Hot Pink, High Heels, & Explosions

If you can’t tell already, Panera is my go-to fast(er) food restaurant. There at least incorporating a veggie or fruit is made easier than at most joints, and you can craft your meal to be healthier than normal. The downside in my opinion is that:

  1. The dressings for salad’s at Panera are tasty and delish, so I eat them — I know I could cut major calories going with a oil/vinegar combo — but my tastebuds aren’t having it. I believe that as long as you account for those extra tasty calories, then eat them. I do get extra dressing mostly because raw veggies do not work well with my Lap-Band (see THIS previous blog post for more information on the lap band and eating issues), and if I have to take a calorie/fat intake hit to get real veggies in my system — then that’s what I’ll do.
  2. The bread: some folks are low/no-complex carbs people. They shun bread, the white potato, crackers, chips, et al. I am not that girl. My grandmother onetime was consoling me when I was having a down day as a child due to my weight. She pointed out a very thin fit person and asked me if I knew what was going to happen to her in old age. I rattled of something about her being fit and trim and healthy. To which my grandmother responded that yes — she ate well, worked out, refused to eat things that might have given her a bit of pleasure all in persuit of health and a great body. But in the end — she was going to die just like all the overweight folks. What Grannie was trying to say is that for some of us, maybe giving up ALL that we love is a silly concept. If you like cupcakes, go to your local baker and get ONE — don’t bake a dozen in your home that you might eat all yourself during an episode of Scandal (best show ever, FYI). My fiance and I did that yesterday — we are in the process of picking favors of wedding cupcakes with our baker, so we went in and each got one we hadn’t tried. We don’t do this ever week, maybe once a month at most. But when we leave — there are two cupcakes in a bag. For us to share, and see if it makes our cut. I’m happy because not only did I get a tasty treat, but then once it’s gone — it’s gone. I count it into my Weight Watchers’ tracker as best I can, and then I move on. So if you like that portion of baguette at Panera with your meal, over the apple (me and raw apples usually don’t work sadly) then get it — count it in your Tracker, and move on.
  3. The cost: Panera is quite expensive folks, in comparison to other dine and dash restaurants. On one meal, a person could easily spend $10+ depending on the choices that they make. As a PhD Graduate Student, I know all too well about counting costs and watching what you spend. However, what I have decided is that if I *can* afford Panera over some other restaurant — then I will choose it. However, I have a list of other healthier options from places for when I’m on a tighter budget or not close to a Panera (e.g. the Grilled Chicken Sandwich at Wendy’s with a side salad or baked potato as the side + Diet Coke) .

So along with the Hidden Menu launch nationwide, Panera also used January to relaunch their Salmon offerings, and to launch a Spinach Power Salad. According to the website, the new salad contains

fresh baby spinach, roasted mushrooms and onion blend, diced egg, Applewood-smoked bacon, frizzled onions & smoky Vidalia onion vinaigrette.

They suggest using it in the “You Pick 2” offerings with the Bistro French Onion Soup. The “Pick 2” program pairs a 1/2 salad, cup of soup, or 1/2 a sandwich together at your choosing. Prices are lowest if you pick cafe styled foods (think the basic greek salad, and a turkey sandwich) and rises with every premium or signature offering you select. And that is exactly what I had for lunch last snowy Friday afternoon.

I did make a few changes. First, I did add a second serving of dressing. I still appreciate this method because it is measured out. Instead of dumping half a bottle on my salad, I know I am really just adding 2 additional tablespoons. Second, I added a serving of salmon on my salad. I happen to love salmon, but my fiance does not. So when I can have it while dining out — I typically choose to do so. It adds a punch of protein, which is a focus of lap-band patients — and helps keep me full longer. When the salmon is not available at Panera, I tend to add chicken to my salads.

The Verdict:

I am actually in love with this salad. Again, the appearance was a bit lacking — and we do eat with our eyes, but that pretty piece of salmon worked wonders.

Weight Watchers Points Values (keep in mind that you can tweak your intake by asking the staff at Panera to remove some items like the cheese in the soup, or choosing an apple over the baguette):

Taste: The dressing is great, a little sweet which pairs nicely with the rest of the dish. I am a big fan of raw spinach, because it actually 8 times out of 10 works with my band. The addition of roasted mushrooms and onions is a big hearty plus for me, and I loved the crunch of the “frizzled” onions (which reminds me quite a lot of those french fried onions that top holiday Green Bean Casseroles in my humble opinion…). Oddly enough, I am nonplused about the bacon. Take it out, leave it on — I didn’t feel like it added to the salad, but it didn’t detract either. I might consider leaving it off honestly.

This is a salad that I would order in the full size happily. I just hope they keep it around for longer than a season (if you’re reading this Panera Executives — please keep this salad, seriously. And salmon on the menue as long as possible. Thanks!). If not, I think the next salad I will try is the hidden menue turkey one, since it also uses spinach as a base. Does anyone know if you can order spinach as a salad base on a regular basis?

4 responses to “Fit Eating: Panera Bread Co.’s Power Salad”

  1. dee says:

    ALL HAIL MIGHTY SPINACH! Every salad I eat has a spinach/baby green base. Im not too useful on knowing where salads are commercially available because I just make them at home tov avoid driving to find a salad when I am at work (I drive for work). I have the most luck at whole foods prepped food section are any place with a deep salad bar. I totally agree with you that if youre going to feast a salad meal, it needs protein to be part of it. My new obsession is spinach based salad with a southwestern style salsa mix for dressing!

  2. APaneraEmployee says:

    To answer your question, yes. You can ask your cashier to substitute spinach for the regular lettuce on any salad at Panera.

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