Panera: A Hidden Vegan Gem

Let's get right to the point: Soups and salads are the most basic lunch and dinner staples. For almost everyone, no matter your eating preference or taste, soups and salads can be modified, adjusted, and tweaked to your preference. This certainly rings true for Panera Bread, serving up a variety of delicious soups, crisp salads, and customizable sandwiches. At first glance –  between the Broccoli Cheese Soup and meat-laden sandwiches – Panera may not seem like an ideal candidate for a vegan-friendly restaurant, but if you dig deeper, the fast casual has plenty to offer vegans and vegetarians alike.

Soups for the Veggie-Filled Soul

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While Panera does have limited soup options, two of them in regular rotation are vegetarian or vegan-friendly. The Vegetarian Black Bean Soup is filled with hearty black beans and Mexican vegetables essential for filling up during the impending chilly months. The Garden Veggie Soup is more of a hearty soup, but possesses more of a broth base. It's filled with a mix of fall and summer vegetables with a hint of tomato soup stirred in. Both are chock-full of fresh veggies and filling protein. 

Tip: The Garden Veggie Soup is normally served with a dollop of pesto stirred in, but with pesto being made with Parmesan cheese, you are able to request it be left out. 

Modification is the Name of the Game

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Now, onto the sandwiches! As we mentioned earlier, when it comes to sandwiches, Panera is very heavy on the meat rotation. The good news is that Panera is extremely flexible when it comes to customization. The Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich, ordered without feta cheese, offers a variety of veggies and is topped with cilantro jalapeño hummus, giving it a nice creamy and crunchy variety needed for a winning veggie sandwich.

Panera's salad selection also leaves some room for modification, giving you the option to leave off the meat and dairy from any salad altogether. Another option is to order a classic salad with one of the five vegan dressings Panera has to offer: Balsamic, Poppyseed, Fuji, Asian, or Greek. The Poppyseed dressing lends a creamy texture while the Balsamic gives a perfect amount of tang and bite. Panera offers a vegan-friendly Strawberry Poppyseed Salad, but it’s only offered seasonally (summer). A lot of people forget that salads don’t have to be boring, especially when dining out. All of Panera’s salads are loaded with fresh leafy greens and the perfect combination of toppings that take a salad from frumpy to fruitful. 

All in all, Panera offers quite a few vegan options, especially in comparison to other restaurants in the cafe/bakery segment. Aside from doing a great job with offering vegan options, Panera also keeps things in the 'whole foods' category as much as possible with crispy veggies, hearty beans, and filling salads.