The bread bowl may be carb overload, but there’s plenty of other healthy stuff you can feel good about ordering.
With an official company name like “Panera Bread,” you’d never guess that this popular fast casual chain is packed with meal possibilities for people who have to watch their carb counts and blood sugar. But browse the menu of Panera, as the quick-service chain is commonly referred to, and you’ll find just that—a variety of nutritious and satisfying meals, even for people with diabetes.
If you have diabetes, an ideal meal for you will have around 400-500 calories and 45-60 grams of carbohydrates, with fewer than 10% of its calories from saturated fat. It will also help you make a dent in your daily fiber goal: 25 grams for women and 38 for men. Another priority: Keeping sodium to a minimum, since the American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 2300 mg per day (restaurant meals are notoriously high in sodium; look for extra ways to cut salt the rest of the day any time you eat out).
Below are seven meals you can order and enjoy without worry the next time you’re at Panera:
1. Steel cut oatmeal with strawberries and pecans
Stay away from the bagels, muffins, and pastries at Panera—they’re loaded with blood-sugar boosting carbs (a single cinnamon roll has 100 grams of carbohydrates; around double what you should have in one meal!). Instead, opt for a lighter carb-based comfort food like steel cut oatmeal with strawberries and pecan. Between the oats, fruit, and nuts, you’ll rack up more than a quarter of your daily fiber goal.
Nutrition information: 340 calories, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 51 g carbohydrates, 16 g sugars, 9 g fiber, 6 g protein
2. Egg and cheese on brioche
If it’s just not a meal at Panera without the bread, try their egg and cheese on brioche for breakfast. Brioche is a lighter, airier bread than, say, a dense, chewy bagel, and choosing it will set you back fewer carbs. Sandwich fillings like egg and cheese are full of protein and flavor, but provide less fat, calories, cholesterol, and sodium than meaty options like bacon and sausage.
Nutrition information: 390 calories, 21 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 280 mg cholesterol, 640 mg sodium, 32 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugars, 1 g fiber, 19 g protein
3. Spicy Thai salad with chicken
Salads don’t always feel like a meal. But this one—packed with with chicken, cashews, wonton strips (!!), and chili vinaigrette—hits a lot of satisfying notes. It’s also got fewer calories than some of the other fancy salads on Panera’s menu. Ask for the dressing on the side and use only as much as you need to further cut back on calories.
Nutrition information: 535 calories, 23 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 830 mg sodium, 45 g carbohydrates, 15 g sugars, 8 g fiber, 42 g protein
4. Steak and arugula on sourdough (whole sandwich)
You might think sandwiches are off-limits on a low-carb diabetic diet at Panera, but you’d be wrong. It’s true that full-sized sandwiches can really set you back calorie- and carbs-wise; take the steak and white cheddar panini, at 960 calories and 79 grams of carbs. The steak and arugula sandwich, on the other hand, is prepared on slices of bread rather than an oversized slab of ciabatta or focaccia. The meat itself is thin strips rather than a big hunk. Add in loads of flavor with thin layers of garlic and herb cream cheese spread and mustard horseradish sauce, as well as veggies and pickled onions, and you’re in business.
Nutrition information: 500 calories, 19 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 870 mg sodium, 51 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 33 g protein
5. Vegetarian black bean soup (bowl) + kettle chips
Soups can be a nutritious choice at Panera, with two key caveats. Number one: Never order the bread bowl. (Never. Order. The. Bread. Bowl.) If you were to eat an entire one yourself, it would add more than 100 grams of carbohydrates to your meal—not counting what you’d already consumed in the soup. Number two: Remember that sodium is always high.
Now for the good news: Go for a bowl of black bean soup, and you’ll rack up 17 grams of satisfying fiber; that’s more than double the fiber of any other soup on the menu. The soup is also low enough in calorie that you can afford to throw in some chips on the side (just watch your sodium the rest of the day).
Nutrition information: 290 calories, 10 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1270 mg sodium, 57 g carbohydrates, 17 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 7 g protein
6. Lentil quinoa broth bowl with chicken
A rich soy-miso broth loaded with protein-rich lentils and chicken is a satisfying option when you’re at Panera. The lentils as well as a blend of brown rice and quinoa and kale and spinach add filling fiber. Keep in mind that the sodium is quite high, however, so you’ll want to compensate the rest of the day with little salt and loads of foods rich in potassium, which blunts sodium’s effects on blood pressure.
Nutrition information: 390 calories, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 1330 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 30 g protein
7. Kids turkey on whole grain + squeezable yogurt
Since most of the sandwiches on Panera’s menu are higher in carbs than you want for one meal, you can head to the Panera Kids menu for something a little more manageable. Served on sliced whole grain bread, the proportions of the turkey and cheese in this sandwich are more in line with a diabetes-friendly lunch. Bonus: You can choose a squeezable yogurt as your side for a little bit of sweetness and an added dose of calcium and potassium.
Nutrition information: 330 calories, 10 g fat, 5.5 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 795 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 24 g protein