We’ll typically pick a vegan restaurant over a non-vegan chain, but sometimes, omnivore spots really get the plant-based menu right. Also, convenience weighs mightily on our meal choices during the day, and chains like Panera allow us to enjoy a decent vegan meal while also adhering to busy schedules. The next time you’re at Panera—either by choice or by circumstance—look for these vegan items.
General vegan guidelines at Panera
Vegans can find a great meal at this fast-casual bistro, but there are a few things to look out for to avoid hidden animal ingredients. The chain offers a “Plant Based” menu, but these items are vegetarian, not necessarily vegan. While the items listed below are vegan, Panera cautions that ingredients may vary by location. When in doubt, ask your friendly cashier to read the ingredient list for you. This is particularly helpful when the café offers specials.
Vegan breads and baked goods at Panera
Panera is a self-proclaimed bakery at heart, so it would be unthinkable to not order the bread. Many of the bagels (plain, everything, blueberry, sesame, whole grain, and sprouted grain flat) are vegan, along with several of the freshly baked breads. Steer clear of the white and honey wheat (they contain dairy), but feel free to fill your bread basket with the country, whole grain, rye, sourdough, french baguette, sea salt focaccia, sprouted grain roll, and ciabatta options. In case you were wondering, the iconic Panera bread bowl is sourdough, so you can still enjoy your edible serving ware. Though, unfortunately, none of the sweet treats are vegan.
Vegan salads at Panera
Panera’s salads don’t come vegan as a standard, though you can certainly customize. Here’s how to hack it: ask for no meat, cheese, or egg, and substitute avocado (they’ll do it for free). You can also bulk up your salad by adding rice or quinoa. Finally, be wary of the dressings. The balsamic, poppyseed, fuji apple, Asian, and Greek dressings are all safe. Actually, we buy the poppyseed dressing by the bottle at Target—it’s that good. Pro tip: if you want a smaller-sized salad, ask for a kid’s version with the modifications mentioned above. Alternatively, if you ask nicely, you can get a full-sized salad served in a bread bowl. We don’t know why other restaurants haven’t caught on to this concept!
Vegan soups at Panera
Every now and then the chain will offer a vegan-friendly special, but for now, plant-based customers have one option when it comes to soup: the Ten Vegetable. The vegetable stock-based soup really does have ten vegetables, and the flavor is enhanced with a bit of heat thanks to the poblano peppers and Aleppo chili. We took our side of French baguette and soaked up the very last drop.
Vegan sandwiches at Panera
Like the soup option, there is one vegan sandwich option at Panera—with a modification. Order the Mediterranean Veggie without feta and ask for it on vegan-friendly bread (listed above). We particularly enjoy this handhold on ciabatta or sea salt focaccia. Even without the cheese, it’s a delicious sandwich packed with peppadew peppers, lettuce, tomato, cumbers, hummus, and red onions. Order a kids-sized salad or a cup of fresh fruit to pair with your sandwich.
Vegan bowls at Panera
Think of a vegan-friendly Panera bowl as a bean and grain-heavy salad. All can be veganized with a few modifications. For the Mediterranean Bowl, remove the feta and Greek yogurt and request avocado instead. The South-of-the-border Baja Bowl also contains feta and Greek yogurt, but minus these two ingredients, it’s a stellar plant-based option made with cilantro lime brown rice, quinoa, avocado, black bean and corn salsa, salsa verde, grape tomatoes, and mixed greens.
Vegan drinks at Panera
Looking for a nutritious drink? Good thing Panera offers a few vegan smoothies. The Peach & Blueberry with Almondmilk and the Green Passion Smoothie are both vegan. Each is made with a blend of fruit purées, juice concentrates, and ice. Avoid the other fruity smoothie options, as they contain Greek yogurt. For a pick-me-up, pair any of the black coffees (dark roast, hazelnut, light roast) with almond milk or give the Madagascar Vanilla Almond Cold Brew a try. Avoid the lattes—even with almond milk they contain hidden dairy that can’t be swapped out. For a sweet and refreshing accompaniment to your meal, choose one of the many flavored lemonades or fruity iced teas. Blood Orange Lemonade, Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea, and Prickly Pear Hibiscus Fresca are all particularly intriguing.
Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and runner living in Orange County, CA.
Photo credit: Panera Bread
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