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BULNES: To eat well, use your head at Panera Bread

Opinions Column: Mind Body Scarlet

Something tragic happened last semester: Au Bon Pain closed its doors. It was the most convenient place to grab a cup of coffee before catching the LX — not to mention it was the home of the egg white, cheddar and avocado sandwich that was a go-to healthy breakfast for many. Thankfully, as we all returned to campus for the beginning of the Fall 2017 semester, we saw Panera Bread occupying the vacant spot that once was Au Bon Pain. Students are ecstatic — Panera is a great place for healthy snacks and meals when you feel too guilty after eating Wendy’s two days in a row. But many students fail to realize that unhealthy options are still plentiful at Panera and eating healthy requires smart choices.

When I walk into Panera, the first thing I notice is the pastry case, which is filled with scones, muffins, cookies and brownies. If you have stepped into Panera with the intention of making healthy choices, you need to avoid the pastry case. The pastries range from 400 to 800 calories and the sugar content can be as high as 58 grams per pastry. If you are looking for a healthier option for satisfying your sweet tooth, the wild blueberry mini scone and petite chocolate chipper are about 150 calories and only have 9 grams of sugar. This choice will prevent you from looking twice at the kitchen sink cookie, an item that should be reserved solely for cheat days since it contains 800 calories. Learning to ignore extremely high calorie, sodium, carb and sugar-rich foods is essential at any casual dining location.

Once you’re done drooling over the bakery case and you remember that you went to Panera to eat healthy, ordering a salad seems like the best option. Salads can be nutritious and satisfying if paired with the right ingredients like kale and quinoa. But, when selecting pre-made salads from a menu, you no longer have full control over its ingredients. One of the most popular items is the Greek salad, which contains an astounding 1,010 grams of sodium. In order to be in control of the nutritious value of your salad, you have to take advantage of Panera’s ability to fully customize your order. My favorite combination starts with the arugula, romaine, kale and radicchio base, has chicken as a protein, wedge tomatoes and cucumber as veggies and a hard boiled egg and avocado for toppings. Even adding the reduced-fat balsamic vinaigrette, this combination is only 470 calories with 380 grams of sodium, containing a healthy 8 grams of fiber and 36 grams of protein. Selecting Cobb salads with thick dressings and chunks of bacon defeats the purpose of getting a salad, so choose wisely. Taking a few extra minutes to build your salad will ensure that your lunch gives you the energy you need to finish your afternoon classes.

When looking for more variety and substance, Panera’s "You Pick Two" feature can make ordering easy. There are countless combinations to choose from, which unfortunately makes it easier to get sidetracked by sandwiches and soups that often have more calories than a Wendy’s double cheeseburger. The majority of the sandwiches are high in calories, carbs, fat and sodium. Two of the best options are the tuna salad sandwich and the turkey breast sandwich. Making smart sandwich choices here should be a given — select whole wheat bread and add lettuce and tomato. Paired with a cup of chicken noodle, french onion or turkey chili, this combo is a perfect light dinner for a chilly autumn night.

If you are new to the health conscious lifestyle or find it hard to resist temptations, it’s easy to enter Panera with intentions of getting a healthy meal and walk out with a bowl of mac and cheese and a fudge brownie. The best way to avoid this and still make healthy choices when dining out is to check the menu beforehand. Panera also has mobile app ordering, which makes it easy to customize your order and check nutrition information without holding up the line.

Panera has a large selection of fresh ingredients and can be a great place to get nutrients such as protein, fiber and vegetables without going to the dining hall or making food at home. As long as you make smart decisions at Panera, you can select delicious, filling and enriching meals to sustain your healthy lifestyle. As for whether you should choose chips, an apple or bread with your meal, well, I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself.

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, Mind Body Scarlet, runs every alternate Tuesday.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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