that’s not the point here. The point here is to help you break down the menu and find some solid choices, so that is what we’re going to do!
Now, that’s not to say that sodium, cholesterol, fiber, or anything else is not important. For you, they may very well be important factors in choosing something to order. If that’s the case, the official Panera website does a great job breaking down the FULL nutrition of all of their items. I highly recommend popping over to their website to check those out.
No better place to start than with breakfast. And I’ll admit, Panera’s breakfast is decent.
There are quite a few variations of egg sandwiches, so you can customize these to your liking. One thing that isn’t included in this guide is bagels. With any of the breakfast sandwiches, you can order them on a bagel, or simply order a bagel & spread on its own.
We’ll look at an Everything Bagel for reference. It has 290 calories, 1.5g fat, 58g carbs, and 10g protein.
If you order plain cream cheese, that will add 180 calories, 17g fat, 4g carbs, and 2g protein.
Of course there are different flavors of bagels and cream cheese, but that should help to give you an idea.
Considering a bagel with cream cheese comes in at 470 calories, I’d much rather opt for any of the egg sandwich options. Not only are they lower in calories overall, but with at least 2x the protein, it would satisfy me much more.
Calorie saving tip:
Any time there is a menu item with egg whites, it usually means you can swap egg whites for any of your sandwiches. If you order a bacon, egg, & cheese sandwich, you can most likely ask for egg whites to save some calories & fat and bump up the protein a bit.
Panera is obviously known for their bread options, but they certainly don’t slack on the salads.
All the salads listed here are for full salads. You always have the option to order a half salad, which is quite literally the same salad cut in half.
The dressing for these salads is also included, so what you see is exactly what you get!
Calorie saving tip:
I always ask for dressing on the side, even if calories aren’t a concern. Personally, I just like to have control over how much dressing I’m using.
Instead of then pouring the dressing over the salad, I use the fork-dipping technique. What I’ll do is dip my fork in the dressing, then eat a bite of salad with that. By doing it that way, rather than dipping directly into the dressing, you end up using much less.
For reference, the Greek salad dressing will add 230 calories to the entire salad if you eat it all. With the fork dipping technique, I probably only use about 1/4 of the dressing, which would save nearly 170 calories in this case. Not bad!
The sandwiches are what Panera is best known for, since they highlight the fresh-baked bread.
Like the salads, you can order only half a sandwich if you prefer. For a half sandwich, the calories & macros are simply divided by 2.
Panera is well-known for the “You Pick 2” option, which allows you to choose two half menu items together. Pairing half a sandwich with half a salad used to be my move when I’d eat at Panera. More specifically, half of the Mediterranean Veggie and half of the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad.
Calorie saving tip:
Pay attention to the spreads and sauces they use on their sandwiches. If you’re not sure, you can look the menu up on Panera’s website to see the ingredients used.
When it comes to calories, a large portion will often come from the sauces used.
Let’s look at the Frontega Chicken sandwich. It has chicken, cheese, veggies, and seasoning, so it will pack a ton of flavor, and then there is also a chipotle mayo added. For me, I would ask for no chipotle mayo, because it sounds like there is plenty of flavor without it.
From putting together my condiment nutrition guide, I know how calorically-dense mayo can be. Panera doesn’t list the exact calories it adds, but it’s not unusually for mayo to add 100-300 calories, depending on how much is used.
I’ve never had the mac & cheese from Panera, but I’ve heard great things about it. At over 1,000 calories, it better taste great!
All of these options are for bowls, but you have the option to order a small “cup” size as well. For your reference, ordering a small mac & cheese brings the calories down from 1,010 to 510 calories, so it’s safe to say that a cup is a half portion.
Calorie saving tip:
Watch out for these bread bowls. The bread bowls are very popular at Panera, and for good reason- bread is amazing.
However, it is quite large, and will add 670 calories to your meal. While that may not necessarily be a bad thing for you, it seems like it’s something that a lot of people do not consider. Since the bread bowl is hallowed out, it’s easy to think that it’s pretty low calorie, but that’s not quite the case here.
If calories are a concern, soup is a great option as it is filling and lower in calorie, but I’d leave the bread bowl out of it.
Panera’s menu is very impressive. If you know me, you know I love carbs, so a restaurant that specializes in bread is A-OK in my book.
Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t always love the food when I order it, but I did used to eat at Panera quite often.
The ingredients always taste fresh, and they have a wide variety of options.
Obviously what you choose to order will be dependent on your own goals, but Panera has plenty of options for everyone.