Panera is the perfect chain for customers who want to be able to walk in and have an array of sandwiches, soups, salads, breakfast options, and coffees, all prepared in a matter of minutes. Panera isn't only known for having a variety of quick options, though. This "fast casual" restaurant has long been associated with having healthier alternatives to popular fast food chains like McDonalds, Burger King, or Wendys, while still being at an affordable price point. However, even though many of their items are lower in calories and higher in nutrients, dietitians still warn of some of the unhealthy Panera orders people often make.
The unhealthiest menu items at Panera are loaded with calories, sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. When we talked to a few dietitians to get their vote on the worst menu items, many of what they chose contained levels of calories, saturated fat, and sodium that exceeded the recommended daily amounts in just one meal! Not only that, but these menu items lack other nutrients and make for nutritionally imbalanced meals.
Read on to find out what dietitians voted as the unhealthiest Panera orders to make. Then, for more healthy eating tips, check out The Unhealthiest Restaurant Breakfasts to Order at 15 Major Chains.
Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt
The Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt might satisfy your cravings for something warm, toasty, and melty during the cold winter months, but this sandwich is loaded with fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
"This is a high-calorie and high-fat option with 1,010 calories and 39 grams of fat, including 20 grams of saturated fat," says Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD. "Additionally, it contains a substantial amount of sodium at 2,600 milligrams, which is higher than the recommended daily intake."
Sabat says "Consuming such a meal regularly can contribute to weight gain, increase the risk of heart disease due to its saturated fat content, and potentially lead to hypertension or other health issues due to the excessive sodium intake. Therefore, individuals concerned about their health should consider choosing lower-calorie, lower-fat, and lower-sodium options when dining at Panera."
Roasted Turkey and Avocado BLT on Rustic Sourdough Bread
Sabat says that even though you may assume a sandwich on sourdough bread would be a pretty safe choice, "The Panera Bread Roasted Turkey and Avocado BLT is not so pretty when we take a look at the nutritional content of each sandwich."
With a sandwich that packs in "940 calories, a substantial 53 grams of fat (including 10 grams of saturated fat), and a high sodium content of 1,790 milligrams," you're better off skipping this one and ordering something on the lighter side like the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich or the Deli Ham Sandwich.
Or, if it's the Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT you really want, just order the half-size!
Vanilla Cinnamon Roll
If you're heading to Panera for your coffee and breakfast, Sabat suggests steering clear of certain pastry items like the Vanilla Cinnamon Roll. Of course, it's going to taste delicious, but "Starting your day with such a sugary and calorie-dense option can lead to energy crashes," she says. Not only that, but you'll have no fiber or protein to help you stay full throughout the morning.
This breakfast is about as sugary as it gets, with "an alarming 71 grams of sugar," says Sabat, also emphasizing its high calorie, fat, and saturated fat content.
A better, more filling breakfast option from Panera would be something like the Avocado, Egg White, Spinach & Cheese Sandwich, which is only 350 calories but contains 5 grams of fiber and 19 grams of protein.
Frozen Caramel Cold Brew
Grabbing breakfast and coffee from Panera can save you time and money on busy days when you just need a quick meal, but Sabat says if you're going for some coffee, try something other than the Frozen Caramel Cold Brew.
"With 490 calories, a significant 58 grams of sugar, and 17 grams of fat (including 10 grams of saturated fat) this cold brew is a calorie-dense and sugar-laden option," says Sabat. Regularly consuming sugary drinks like this "can lead to weight management issues, blood sugar fluctuations, and an increased risk of heart-related problems, making it advisable to opt for beverages with lower calorie, sugar, and saturated fat content when you're at Panera."
Chipotle Chicken & Bacon Flatbread
Most people don't go to Panera for a pizza, but when you see all of their flatbread pizza options on the menu, it can be tempting to try one out. You should certainly treat yourself to a delicious flatbread from time to time, but when you're looking for a more nutritious option, you may want to avoid the Chipotle Chicken & Bacon Flatbread.
This flatbread has over 1,000 calories, 51 grams of fat, and 19 grams of saturated fat. What's even more concerning is the 2,400 milligrams of sodium, which is already higher than your entire day's worth.
Most of the pizzas on Panera's menu are calorie, sodium, and fat-heavy, so we recommend splitting one with a friend (or two) if it's pizza you're craving.
Mac & Cheese Bread Bowl
"This dish consisting of creamy mac and cheese stuffed inside a sourdough bread may taste delicious, but it is just too much for one person," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND. "It is packed with 90% of your total artery-clogging saturated fat, over 100% the daily recommended max of sodium, and it provides 57.5% of your daily calorie needs based on a 2,000 calorie diet."
Not only is this menu item packed full of calories, saturated fat, and sodium, but eating this will leave your body with an unbalanced meal.
"When it comes to carbs, they are supposed to be part of a balanced meal, but this meal is all carbohydrates and a great example of an unbalanced, carb-heavy meal," says Amidor. "Panera has so many healthier choices, and if you are craving their awesome mac and cheese, just opt for a child's size instead."
Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, & Cheese on an Asiago Bagel
There's nothing quite as comforting as starting your morning off with a warm, crispy breakfast sandwich, but the Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, and Cheese on an Asiago Bagel is one of the unhealthiest items on Panera's menu.
"This breakfast sandwich has a whopping 18 grams of saturated fat, but the American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat, meaning if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fat," says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN. "That's equal to about 13 grams of saturated fat per day, and just eating this sandwich puts you over the saturated fat quota for the day."
Thankfully, if you're craving a breakfast sandwich but want something a bit healthier and more balanced, Amidor says you have options.
"As a dietitian, Panera is my go-to for many meals, including breakfast," says Amidor. "Healthier breakfast options that are available include Avocado, Egg White, Spinach, and Cheese on Sprouted Grain Bagel Flat and an Egg and Cheese on Brioche."
If you want a sweet treat from Panera's famous bakery section, Amidor recommends opting for something other than the brownie. "This indulgent dessert has about 30% of your total daily recommended amount of saturated fat, and the sugars are through the roof as well with an equivalent of 12.5 teaspoons of granulated sugar," says Amidor.
She adds "If you're craving dessert, there are better options than the brownie, and at many Panera locations, you can find smaller-portioned cookies, or you can share a lower-calorie cookie with one or 2 friends."
Bacon Turkey Bravo Sandwich
People often opt for a sandwich of some sort when they're at Panera and looking for a healthy lunch, but unfortunately, one of their sandwiches in particular is one of the unhealthiest choices on the menu.
"Although a turkey sandwich may sound like a better-for-you choice, the portions for the Bacon Turkey Bravo Sandwich are just too much. This sandwich's total calories are 50% of what you should be consuming on a 2,000-calorie diet, the sodium is over 100% of the total recommended daily amount, and the saturated fat is 95% of your total recommended daily maximum, thanks to the bacon and smoked gouda," says Amidor.
If you're looking for something else, Amidor says, "There are certainly better choices on the menu to select from, or you can opt for just half of the sandwich."
Pepperoni Flatbread Pizza
We get it—pizza is delicious. But if you're at Panera looking for some healthier menu options, this is an item you'll probably want to skip.
"The calories in this flatbread pizza are over 50% of your daily recommended amount with 133% the recommended max of artery-clogging saturated fat, and the sodium is above your total recommended daily max as well," says Amidor.
She also notes that this is another example of an unbalanced meal, with very little fiber and other helpful nutrients.
These may be some of the worst Panera orders to make, but it doesn't mean you can never enjoy them. You can always treat yourself from time to time, or you can follow some of the suggestions made above, such as only ordering half of the sandwich or opting for a child's size when that's available. Either way, the important part is doing your best to have a balanced meal that is still delicious.
This article was originally published in February 2023 and has since been updated with additional entries.
- Source: https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/sodium-your-diet#:~:text=Americans%20eat%20on%20average%20about,recommended%20limits%20are%20even%20lower.
- Source: FDA; Sodium in Your Diet
- Source: American Heart Association: Saturated Fat
- Source: Sodium Intake and Hypertension
- Source: The Impacts of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) on Cardiovascular Health
- Source: American Heart Association: Saturated Fat