What To Order At Panera, According to a Licensed Dietitian

One of the most popular fast-casual restaurants, Panera Bread offers sandwiches, soups, and more. See Signos' guide for healthy choices.

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by
Rebecca Washuta
— Signos
MS, CNS, LDN
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Reviewed by

Rebecca Washuta
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 19, 2024
June 12, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Known as one of the more sophisticated fast-casual restaurants, Panera Bread continues to be a crowd favorite. With more than 2,000 locations nationwide and a variety of options, including sandwiches, soups, and salads, as well as a large kids' menu, it’s a solid choice for grabbing lunch between work meetings or picking up dinner for the whole family. 

While Panera offers healthier options than most fast-casual restaurants, some menu items are extremely high in calories and should be avoided. We’re breaking down the best and worst choices you can make the next time you dine at Panera.

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5 Best Foods to Order at Panera

  1. Mediterranean Chicken Greens with Grain Salad
Mediterranean Chicken Greens with Grain Salad average glucose spike
  • Calories: 670kcal
  • Sodium: 1410mg
  • Fat: 40g
  • Protein: 34g
  • Carbohydrates: 45g
  • Fiber: 7g
  • Sugar: 7g

Average Glucose Spike: 18mg/dL

The Mediterranean Chicken Greens with Grain Salad provides 25% of your daily fiber and more than 30g of protein, keeping your blood sugar balanced and keeping you satisfied. It has mixed greens, romaine, and farro, making it one of the best choices on the menu for fiber. The chicken and feta provide healthy protein and fats that will keep you feeling full and focused long after your meal. 

Pro Tip: If you’re cutting carbs, omit the farro and add avocado. The fiber and monounsaturated fats will be sure to fill you up. 

  1. Balsamic Chicken Greens with Grains Salad
Balsamic Chicken Greens with Grains Salad average glucose spike
  • Calories: 580kcal
  • Sodium: 1330mg
  • Fat: 29g
  • Protein: 36g
  • Carbohydrates: 49g
  • Fiber: 9g
  • Sugar: 12g

Average Glucose Spike: 22mg/dL

**Salad came with 2 cups of dressing, but the above spike reflects only using 1 cup of dressing.

The combination of pumpkin seeds, farro, and greens makes this salad an excellent choice for meeting your daily fiber needs. Although it’s higher in sugar than some other salads, it’s also higher in fiber and protein and lower in calories. The healthy fats from avocado and feta give it a creamy taste and will help you feel fuller longer. 

Pro Tip: To cut back on sugar, omit the balsamic and stick with the green goddess dressing

  1. Southwest Chicken Ranch Salad
Southwest Chicken Ranch Salad average glucose spike
  • Calories: 650kcal
  • Sodium: 1040mg
  • Fat: 45g
  • Protein: 31g
  • Carbohydrates: 34g
  • Fiber: 10g
  • Sugar: 10g

Average Glucose Spike: 17mg/dL

**The above spike is reflective of using two dressing containers.

Avocado, chicken, and chipotle aioli make this salad spicy and satisfying. With more than 35% of your daily fiber and one of the lowest amounts of sodium, the Southwest Chicken Ranch Salad is a healthy option that’s anything but bland. 

Pro Tip: Skip the blue corn tortilla chips; the salad already has roasted corn, and the fresh romaine will give you the crunch you want.

  1. Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich
Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich average glucose spike
  • Calories: 500kcal
  • Sodium: 1310mg
  • Fat: 14g
  • Protein: 18g
  • Carbohydrates: 77g
  • Fiber: 6g
  • Sugar: 9g

Average Glucose Spike: 78mg/dL

**Whole sandwich with no onions and no side item. 

This veggie sandwich is your next best bet when a salad just won’t cut it. Mixed greens, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and cucumbers provide a good source of fiber, and the feta cheese is a tangy and tasty source of fat and protein. 

Pro Tip: Order without the hummus; you don’t need the extra carbs.

  1. Tuna Salad Sandwich
Tuna Salad Sandwich average glucose spike
  • Calories: 550kcal
  • Sodium: 1060mg
  • Fat: 29g
  • Protein: 24g
  • Carbohydrates: 50g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sugar: 4g

Average Glucose Spike: 32mg/dL

**Sandwich was on Country Rustic Sourdough bread.

You can’t go wrong with this classic sandwich. Lower in carbs than the other sandwiches, the Tuna Salad Sandwich has the protein you need to feel full while being one of the lowest-calorie and lowest-sugar options on the menu.

Pro Tip: Try the “You Pick Two” option, which combines half of this sandwich with half of a salad. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href=eating-at-subway>What to Order At Subway, According to a Licensed Dietitian</a>.</p>

3 Foods to Avoid at Panera

  1. Toasted Italiano
Toasted Italiano average glucose spike
  • Calories: 1260kcal
  • Sodium: 3660mg
  • Fat: 61g
  • Protein: 59g
  • Carbohydrates: 114g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sugar: 5g

Average Glucose Spike: 46mg/dL

This loaded sandwich has more than 1200 calories and over 100g of carbs (more than double the amount in the Tuna Salad Sandwich!). The two main ingredients in this sandwich are salami and ham. In addition to being very high in sodium, processed meats like these are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.1 

With a whopping total of 3660g of sodium (much higher than the recommended daily value of 2300g) and only 4g of fiber, this is definitely a menu item to skip. 

Pro Tip: Skip the salami, as cured meats often contain nitrates and nitrites. Consumption of these compounds is linked to higher rates of colon cancer.2

  1. Green Goddess Caprese Melt
  • Calories: 1140kcal
  • Sodium: 2230mg
  • Fat: 54g
  • Protein: 45g
  • Carbohydrates: 119g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Sugar: 9g

Average Glucose Spike: 65mg/dL

The Green Goddess Caprese Melt has the highest number of carbohydrates and ranks second highest in calories out of all the sandwiches on Panera’s menu. Providing only moderate amounts of fiber and protein per calorie, this sandwich will surely send your blood sugar soaring. 

Studies show that consumption of leafy greens is associated with improved blood sugar levels, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and lower body weight.3 With little to no greens (with the exception of basil), this sandwich is not a nutrient-dense option. 

Pro Tip: Adding chicken and mixed greens will increase the protein and fiber, making it more blood sugar-friendly. 

  1. Smokehouse BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Smokehouse BBQ Chicken Sandwich average glucose spike
  • Calories: 730kcal
  • Sodium: 2250mg
  • Fat: 20g
  • Protein: 49g
  • Carbohydrates: 90g
  • Fiber: 4g
  • Sugar: 11g

Average glucose spike: 55mg/dL

**Sandwich included pulled chicken, BBQ sauce, red onions, and aged white cheddar cheese on a ciabatta bun.

The Smokehouse BBQ Chicken sandwich is seriously low on veggies. While the ingredients are simple (chicken, cheddar, red onions, and barbeque sauce) and the calories are moderate compared to other sandwiches, it’s high in carbohydrates and low in fiber. Additionally, thanks to the sauce, this sandwich has nearly three teaspoons of sugar, making it a poor choice for balancing blood sugar. 

Pro Tip: To increase the fiber and lower the sugar, pile on the veggies and ask your server to go light on the barbeque sauce. 

Turkey and Cheddar Sandwich Copycat Recipe

Cooking at home has been shown not only to be more affordable but also to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.4 Save your wallet and your waistline by trying this homemade version of Panera’s popular Turkey and Cheddar sandwich.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of low-carb/high-fiber bread
  • 4 oz (about 4 slices) nitrate-free turkey
  • 2 oz (about 2 slices) cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices tomato
  • Handful of arugula
  • Sliced red onion (to taste)
  • Avocado oil or olive oil-based mayonnaise

A Quick Review

With a wide variety of salads and healthy-ish sandwiches, Panera is a better choice than most traditional fast-casual restaurants. Here are some tips to help you choose the best options next time you stop in:

  • Focus on Veggies: Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and are also the best source of fiber. Choose salads with an array of colorful veggies whenever possible.
  • Go Halfsies: Take advantage of Panera’s “You Pick Two” option, which allows you to enjoy half a sandwich and half a salad.
  • Skip the Baked Goods: Panera has an impressive dessert selection of cookies, brownies, and pastries, all of which are loaded with sugar. If you’re craving something sweet after your meal, opt for fresh fruit like apples and bananas.
  • Sip on Soup: Panera offers a seasonal soup menu that can also be included in the “You Pick Two” promotion. Homestyle Chicken Noodle is only 150 calories per cup and has 14g of protein, so it’s a great option to pair with a half sandwich or half salad.

Learn More About the Impact of Blood Sugar on Overall Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

Signos incorporates cutting-edge research and the proven power of continuous glucose monitoring to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Not sure if Signos is right for you? Take this quiz to find out! Interested in learning more about nutrition and healthy eating habits? Check out more articles on our blog.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href=eating-at-chipotle>What to Order at Chipotle, According to a Registered Dietitian</a>.</p>

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References

About the author

Rebecca Washuta is a licensed dietitian with degrees in neuroscience and nutrition and helped individuals develop long-term health habits and achieve various wellness goals.

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