Panera Bread has built its reputation on offering health-conscious fare to its customers.
In 2004, Panera was the first chain to use antibiotic-free chicken. Ten years later, Panera targeted 96 ingredients on its menus to blacklist by 2016. Today it showcases a menu free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, and colors.
And its succeeded. As of 2018, Panera had become the 11th-largest chain in America in terms of sales, and its competitors—from McDonald’s to Wendy’s—were copycatting its menu.
But for every “clean” salad, there’s a bread bowl filled with mac ‘n’ cheese waiting to derail your diet. There are delicious, high-fiber, high-protein options. And then there are, well, clunkers.
And before we get to what you should order, a note about that word “clean.”
Panera says, “100 percent of our food is 100 percent clean. Food without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources.” But what does “clean” really mean?
Not all that much, found a 2017 study in Food Research International. The term clean isn’t regulated, so businesses like Panera decide. Just know up to 73 percent of people were happy to pay more if a product had a clean and clear ingredients list, reports a 2017 survey.
Regardless, here’s how you should order if you want healthy food at Panera Bread.
Panera has many salads that hit the magic hunger-delaying, muscle- building number of 30 grams of protein. (The Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken and the Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken are good, low-sugar options.)
But its whole order of Caesar Salad with Chicken reigns supreme with 34 grams of protein for only 1 gram of sugar and 450 calories. Even the dressing is relatively low calorie.
Ignore the health halos that hover over most of Panera’s beverages. Every smoothie has at least 29 grams of sugar and not enough fiber to help blunt blood-sugar-spiking effects.
Some of its other drinks are culprits, too. A large Passion Papaya Green Tea has 31 grams of sugar. A large Blood Orange Lemonade has 63—about as much as a 20 oz Dr Pepper. If you need something to drink, the unsweetened brewed iced tea and the Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea are zero calorie.
Start the day smart.
Muffins aren’t good picks anywhere, even if they have “clean” ingredients. Case in point: Panera’s Cranberry Orange Muffin, which has 480 calories and 71 grams of carbs, 40 of which are sugar, and only 2 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein.
Instead, order the Avocado, Egg White & Spinach on Sprouted Grain Bagel Flat (above left), which has 21 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, and only 5 grams of sugar—all for 410 calories.
Fight dessert with soup.
Pastries and double fudge brownies tempt those left unsatisfied, so better to fill up on fiber. Order an apple (4 grams of fiber), banana (3), or sprouted grain roll (3) as your side.
Or tack on a bowl of Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice (2 grams of fiber, 310 calories) or Ten Vegetable Soup (4 grams of fiber, 100 calories).
“Higher-fiber meals can take longer to eat and are digested slower,” says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., author of The MetaShred Diet and an MH advisor.
Effect: You’ll feel fuller and keep up your energy level, and you’ll be less likely to reach for a sweet snack in a few hours.