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11 Secrets Panera Bread Doesn't Want You to Know

Is Panera as fresh and healthy as it seems?

When you're craving something that feels a little fresher and healthier than a deli sandwich or fast food, but still quick, you might find yourself steering to Panera Bread. With its mix and match options of soups, salads, and sandwiches, it's become a lunchtime staple across the country.

But, is Panera as fresh and healthy as it seems, or do secret calories and other issues lurk in its signature sandwiches and savory soups? Here are a few secrets the chain probably doesn't want to know. Plus, read on to find out how to score free treats and which dishes to avoid.

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There's a sneaky reason the chain's is pushing its app

Courtesy Panera

Panera paints the picture that ordering from the app, even while in a seat at the restaurant, is more convenient for you. However, there's another reason the chain pushes its app usage: Customers who use this feature are spending more money. "We're seeing a higher check, which is really interesting to see," said George Hanson, Panera's chief digital officer in an interview with Restaurant Business. Ordering through the app also frees up workers to do other tasks and saves on to-go packaging. "It allows our associates to be engaging with guests in a higher-value way," he said. 

Charged Lemonades have a lot more caffeine than you think

panera strawberry lemon mint with guarana & caffeine
Courtesy of Panera

Last year, a TikToker went viral for finally learning why she was unable to sleep after spending the day at Panera. She was a fan of the Charged Lemonades that come in a variety of flavors. However, she didn't realize how much caffeine was in each one. She would regularly drink five lemonades in one sitting which is equal to 1,300 mg of caffeine. That's the equivalent of about eight medium cups of coffee!

While Panera doesn't hide the fact that the drink contains caffeine, some customers thought the fruity drinks should contain more of a warning. Even workers admitted that the caffeine content should be displayed more prominently than it currently is in store.

The soups aren't made fresh to order

panera soup
Panera Bread/ Facebook

A former employee broke the news a few years ago on Reddit about the chain's soups. "All our soups are indeed made fresh, but they're frozen into giant blocks and then dropped into a fridge-like box of really hot water to defrost them," they revealed.

Snopes also looked into TikTok videos that purported to show employees thawing frozen soup, mac and cheese, and chicken, and confirmed that they were real. So while the food is delicious, it isn't made in each restaurant. This is honestly not unhealthy or unusual, but if you expected fresh soup, be advised!

Another former employee suggests ordering soup after the 11 a.m. rush since yesterday's thawed soup is used first.

The bread is baked in-store, but not made in-store

panera bread
Panera Bread/ Facebook

When you walk in and smell that bread baking, it's hard not to imagine bakers in the kitchen mixing up delightful creations. Well, that's not quite how it works, says a former Panera employee on Reddit, who wrote, "I do really bake the bread. The bread is just mixed at a big factory and then transported to us every night/morning, so we can let it rise." The pastries are delivered frozen and baked on-site.

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Always order a small drink

panera small drink
Panera Bread/ Facebook

If you're dining in at Panera, the money-saving move is to always order a small drink. The chain offers free refills, so you can take your small cup back to the soda fountain as many times as you like. Also, if you are a Panera frequent flier, you can join the Unlimited Sip Club which allows you free refills of several of the chain's drinks including the Charged Lemonades.

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You can add tons of free toppings to your sandwich

panera sandwich toppings
Panera Bread/ Facebook

When you're shelling out your hard-earned money for a meal, you want to make the most of it, and The Krazy Koupon Lady has a great hack. She suggests adding all the free toppings that are available to your favorite sandwich.

Check out the Panera website or order via the app to see all the options available at your store. Common free toppings include red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and greens plus some super-flavorful additions like basil, cilantro, frizzled onions, and pickled red onions. Be aware that certain veggies, like avocados, cost extra, so be sure to ask when ordering or use the app to see all the prices before you add them. Another exciting sandwich option for less than $1 is Parmesan crisps.

P.S. you can also do this to add free topping to salads.

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Make any sandwich vegetarian

panera sandwich
Panera Bread/ Facebook

Are you on a plant-based diet, or just trying to cut back on meat? While there are some great veggie options on the menu, there's also a pro-level Panera hack—you can swap avocado for meat on any sandwich for no extra charge.

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You can save money by buying the cream cheese in bulk

panera cream cheese
Panera Bread/ Facebook

If you're a regular at Panera for their soft and chewy bagels, and you love their flavored cream cheese, consider picking up an 8-ounce tub you can keep at home or work for just $2.99. You'll save about a buck on every bagel, and you can cut back on calories by using a lighter touch.

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Upgrade your bread bowl

panera bread bread bowl
Panera Bread/ Facebook

If you're hungry, you should know that when you order your Panera soup in a bread bowl, you're only getting a cup of actual soup. For a little extra, says The Krazy Koupon Lady, order the bread bowl without soup and get a bowl of soup—which is a full 12 ounces of soup—and just pour it in yourself.

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But beware, the bread bowl is packed with calories and sodium

panera bread bowl
Panera Bread/ Facebook

Just remember, before you order your creamy soup served in (or adjacent to) a bread bowl, that a bread bowl will add 670 calories and 1160 milligrams of sodium to your meal. Considering the famous broccoli cheddar soup already has 840 milligrams of sodium, you might want to reconsider. In fact, a former employee revealed their manager once pulled them aside and advised them to never recommend soup to the elderly since the sodium content was far too high.

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You can easily make the Broccoli Cheddar Soup at home

bowls of copycat broccoli cheddar soup
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

Now that you know the Panera soup is just reheated, why not try your hand at making the soup for a fraction of the price? We've got a great copycat recipe you can try. You can also grab one of the recipes for their famous mac and cheese from all over the internet, or just buy a container of soup from the nearest grocery store and heat it up yourself.

A previous version of this article was originally published on November 5, 2021. It has been updated with new information.

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya