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. (Plus, check out 11 Secrets Texas Roadhouse Doesn’t Want You to Know.)
The soups aren’t made fresh to order.
According to a former employee posting on Reddit, “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.” This is honestly not unhealthy or unusual, but if you expected fresh soup, be advised! Also, another former employee suggests ordering soup after the 11 am rush since yesterday’s thawed soup is used first.
The bread is baked in-store, but not made in store.
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.
Always order a small drink.
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 and many times as you like.
You can add tons of free toppings to your sandwich.
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 your nearest Panera website but options include common toppings like 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 avocado, cost extra, so be sure to ask when ordering. Another exciting sandwich option for less than $1 is Parmesan crisps.
Make any sandwich vegetarian.
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.
If they get your order wrong, you get a free treat.
While getting the wrong salad or sandwich is annoying, their mistake is your treat. According to Spoon University, if your order is wrong, you’ll likely be offered a free treat on your next visit when you let them know (nicely) how your order was messed up.
You can save money by buying the cream cheese in bulk.
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.
Upgrade your bread bowl.
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.
RELATED: 20 Best Slow Cooker Soup Recipes
But beware, the bread bowl is packed with calories and sodium.
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.
Make the Mediterranean Sandwich vegan—and healthier.
You can transform this veggie sandwich, which is filled with peppadew peppers, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber into a vegan option by swapping out the tomato basil bread for the chain’s black pepper focaccia and taking out the feta cheese, says Today.com. For a bonus, by ditching the feta you’ll get less sodium, as 2 tablespoons of feta contain about 600 milligrams. Add in some avocado or kale to fill it out!
You can easily make the Broccoli Cheddar Soup at home.
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 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.
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