Panera's 'Hidden' Low-Carb Menu

At Panera, 'low-carb' means salads ... but beware the dressing!

Panera Bread logo on side of building
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Have you heard of the "hidden menus" many restaurants have? These are menus that are not necessarily "secret", but the items usually aren't super-popular, so the company doesn't take up space on the menu board or printed menu with them.

A surprising number of restaurants have hidden menus, but most of them won't be appealing to low-carbers. (A "Starburst Smoothie" at Jamba Juice sounds fun, but a similarly-concocted smoothie there has 70 grams of carb in a "small"—that's over 1/4 cup of sugar!)

Panera Bread—yes, that Panera, known for its carb-centric bread, sandwiches and baked goods—used to have a hidden menu with healthy low-carb options, such as the Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad (9 grams of net carb), the Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak (2 grams net carb) and the Power Steak Lettuce Wraps (5 grams net carb).

Sadly, Panera has discontinued all these options, which ultimately failed to catch on (perhaps if they hadn't been hidden, they might have done better than they actually did). But if you're heading to Panera, you do have a few low-carb options still available to you. These options aren't necessarily as appealing as the former hidden menu options, plus they contain more carbs, but you might be able to make them work in a pinch.

Low-Carb Menu Items at Panera

These Panera menu items aren't hidden—they're right there on the menu. Unsurprisingly, they're almost all salads (you'll need to steer clear of any sandwiches or other baked goods, since they're most definitely not low-carb):

  • Romaine and Kale Caesar Salad with Chicken. This salad is the lowest-carb option available at Panera. A half serving contains just 5 grams net carb, while a full serving contains 10 grams.
  • Greek Salad. If you choose this, you'll be consuming 7 grams of net carb for the half-sized serving, and 13 grams for the full-sized serving.
  • Caesar Salad. This one clocks in at 8 grams net carb for the half-salad and 15 for the full serving. The Caesar Salad with Chicken has 9 grams carb for the half-serving and 18 for the full serving.
  • Low-Fat Chicken Noodle Soup. The smallest size available—a cup—contains 12 grams net carb.

Beware of the salad dressings at Panera, since some of them can add significant carb to your meal. Soy Miso Lime Dressing, for example, has 10 grams net carb for a full-sized serving, while White Balsamic Apple Flavored Vinaigrette adds 11 grams. Stick with the Greek/Herb Vinaigrette, which is basically carb-free, or with the Caesar, which is extremely low in carb.

Other Hidden Menu Options

I'm a fan of the "hidden menu" of In-N-Out Burger (a chain in the Western U.S.)—freshly-ground beef patties and any of their burgers can be ordered "protein style," which means they're wrapped all the way around with lettuce, not a bun.

The In-N-Out Burger hidden menu also includes ordering as many burgers or hamburgers in your sandwich as you want, though I've never tried it (for example, a "3X3" is 3 cheeseburgers together, while a "3 by meat" is three hamburgers, together with tomatoes and sauce).

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