We have been flooded with requests to spill the beans about Panera Bread, so here it is -- Hungry Girl's official Chew & Tell review!
Panera Bread is a clean, friendly, happy place. The location we visited was large, had high ceilings, was extremely inviting, and offered FREE wireless internet service. Yee-haa! But all of these wonderful attributes, though important, can't hold a candle to what's really important -- THE FOOD.
The BEST thing Panera offers, is their "Pick Any Two" option. That basically means you "mix and match" any two half-sandwiches, half salads, soups or a fruit cup, to create your own meal. We LOVE this! Here are some of our favorite food finds at Panera -- and for the purposes of our review, all of our nutritionals are for the "pick any two" sizes.
This salad is a mix of romaine lettuce, moist chicken breast, sesame seeds, thinly sliced roasted almonds and crispy noodles. It's EXCELLENT. The chicken is awesome, the lettuce is fresh, the almonds aren't salted. We loved everything about this salad. We removed the crispy noodles from the top because we felt the salad didn't need them. The dressing that comes with this salad (like most of Panera's dressings) is very high in fat and calories. At 100 calories and 4g of fat per ounce, we say avoid it and go for the sugar free poppyseed dressing (sweet, asian-inspired), which is a GREAT swap!
This salad consists of romaine lettuce, shaved parmesan (sooo AMAZING), hunks of tender chicken breast and homemade croutons. Make sure you order dressing on the side and dip sparingly. The Caesar dressing has 100 calories and 10.5g fat for one ounce, and if you dip carefully, you can get away with using only half of a 1-oz. container. That's what we did. The salad is so flavorful and yummy that you don't really even need the dressing, but use a little of it as an extra treat! Panera also serves a regular Caesar salad without chicken. (It contains 70 fewer calories for the 1/2 size.)
This salad is a combo of lettuce, fresh tomatoes, red onion, olives and feta cheese. It's FANTASTIC, and makes a GREAT side salad. The thing you need to watch out for, though, is the Greek Dressing. 1 measly ounce of it has 145 calories and 16g of fat! Use either the Fat Free Poppyseed, or the Fat Free Raspberry Vinaigrette.
This is your typical salad. Romaine, tomato, cucumber and red onion. Nothing life-changing about it, but a nice addition to any meal for sure.
***Fruit Cup 5 oz. (70 calories, 0g fat, 19g carbs, 1g protein, 1g fiber - 1 WW point)
This fruit cup was a perfect mix of red grapes, pineapple, cantaloupe and honeydew. All the fruit was fresh, and fantastic. Mmmmm.
***Cuban Black Bean 8 oz. (210 calories, 5g fat, 28g carbs, 11g fiber, 13g protein -- 4 WW Points)
This is one of Panera's newer soups and one of the best soups we have ever tasted. It's so thick, that it's almost chili-ish in its consistency. Panera describes it as plump black beans and earthy petite lentils simmered with pork carnitas and ground chiles in a garlic-scented tomato broth spiked with chipotle, scallions, dry sherry and fresh squeezed lime juice. We couldn't have put it any better ourselves. This soup completely ROCKS! And it even has 11g of fiber...WOW!!!!!/x-tad-bigger>
***French Onion - No Cheese or Croutons 8 oz. (80 calories, 3g fat, 12g carbs, 2g protein, 2g fiber -- 1 WW Point)
YAYAYAY! We applaud this soup (with very loud clapping). It's sweet, delicious and the most calorie-friendly soup of all. /x-tad-bigger>
***Low-Fat Chicken Noodle 8 oz. (100 calories, 2g fat, 15g carbs, 1g fiber, 5g protein -- 2 WW Points)
This soup is the closest we have had to homemade chicken soup since, well, we actually had homemade chicken soup. There are big hunks of white meat chicken, carrots and egg noodles floating around this light, yummy herbed broth./x-tad-bigger>
This veggie soup wasn't bad, but it's not as good as Panera's other soups, in our opinion. Still, if you like vegetable soup, it's a fine option. And very low-cal and low in fat as well./x-tad-bigger>
Other Soups: There were two other soups that weren't available but still seemed like they were worth mentioning. Panera's Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean and Low-Fat Vegetarian Tomato Lentil soups have 160 calories and 120 calories and 1g fat and 1.5g fat respectively, for 8-oz. servings. We're sure they're great, too! (and the black bean one has 11g of fiber!!!).
We're not gonna beat around the bush here. Most of Panera's sandwiches are VERY high in fat and calories. They've got lots of cheeses, mayo, and other questionable items piled on 'em that can make the calorie counts SOAR. If you want a half-sandwich for one of your "Pick Any Two" options, we say go for the smoked turkey on either Sourdough, Artisan County Miche, /x-tad-bigger>Artisan French Miche, Artisan Stone-Milled Rye Miche, or Artisan Sesame Semolina Miche breads. That half sandwich (sans mayo!) will run you about 200 - 250 calories and 2g of fat or so (4-5 WW Points). Not too bad! Their low carb breads are smaller, and not quite as good (we don't enjoy the texture of of low carb breads in general), though if you are REALLY watching carbs you may want to give their Pumpkin a whirl. (it has 90 calories, 2.5g fat and 9 carbs per slice). Our favorite bread item, by far, was Panera's new Artisan Whole Grain Baguette (140 calories, 1g fat, 3g fiber).
HG Panera Tips!
Panera totally ROCKS! It's slightly more expensive than a typical fast food restaurant but it is SO TOTALLY WORTH IT!
BEWARE OF PANERA'S SALAD DRESSINGS! The 1-oz. serving nutritionals are insane enough, but if you order a regular full-size salad, you'll get 2 ounces of dressing. Many of those tiny containers have over 300 calories and 25 - 30+ grams of fat-- for the dressing ALONE! Try to stick with the Fat Free Poppyseed, Sugarless (25 calories for 2 ounces) or the Raspberry Vinaigrette Fat Free (50 calories for 2 ounces). Extra HG Warning: Do NOT be fooled by the Balsamic Vinaigrette, Reduced Sugar dressing. This dressing has 350 calories, and 36g fat per 2oz! That's way more than even their Caesar dressing. EEEKS!
Their "Pick Any Two" option is a real winner! Choose fruit and soup, a half salad and soup, a half sandwich and fruit. The choices are endless (ok, they end, but they are plentiful).
You can order full sizes salads, too. They're GREAT and still diet-friendly. Just double our nutritionals above. Math is fun...Weeeee!
CHEW ON THIS: There are more than 740 Panera Bread locations nationally, with more on the way.
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***These THREE asterisks mean we REALLY REALLY love this item!