From the smell of freshly baked bagels to their iconic soups in bread bowls, Panera is truly a fast-casual institution in America. Unfortunately, when dealing with the harsh restrictions that come with being a vegan, it can be difficult to find foods that you can actually eat there.
Dishes containing meat or eggs are obviously out of the question. Some seemingly harmless menu items, however, actually contain dairy or eggs — a fact which you wouldn’t know unless you looked online.
We scoured the online lists of ingredients and put together a comprehensive list of which items a vegan can and cannot eat from each section of the menu.
Several of their bagels are perfect for vegans, including the blueberry, everything, whole grain, plain, sesame, and sprouted grain bagel flat. Obviously, cream cheese is a no-go. Thankfully, there are plenty of other ways to spice things up, such as the classic PB&J.
Freshly Baked Breads
Wheat is vegan, so all the breads must be safe, right? Surprise! Panera sneaks butter, eggs, and milk into a few of their fresh-baked, happiness-inducing loaves. Most notably, white and honey wheat sound innocent, but they both contain dairy. Fear not: country, whole grain, rye, sourdough, tomato basil, french baguette, sea salt focaccia, ciabatta, and the sprouted grain roll are all great options.
Not a single pastry, muffin, scone, or cookie is completely vegan. Even the french croissant, the only pastry free of eggs or butter, contains whey, a milk product. Fortunately, they are offering seasonal chocolate Valentine cupcakes that are perfectly acceptable for vegans to eat.
To make the breakfast sandwiches vegan, ask for no egg whites or cheese. In addition to that, the strawberry granola and honey almond greek yogurt parfaits both contain dairy, but both oatmeal bowls are completely dairy-free.
If you aren’t a fan of requesting sandwiches without meat, the Mediterranean veggie sandwich is a great option, but make sure to ask for it without the feta cheese.
#SpoonTip: Make sure to avoid sandwiches made with the non-vegan breads, such as any of the sandwiches made with white or asiago. Try switching white for hearty whole grain.
Unfortunately, all of the flatbreads are made with an ingredient called “milkfat,” which is the fatty portion of milk that determines its label of skim, 2%, etc. Our advice: stick to the sandwiches. They’re just as delicious.
In the soup section, the vegetarian black bean soup is 100% vegan. Beware misleading labels, however. The garden vegetable soup with pesto may be vegetarian, but it contains romano cheese.
Oh, piteous alfredo sauce. Cream, cream, and more cream. No can do. We know it hurts to say goodbye to their famous mac & cheese, but salvation isn’t far. They’re happy to make adjustments for vegans. One easy fix for this would be noodles with olive oil and salt. Mmmm.
Most of the salads contain chicken or cheese, but you can request them without. In fact, you can substitute avocado for chicken for free. Beware: the Caesar dressing contains fish (WTF?), so steer clear.
The kids menu falls under all the same rules as the above items, but with smaller portions.
#SpoonTip: Avoid the peanut butter and jelly. It contains milk, ostensibly because it’s on the mysteriously non-vegan white bread.
The lentil quinoa bowl is a perfect option, but you’ll have to remove the chicken or the hard-boiled eggs. And who needs them anyway?
When we think “smoothie,” we imagine the classic Panera smoothie made with low-fat yogurt. Recently, however, the franchise hopped on the dairy-free train and introduced two “Power Smoothies,” the green passion and the blueberry pomegranate, which contain no dairy at all.
Many of the lattes and frozen drinks on sale contain some form of dairy, so they’re off the table. You can go crazy with the iced drinks, however, including iced tea, coffee, and the plentiful fountain drinks.