The Healthiest Choices at Panera Bread


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  217 comments   :  395,211 Views

These days, it can be really 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 menu items aren't the greatest (720 calories for a bowl of clam chowder, anyone?), we've scoured the menu to find some decent choices the next time you find yourself in a pinch for food—right now.

Panera has stepped up their nutritional game recently with their Power Menu, a selection of high-protein, low-carb entrees with some seriously impressive nutritional stats. We've included some of them in our top six favorite healthy Panera entrees below, followed by 10 more of our honorable mentions. (Note that salads do not include dressing nutritional information.) 

Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey 
This breakfast bowl is a real powerhouse that will keep you full all morning long. Not only is it only 170 calories, but it also boasts a whopping 26 grams of protein! It's also low in fat, carbs and sodium compared to many of Panera's other menu items. We love the bright, fresh flavors of pesto and red pepper, too.

Power Steak Lettuce Wrap 
Build your own crunchy lettuce wraps with this fun-to-eat bowl! This dish has one of the lowest sodium counts on Panera's menu. It's a high-protein, low-carb choice, and at just 210 calories for the whole thing, it definitely won't weigh you down.

Half Thai Chicken Salad
Another healthy, filling salad option, the Thai Chicken Salad is an old standby. The half portion is a modest 240 calories, but it sure doesn't taste like it. This bowl is brimming with roasted edamame, Thai cashews and crispy wonton strips. We love it with a side of fruit for a satisfying, low-calorie meal.
Half Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT on Sourdough Bread 
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. And not only is this sandwich tasty, but it's only 250 calories for a half portion, with 19 grams of filling protein to boot. Get the "You Pick Two" with a side salad for a low-calorie lunch that will hold you over until dinner.

Half Fuji Apple with Chicken Salad
At just 310 mg 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 270 calories for a half portion, and will fill you up with its 16 grams of protein.
Power Chicken Hummus Bowl
The double-whammy of protein and fiber in this substantial bowl will kick your hunger to the curb—and it tastes great! Jalapenos add a kick to the bold flavors of cilantro and lemon juice, and the creamy hummus brings everything together and adds staying power. Did we mention it's only 330 calories for the whole thing? Yum!

Below are some of our other favorite healthy meal options from Panera. Scan the menu for one of these the next time you're on the go!
Menu Item Calories Fat (g) Carbs (g) Protein (g) Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)
Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey 170 4.5 5 26 500 1
Power Steak Lettuce Wrap 210 10 7 24 240 2
Half Spinach Power Salad 220 14 16 8 350 2
Half Greek Salad with Shrimp 230 17 7 15 690 2
Half Wild Salmon Caesar Salad 240 15 8 17 320 1
Half Thai Chicken Salad 240 9 21 19 550 4
Half BBQ Chicken Salad 240 10 22 16 280 3
Half Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT on Sourdough Bread 250 9 25 19 490 3
Half Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat Bread 260 8 32 14 580 3
Half Fuji Apple with Chicken Salad 270 17 17 16 310 3
Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak 270 17 6 24 440 3
Power Mediterranean Roasted Turkey Salad 290 16 9 26 800 4
Half Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich on XL Tomato Basil Bread 290 7 48 11 700 4
Power Chicken Hummus Bowl 330 14 20 25 550 7
Half Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich on Sesame Semolina Bread 350 13 44 15 590 3
Half Chicken Caesar Sandwich on Three Cheese Bread 370 16 35 22 630 2
Which one of these meals looks good to you? What's your favorite healthy choice at Panera? 

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  • 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
    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
    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
    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
  • 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
    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 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 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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    Panera Bread is my daughters favorite. I go there with her. I do not consider it a healthy alternative. - 3/3/2009   9:59:42 AM
  • 118
    As usual, the sodium is a deal killer for me.

    - 3/3/2009   9:58:44 AM

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