Guide to Eating Healthy at Panera

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While it’s hard to resist the temptation of goodies at the Panera bakery case, you probably find yourself at the café and bakery for lunch or snacks throughout the week. Panera offers plenty of options for carb-lovers, baking up fresh bread, pastries, muffins, and bagels bright and early for those busy mornings at the office. Lunch here is no small-time affair; the menu boasts colorful salads, classic sandwiches, grilled paninis, and even flatbread pizza. When you’re watching your weight, the challenge is finding the key items that will keep you on track. Here’s a quick guide for eating healthy at Panera:

Warm up your appetite with the Garden Vegetable Soup; this is served daily at most locations, and contains just 90 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. The soup is a tomato-based broth with a handful of beans, potatoes, and tomatoes mixed in; it’s not a hearty one but will definitely curb your appetite. If you must have a cream-based soup, keep an eye out for the Boston Clam Chowder; this one’s close to a meal with 299 calories and 11 grams of fat, so balance it out with a light salad.

When you’re truly in the mood for a salad, pick up the Grilled Salmon Salad for a fast fix. With 340 calories and 14 grams of fat, you’ll be getting plenty of nutritious greens along with some healthy protein. Pick up a low fat dressing of choice, and add a couple of slices of baguette bread on the side. The Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad is another leading contender for healthy eating from the salad menu; this one is just 310 calories and 3.5 grams of fat, and is large enough to serve as your light lunch.

There are two great low-fat sandwich choices available at Panera: the Smoked Turkey Breast on sourdough, or the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich. The turkey weighs in at 430 calories and 14 grams of fat, while the veggie medley is 590 calories and 13 grams of fat. Both are tasty and satisfying, and you’ll have room for a fruit cup for dessert.

Avoid the lure of the Panini grill; the Frontega Chicken Panini will cost you 870 calories (more than a trip to McDonald’s), and 41 grams of fat. The paninis at Panera aren’t all that large either, so you’ll probably need something more substantive. Choose a half sandwich/soup/salad combo instead and you’ll be getting plenty of variety.

Panera’s recent launch of the Crispani, the attractive flatbread pizzas that are baked in the ovens onsite, are worth a look but maybe not worth an order. The Italian Meat Classic Crispani contains 11140 calories and 54 grams of fat; far more than any personal pan pizza you can find elsewhere. Even the nutritious-looking Tomato & Fresh Basil Crispani comes in close to 1,000 calories (half your day’s worth), and 39 grams of fat. You’ll be better off with a sandwich or salad in most cases.

And when you’re ready to approach the bakery case to find an accompaniment for that post-meal coffee, the Pumpkin Muffin is your safest bet; 310 calories and 7 grams of fat won’t do as much damage as the cinnamon chip scone–530 calories, 27 grams of fat–or the most dangerous bakery item in the case: the Cinnamon Roll, a meal in itself with 610 calories and 27 grams of fat. And when you’re watching the carbs, avoid the free samples of bagels and bread at the front door. Each ‘bite’ contains about 40 calories that’s much better spent with some fruit or yogurt later.

Lunch or snacks at Panera don’t have to kill your diet, but there are definitely some notable saboteurs on this menu. Plan ahead and take a look at the nutrition guide before you start your week; you’ll be well prepared when that business lunch or afternoon snack attack requires your attendance!