By Kelsey on August 8, 2012 38

How Healthy Is Panera Bread?

Eric and I hate cooking on the weekends. So we usually let ourselves eat out, and make sure to eat at home during the week. Our new fun thing is that one of us will go to get food and surprise the other person with what we’re going to eat.

When it’s Eric’s turn, he usually goes to Jimmy John’s or Subway. When I go, it’s usually Dairy Queen. (I know. I know! Terrible!) Because we’re trying to be healthier, last weekend I went to Panera.

But is Panera really that healthy?

Turns out, it’s not. Nor is Subway. Bummer. This eating healthy thing is going to be a little hard.

My Panera meal (small Signature Mac & Cheese, Potato Chips and Low-fat Black Cherry Smoothie) is 940 calories. I can actually live with that, but Andrew at Eating Rules says their macaroni and cheese is one of the worst choices because of the high fat (30 g), high sodium (1,020 mg), high saturated fat (13 g) and high calories (490).

And I definitely need to turn that bag of chips into an apple.


Are there any healthy fast food places out there? I’m guessing no?



Facebook Discussion

Facebook Discussion


I love my husband, my daughter and the Internet.

  1. It´s really hard to get healthy take-away.. If you want to have it organic, non-Gmo etc…

    But there are some OK options..
    You can often get OK healthy at asian take-away places.. Rice, with veggies and eggs…
    Places that have salads and shrimp…
    Sushi ( just drop the tuna and salmon, as it´s not wild salmon, too much mercury)
    Chipotle also has some Ok meals.
    and Whole foods, has great take away options. as well.

    • I’m kind of surprised to see Chipotle on the list! But now I see on their website that they’re really proud of the ingredients they use. And, I’ve been wanting to try the Whole Foods cafe! Thanks for commenting!

      • I often get the burrito bowl at Chipotle and modify it: light rice, add guac, the fajita veggies and lettuce and omit the sour cream and cheese. I try to eat just half of it and share or save the rest, though it’s not too crazy to eat it all.

  2. there are definitely lower cal options at Panera! I always get the You Pick 2 – BBQ Chix Salad with Chicken Noodle Soup and a whole grain baguette – comes in well under 500 calories! May not be healthy, but definitely better than other options out there for sure, just play with the menu a bit!

    • I’ve read that their chicken noodle soup (which I also used to get) is one of the worst choices because of the sodium. But great job with the baguette!

      • I just dip the bread in the soup and don’t finish the soup – but I know if i got another option I would consume too many cals, haha!

  3. I don’t think eating out will ever be healthier than eating at home can be but there are definitely better choices on Panera’s menu. Mac and cheese will never be a healthy option eating out. But if you like it, you like it. I’m all about moderation.

    • I agree. We’re trying to eat healthier 75% of the time, so it makes sense that we can relax about it sometimes – especially on the weekends.

  4. I made a big sad face when I read the title of this post. I LOVE Panera Bread, but they really aren’t that healthy. Luckily, there isn’t one in my town. Soooo, when we go out of town and eat at one I can justify eating there. I think delis are the way to go, if you want to eat out and be healthy. And I think Chick-fil-a is pretty healthy, too. Their salads are really good.

  5. It’s really about what you choose – there are almost always healthy options, they just may not be what you WANT. As long as you eat plants and stay close to the natural state of the food the choices will be healthier. I don’t always mean a salad, though those are usually good options, but ask for extra spinach and whole grain bread in a wrap or on a sandwich and get a salad or fruit as a side. The more you eat this way the better you’ll feel and the easier it will get because you’ll be able to identify how crappy overly processed food makes you feel.

    • I agree. It’s all about smart choices wherever you eat.

    • I agree. I was really surprised to read that some of their salads have processed ingredients with corn syrup. You just can’t trust anyone else with your health; you have to know what you’re eating if someone else prepared it.

  6. I used to think that ordering a salad would automatically be healthy … so wrong. Restaurant salad dressing is almost alway awful for you. That being said, when I do order out I still always order a salad but go for oil+vinegar dressing on the side or I bring it home and put my own dressing on it. And I always eat the salad first because it helps you fill up on something better for you first.

  7. Aileen brought up a lot of good points! I think Panera is one of the more healthier places you can go when eating on the run. Of course, there are so many things I would like to have (mac & cheese is my weakness!) but a bowl of low-fat chicken noodle soup (sans the bread bowl) and an apple it is.

    • I used to get the chicken noodle soup, too, but I’ve read that it is one of the worst choices because of the sodium. But great job with the apple! :)

  8. Wow. Great read. Kerry was telling me about these articles a few months ago. People need to know this stuff!

  9. Panera can be healthy depending on what you get. I think the mac and cheese has the most calories out of everything on the menu.

    • It can be healthy, maybe. But even some of their salads have processed ingredients with corn syrup. You just have to know what you’re eating. At least they make it easy to find on their website!

      • Brian Rhodeside July 1, 2013 at 1:07 am

        Kelsey, not only is it accessible on our website, I’m a Panera associate, but it is available in any of our bakery cafes as well. Just ask any associate and we will give you any information on our tempting options that you would like. Thank you for your care and concern on our menu. It is much appreciated that you have put so much time into our menu.

  10. I always go for the black bean soup or veggie pesto at Panera–both lowfat, low calorie and vegetarian. Of course mac ‘n cheese, chips and a smoothie is going to be high calorie, loaded in sodium and fat–you wouldn’t be able to order that anywhere.

    If you want to really eat healthy when going out, I suggest Healthy Fresh Market and Cafe in West Des Moines. It’s primarily vegan, but has vegetarian options too. Very good and guilt-free!

  11. My husband and I deal with that every weekend as well. I just recently read a blog about the 8 healthiest fast food chains that are seriously good for you and some even for the environment as well. Here’s the link:
    Unfortunately none are near me. Maybe you’ll be more lucky.

  12. Ever check out the Paleo Diet? I was vegetarian for a few years and picked my healthy out-to-eats based a lot on that. I switched to eating Paleo and feel sooooo much better! Just a thought

  13. interesting post, kels. a lot of places are now trying to market their products as fresh and healthy, but as you can see, they just aren’t very healthy. i think that i’ve always eaten pretty healthy for the most part – luckily this was a big part of the way my family ate growing up so I actually dislike most boxed/canned/ready-to-eat food. we cook a lot of things from scratch at our house. one approach i take in regards to health is to not worry too terribly much about avoiding calories, fat, etc. but rather make sure i am eating all of the recommended ammounts of fruit, veggies, protein, and whole grains. after getting all of that in, i’m typically not very hungry for much else – but i also feel pretty good eating an “unhealthy” treat knowing that my body already has all the nutrients it needs for fuel. maybe it is the way that my brain operates, but i just tend to respond better to “checking things off a list” or knowing i met my goal for the day, rather than worrying about avoiding bad things. this approach works for me, but may not work for everyone. i am pretty fortunate in that i could eat terribly all day everyday and not have it affect my weight very much (thanks mom and dad) – but i know doing that would dessimate me on the inside. do you guys keep a food diary? i don’t do it all the time, but have done it on and off for a couple years and it can be a really good tool to show what you are eating in black and white. i’m not an app person, but i bet there are some good food diary ones out there. good luck on your quest for healthier eating – i love that you are allowing yourself enjoyable treats!

  14. Huge chains are limited in that they have to freeze, preserve and ship all their food across the country to thousands of people. Some do a better job than others and it is our responsibility as consumers to make the healthiest choices we can. It is almost impossible to get a perfect score when you’re creating meals on such a huge scale. Instead, look for local eateries! There are so many healthy, fresh, locally sourced choices in the Des Moines metro! Try A-Dong, Bandit Burrito, Cool Basil, Big City Burgers and Greens, Zanzibars, Fresh Cafe, Ritual Cafe, Talley’s and Mojos on 86th!…the list goes on and on and it’s fun to try something new!

  15. Panera can be a healthier choice, depending on what you choose and the light you are looking at it from. Unfortunately, I don’t think a choice of chips and mac and cheese will be good healthy choice from anywhere, even your own kitchen ;) Sure, it can be modified, but still not the best choice if low stats and healthy is what your are going for.

  16. I eat at Panera occasionally and my favorite is the Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad….just checked the nutrition and ingredients and it passes my test ;)

    I agree with Helena up there….Chipotle and Whole Foods are two of my favorites!

  17. When I moved out of my parents house for the first time, I realized that although we were eating “healthy”, we were eating WAY too much of it. Just because brown rice, whole grain bread, and sweet potatoes can be called “healthy options”, doesn’t mean you need to eat all three in a day or even in one sitting…but that’s what we were doing (with a steak on the side).

    Without even trying, I lost 12lbs because I stopped eating bread, red meat, and most dairy. I wasn’t necessarily trying to do this, I just couldn’t afford red meat and didn’t see the point in buying a loaf of bread just for me. Of course, I ate these things every once in a while when I ate out or went home, but I was shocked at how much I was over-eating things that I thought were good for me, and how much things that were high in fat like red meat, made me sick to my stomach once I started eating them again.

    If you can, only eat bread/rice/potatoes in moderation because they just make your blood sugar spike and are full of empty carbs. Fruit is full of healthy carbs and healthy sugar! Also, try replacing one meal or snack each day with a bowl full of steamed vegetables. Soy beans, broccoli, green beans, artichoke are all delicious and packed with vitamins!

    Losing weight/eating right doesn’t have to be that hard, and you’re allowed to cheat! :) Don’t be too discouraged if your favorite meal has a lot of sodium – you don’t eat it every day, right? So one or two meals every few days that has a little bit extra fat, sodium, or sugar won’t kill you or your diet.

  18. Whole Foods! I love getting meals from there on the go.

  19. I’m LOVING all your recent new posts on healthy eating! A few months ago I started eating gluten free (as much as possible) … this definitely put a dent into my boyfriend’s and my cooking / eating out routine. While we generally make a habit of buying organic / “whole” foods (5 ingredients or less) and for the most part we’re pretty conscious about the types of food were putting into our bodies, eating out was always a challenge for us!

    Chipotle is a STAPLE date night for us and its even more awesome because you can order/pay online and pick it up in sweat pants!

    Whole Foods Cafe – This is great because John and I can order whatever were in the mood for! And I’m not going to lie, it definitely made our decision to move further from work a little easier, because now it’s only a short bike ride away!

    Chick Fil A – If you ask, they will make your chicken sandwich between 2 pieces of lettuce instead of bread and they have lots of options beyond fries :)

    And last but not least, my FAVORITE things to have at lunch are frozen EVOL bowls (LOVE spelled backwards:)!! Organic, gluten free, compostable …. PERFECT! My grocery store has them hidden in the organic frozen food “meals” section. and also have some GREAT easy / good-for-you recipes!


  20. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately… I don’t know if there is a truly healthy fast food option, but if you’re sticking with Subway or Panera and the like while being diligent on what you’re ordering…the truth is that you could be doing a lot worse. I know that for me, healthy leaftovers and brown-bag lunches are great, but sometimes I just have to get out of the office and do lunch. I could get a double whopper at BK, or I could make the somewhat healthier choice of a turkey sub no mayo at jimmy johns. And while not the best option ever, it certainly is the better choice so I’m coming out ahead in the end.

    At least that’s how I like to think of it…

    • i’m with you. i know this whole eat-better thing is not going to work AT ALL if i restrict myself completely. sometimes we choose to make the better, bad choice. and sometimes we fall completely off the bandwagon. we have been pretty good all week, so today for lunch we ate at carlos o’kelly’s. lots of chips, cheese and pasta…maybe eventually i’ll realize that the way that food makes me feel isn’t worth it, but today we were honestly really looking forward to it!

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