Grab breakfast on the run—that’s often what we do on busy workdays. Sometimes popping into a quick-serve restaurant like Panera Bread is the easiest way to get a fast morning meal. But for a healthy eater, restaurant meals can be tricky; sometimes the ones that sound healthy aren’t.
We asked Angela Lemond, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to guide us through the menu at Panera. In general, she suggests using the nutrition information restaurants often list on their web sites as a guide.
“The ideal breakfast would contain 400 to 500 calories, 20 to 30g protein, and whole grains containing 3g fiber or more,” Lemond tells Health. Also, she says to look for meals with 2g saturated fat or less, and try to keep added sugars and sodium to a minimum.
She also recommends not trying to go too low-cal at breakfast. “In my private practice, I notice that many people choose breakfast with too few calories, and then they wonder why they’re a bottomless pit at night. Be strategic and start your day off right.”
And here’s a little-known fact about breakfast at Panera: You can swap spinach for any meat in their breakfast sandwiches. Not only does this bump up the nutrition (spinach is rich in vitamins A and C and other nutrients), it also will lower the sodium count. Watch out, though, because it will also lower the protein, so be sure there’s protein in your next meal or snack.
Here are some good choices at Panera:
Avocado, egg white, and spinach breakfast power sandwich (pictured)
Why it’s good: With 420 calories, 8g fiber (some from whole grains), low added sugar and some vegetables, this sandwich is a solid choice. It’s also a good source of vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.
Disadvantages: It’s higher in sodium and saturated fat and a bit lower in protein (12g) than would be ideal.
Sprouted grain bagel flat with cream cheese
Why it’s good: High in fiber from whole grains, low added sugar, good source of vitamin A.
Disadvantages: High in sodium, not the optimal amount of protein, high in saturated fat.
Power breakfast egg white bowl with roasted turkey
Why it’s good: Good amount of protein (27g), and a very good source of vitamins A and C.
Disadvantages: Low in calories (180 may not be enough) and only 1 gram of fiber.
Power almond quinoa oatmeal
Why it’s good: This oatmeal is high in fiber (9g) from whole grains, good source of iron.
Disadvantages: Not enough protein (8g), and may be too low in calories at 290.
Less good, but still OK: Ham, egg, and cheese on whole grain breakfast power sandwich
Why it’s good: High in fiber from whole grains and a good source of vitamin A, calcium, and iron.
Disadvantages: Very high in sodium (920mg), high in saturated fat (7g).