How to eat healthy and hearty at Panera Bread, according to a registered dietitian


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As far as fast-casual restaurant chains go, Panera Bread is pretty up on it in terms of catering to the wellness set. The chain ditched all artificial ingredients years ago, launched a health conscious wellness series, and most recently, expanded their menu to include protein-rich grain bowls. When deciding the best place to eat healthy after spin class, you could certainly do worse than Panera.

That said, if you adhere to a specific eating plan—such as gluten-free, vegetarian, or the Mediterranean diet—it does require a little menu decoding to figure out what’s truly best to order. Here, registered dietitian Chelsey Amer, RD, shares her top recommendations for what to choose for each of the aforementioned eating plans.

Gluten-free

Menu picks: Baja grain bowl with chicken; turkey chili

What an RD says: If you’re can’t eat gluten because you have an allergy or intolerance, Amer says it’s important to stick with the recs on Panera Bread’s gluten-free menu. (The restaurant recommends that people with celiac disease or who are highly allergic to gluten should consult with their doctor before eating at Panera Bread due to potential cross-contamination.) Her top picks are the Baja grain bowl with chicken and the turkey chili bowl. The grain bowl has 31 grams of protein, while the turkey chili has 23 grams of protein—both high-protein wins in Amer’s book.

Order tweaks: While the grain bowl has great fiber on its own (11 grams of fiber of the 25 grams you want to aim to get a day), Amer points out that the turkey chili only has one gram of fiber, so you’ll want to add a fiber-rich side to round out your meal.

Side recommendations: Panera Bread offers some gluten-free healthy sides, but Amer recommends going with an apple because it’s high in fiber at five grams—which is especially important if you order the turkey chili.

Vegetarian

Menu picks: Baja grain bowl; Modern Greek salad with quinoa

What an RD says: “Panera Bread doesn’t have any meals with tofu on the menu, but both the Baja grain bowl and the Modern Greek salad with quinoa are great, nutrient-rich options for vegetarians that still have a decent amount of protein,” Amer says. The Baja grain bowl (sans chicken, obviously) clocks in at 18 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber while the Modern Greek salad has 12 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber.

Order tweaks: “If you don’t consume dairy, be sure to order the Modern Greek salad without the feta,” Amer points out. Otherwise, no tweaks are needed to either item.

Side recommendations: The mixed fruit, banana, and apple all get Amer’s seal of approval for a vegetarian side, so she says to go with whichever one you’ll enjoy eating the most.

Mediterranean diet

Menu picks: Modern Greek salad with quinoa; Mediterranean grain bowl with chicken

What an RD says: Panera makes sticking with the Med diet a cinch by literally name-checking the region in their grain bowl made with arugula, red grape tomatoes, kalamata olives, diced cucumber, hummus, lemon tahini dressing, feta cheese, and Greek yogurt. “The mix of fiber-rich veggies and plant-protein from the hummus is what makes this a Mediterranean diet win,” Amer says. Likewise, the Greek salad has a similar nutrient-profile, using fiber-rich quinoa and greens as a base.

Order tweaks: None needed.

Side recommendation: Similarly to her advice for vegetarians, Amer says not to labor over the choice between Panera’s fruity side options. The mixed fruit, banana, and apple all have a place within this eating plan.

For more advice on how to stay healthy while eating out, here’s some dietitian-approved tips for eating at The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s.

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