The Truth about Panera Bread

Panera Bread Review

March 7, 2016   39 Comments

Do I want to find a place that serves reasonable priced healthy food on the go? Yes!

Panera Bread has been billing itself as the “real food” alternative to the other places that I will not mention (but you know who they are).

Panera is a fast casual restaurant serves soups, sandwiches, coffee and pastries and I want to like the place. For example, instead of chips you can choose an apple as a side for your sandwich – hurray!

But, there are some large issues with their menu that might be deceptive for consumers who aren’t sitting around reading Panera’s nutrition facts because they have nothing else to do. Since I love to read nutrition facts – I have noticed a couple of major issues.

1. Their whole grain bread isn’t 100% whole grain. The first ingredient is regular old white flour. Real food (to me) means 100% whole grain and no white flour in a bread that is advertised as “whole grain”.

2. Their healthier options can have a ridiculous amount of sodium. For example a bowl of low-fat vegetarian black bean soup has 1120 mg of sodium. Are you kidding me? A Big Mac has 970 mg of sodium making it look good compared to the low-fat black bean soup if you are watching your sodium. It is hard to make a Big Mac look good.

3. They sell TWO over 1000 calorie sandwiches – the Steak and White Cheddar Panini and the Italian Combo Sandwich on Ciabatta. Real food can also be interpreted as “good for you” and I can tell you right now that eating a 1000 calorie sandwich is not good for you. Maybe half would be okay (but I’m not sure).

I suppose my message is that in the world of fast casual you have to order VERY carefully to eat healthily.

You may feel better about yourself because you chose Panera over McDonald’s but the real test is what you order. You can do better at McDonald’s with their salads (dressing on the side) and even the Big Mac if your penchant is to order the Steak and Cheddar Panini.

What do you think of Panera? Please share.


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39 Comments:

I ordered a vegetarian quinoa bowl at Panera- it tasted like I had mouth full of salt. I wrote to the company who said they were lowering the sodium on some standard soups. I wrote back and said that didn't address the issue of how salty their supposedly healthy bowls were. I sometimes do get a Hal Greek salad no dressing and a cup
Of minestrone.

on March 7, 2016

find this company has An extremely overpriced menu an oversized servings. I went the first time about two weeks ago with my grandson we had a sandwich and I had a bowl of soup. The soup was salty the broth was thin and our bill came to $27 for two sandwiches and one bowl of soup! I would have been better off at Subways!

on March 7, 2016

I wish their apples were organic, so I wouldn't have to worry about pesticides. 🍎😊

on March 7, 2016

Honestly, I am a bit tired of your putting down places---yes, there are some unhealthy options---there are everywhere, but at least they are trying---if you don't like their options, then don't go.

on March 7, 2016

Thank you for keeping us so well informed! Some people just take things for face value and it's good that we have people like you that dig deeper and tell us the truth!

on March 7, 2016

I appreciate you continuing to bring these things to light. The only way to get these companies to change is to hold them accountable.

on March 7, 2016

I for one am thankful for your input of the places that state they are one thing and find out otherwise. I don't have the time and you do all the work for us!! I wish we could believe that ALL food companies are thinking of our health but the bottom line is they have to make $$ so they will tell you anything to make you buy. What a shame we can't depend on their honesty. THANK YOU Snack Girl for doing what others won't!! PLEASE keep doing OUR homework :o)

on March 7, 2016

I think in terms of marketing, all restaurants have to have a variety of food to fit a lot of different lifestyles. If you are someone who typically goes to McDonalds and orders a Big Mac, then yeah, a 1,000 calorie steak and cheese panini may STILL be healthier. But if you're consciously watching your weight and sodium and living a healthy lifestyle, skip the panini and get a salad. After all, we are each responsible for our own bodies.

on March 7, 2016

I think if you are sick of her putting down places you could also simply chose to not read that blog. She's snack girl.. It's her job to bring reality to people. We read these articles when we have quite minutes to our selves and then remember what we have learned through out our busy days. And unfortunately. .I doubt they are trying. No franchise actually cares about your health. If they wanted to make stuff low sodium they could make it right there in their in there in the restaurant instead of it being sent in already made.. The companies can more than afford that. But instead of it being made fresh..they are more concerned with it being loaded junk to make it "taste good" so ppl want it more and more. So thank you snack girl, for pointing out what we may not have know about places who lie to us in order to boost their sales. Thank you for all your post. .I share your articles with my whole family because health and good choices is actually important to us. So I appreciate you having our backs!

on March 7, 2016

I find even their salads are a bit light on protein and a bit heavy on sodium...Panera is only a place I'll go if there's just no other choice. Too many tempting pastries right up front and in my face while I'm wrestling with their menus posted on the wall. If I can, I'll go sit down some where and order from a menu...OR if I'm out for a treat...coffee and a pastry can be worthy...but otherwise, not my first choice.

on March 7, 2016

Panera as with all restaurants has choices that are better or worse than others. I always check the menu anywhere I go and preferably before I go. One thing about Panera Bread that you need to know is you can order something the way you want it. I always order my breakfast without bread in a bowl...roasted turkey, spinach, red pepper, egg whites and a splash of pesto. Filling and low in points.

on March 7, 2016

I'm still here trying to figure out what your role as Snack Girl would be if you didn't keep us informed. I think you would be unemployed if you didn't report the good and the bad. I don't look at it as you are putting places down, I take the stance that you are giving us a little insight into things we may not know. Ultimately, we make the choices. I reaaly appreciate all the hard work you do and hope you keep doing your job as Snack Girl.

on March 7, 2016

There is a Five Guys next to our Panera so I never go in there. Five Guys is a total weakness for me so I try to avoid the place totally. I'll start out thinking "Apple salad" and end up with a small cheeseburger and bag'o fries.

on March 7, 2016

I have asked Panera several times about adding less salt to their soups. I also had to take my cup of soup back to the staff since the soup had just too,too much salt.
People can add more salt if the soup is not to their liking.
I also would like to see restaurants not add salt to the French fries they serve. We always request that no salt or no extra salt be added to our food at the restaurantsame we visit. We also ask for sauces to be served on the side.

on March 7, 2016

I appreciate you addressing the sodium and whole grain issues here, but wish you had made a few recommendations for what you WOULD order from their menu.

on March 7, 2016

Although it's good to have all the facts, I think there is some personal responsibility that falls to the consumer. Nutrition facts are always available if one wants to look them up and there are plenty of good choices. Panera was one of the first restaurants to list the calories of all their products on their menu, which I really appreciate. You mentioned salads at McDonalds but failed to mention the large selection of excellent salads available at Panera as well. Any large chain is going to have a certain amount of processed foods which means too much sodium. I'm guessing unless you eat fast food every day it's not a major problem for most people. From what I've read, Panera is an excellent company that contributes a lot back to society. That is very important to me when I'm choosing where to eat.I'd pick Panera over McDonald's any day.

on March 7, 2016

I frequent Panera often and it is still a land mine. First, their dressings are mostly high in fat so I order mine with no dressing and I carry my own balsamic vinegar. Also, the soups are almost always cream based which are very high in fat. I like the veggie pesto but they don't have it everyday. I usually get the french onion with no bread or cheese. So basically onion broth but it is high in sodium. It would be nice if Panera added more whole grains, less sodium, lowfat dressings maybe ones that are yogurt based and more soups that are not cream based. This would definitely be a step towards making Panera a more healthy option!!

on March 7, 2016

Watch out for their bagels, too...Cinnamon crunch has 430 calories and 32 grams of sugar!

on March 7, 2016

I love Panera! I usually get a pick two option of a salad (love their strawberry one that should be out soon) and a half of a flatbread sandwich. I may only eat the salad OR the sandwich and then treat myself to baked potato chips. I usually am not tempted by the desserts. I will agree that their prices are high but still go there two-three times a month.

on March 7, 2016

I have complained about these same issues to my husband when we are on a road trip looking for a quick place to stop. To make matters worse sometimes when I ask for the nutrition information they are "out" or "can't find it. " One even needs to be careful with the salads as some of them have too much sodium or have too much protein and calories. Who really needs chicken, cheese, and fried sweetened nuts in the same salad? You would think that with all the healthy foods Whole Foods markets sell that is making them a highly successful company, the huge increase in popularity of farmer's markets, and how major grocery chains (including, who would guess, Target! ) are adding huge organic sections so they aren't left behind in the dust, restaurants would get the message. After all, as a previous poster mentioned, you can always add salt. Restaurants could save a lot of money not addind all that salt.

on March 7, 2016

As a health care provider in charge of an industrial wellness program in a rural Southern town, I look at the healthy vs unhealthy question from several directions:
1. Does it have good nutritional value
2. Does it have a lot of stuff in it that it shouldn't, like calories/portion, fat, salt, sugar, white flour or white anything, for that matter.
A restaurant salad has a lot of nutritional value, but it is often full of other high calorie stuff that can make it as bad a choice as a large burger and fries.......but the nutritional value is still there, despite all the extras. Simply ask for the extras to be on the side or not on the plate at all. Chocolate cake, soft drinks, sweetened tea(at least in the South) etc, have all the calories and things to avoid, but nothing good(except taste of course). If you are going to splurge, make sure what you are eating has good stuff along w/ the bad.
No one should go into a restaurant that offers healthier options and assume everything there is healthy. Pastries, grilled sandwiches on white bread...I think not.
Also in regard to whole grain bread. They are often not whole grain, but look for the word "whole" as the first thing on an ingredient list.

on March 7, 2016

What about the hidden menu? No bread, generally gluten free and paleo friendly. http://secretmenus.com/panera/secret-menu/

on March 7, 2016

Oh good grief. Why do people actually take the time to visit sites like Snack Girl, and then slam the author? Get a grip! This is what Lisa is wonderful at, and provides thought-provoking pieces that get at the true heart of what she's about ... trying to improve our health! As always, THANK YOU LISA!!

Now about Panera ... I used to eat there really often, like twice a week. I do love their atmosphere, kind of high-class fast food. And I thought I liked it because it was such a "healthy alternative" to other fast places. Well that affair is over, and I only eat there occasionally now ... their nutrition info became too hard to ignore. What a bummer. Why can't someone come up with a truly healthy place to grab a bite? When I order wheat bread, I want it to really be wheat ... I do Subway, but I wonder if their whole grain bread is really whole grain? And I'm sure there's preservatives in their meats ... but at least I can load tons of raw veggies on my sandwich ... my mind tells me I'm evening it out!

on March 7, 2016

I applaud Panera as being one of the first places to list calorie values. There are great choices and there are not-so-great choices here, but certainly far more good ones than, say, McDonalds! In terms of eating out, there are really very few restaurants that could ever live up to the standards that we hold ourselves to in our own kitchens. I agree that we should maybe list a bunch of the good choices that can be found when we eat out in the hopes that when faced with HAVING to eat out, we can make smart and informed choices.

on March 7, 2016

Agreed - I like the ambience and service, and want to go there, but it's hard to find anything healthy, and then it's so pricey! Better off going to a "fancy" restaurant, and getting a chicken salad and a beer in the bar for about the same price...

on March 7, 2016

Thanks to the poster who shared the secret menu link. A couple of those actually look very good (not the one they call healthy that in addition to poultry has bacon and egg.)

Second, I forgot to mention in my previous post that almost every time we eat there (maybe once every month or two) the cashier asks us if we would like to add a cookie to our meal for a reduced price. We always give the same answer: "As soon as you have a cookie that 150 calories or less. There's no reason to make your cookie large enough to feed two or three people." They always laugh and say "I know what you mean." However, the company is not getting the message.

on March 7, 2016

Keep up the good work, Snack Girl!
I think Panera is VERY expensive for very little food. I like the smaller portions, but then it should cost less. I usually get the half salad and half soup. The soup is so small. The salad isn't a bad size, but they do not put much protein in it at all. I leave hungry and have spent a small fortune.

on March 7, 2016

My friend just told me about this like 3 weeks ago and I was so sad. I'm not going to stop eating there, but I won't eat there as often. This may seem kind of der, but I wonder if enough of us wrote Corporate and tell them that the amount of sodium that they use is unacceptable and it should be changed.

on March 7, 2016

While Panera might be healthier than McDonalds I don't actually think it's necessarily fresh, wholesome food. I also think their quality has declined, at least with their soups which seem salty and watery these days. I'd rather spend my money somewhere with more focus on quality and less hype.

on March 7, 2016

I love Panera! I figure it's better than a lot of places...even with the high sodium. I'm happy that you've made me more aware of that issue, but I like it that I can get something fairly healthy there, but it will still feel like a 'treat'. Keep the good information coming!

on March 7, 2016

I have to admit I have ordered the steak panini before, and it was really tasty. However, I haven't ordered it for some time because I am aware of how many calories it has. That is one positive thing about Panera -- at all the ones I've visited, they display the calories very prominently next to each item on the menu board. You can also order half salads and half sandwiches, and they list the calories for that as well.

on March 7, 2016

Let's use common No restaurant is all good or all bad. Your information is valued but we all make choices as to what we eat every day. Some choices are better than others but if we eat as we should 70% of the time there is leeway to enjoy a restaurant meal several times a week without freaking out. Enjoyment is part of nutrition and a lunch or dinner with family and/or friends in a pleasant atmosphere is enjoyable.

on March 7, 2016

This all cracks me up. Did anyone actually think Panera was a healthy choice? When you walk in the first thing you see are cookies, bagels, and pastries galore. I love Panera but that's a couple-of-times-a-year treat that includes a yummy scone. Ordering a steak or Italian sandwich and thinking it's a healthy choice is serious denial. This is all common sense. That said, these reviews are helpful to keep companies accountable and push towards better options.

on March 8, 2016

I'm a baker, and have a degree in culinary arts, in order to make edible whole grain bread you need to mix wheat flour and whole grain wheat flour, otherwise the gluten won't for correctly and the bread will be too hard. I agree the sodium count is high but they aren't doing anything wrong by the bread.

on March 10, 2016

Cathy, apparently the reason you scour this website is to look for reasons to diminish the true value our Snack Girl provides for her educated, well knowledgeable audience. That being said, i do not believe you fit in. Please consider changing your focus on the content rather than persecuting the author. You go Snack Girl !

on April 11, 2016

Are Panera's sprouted bagels for real?

on April 11, 2016

Woo, this was a huge eye-opener. Definitely need to do more research on restaurants before heading there.

on April 13, 2016

I order seasonal salad with chicken and light dressing on the side. 6 smart points.

on September 12, 2016

There is a "hidden menu" at Panera in a binder. The staff member brought it out and I was able to choose a healthier option.

on September 12, 2016


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