While we often prefer to pick a vegan restaurant over a non-vegan chain, sometimes, the latter is the most convenient choice—especially if you’re dining with several other people who may have different dietary requirements and preferences. Luckily, plenty of chains have vegan options now, and Panera is no exception. The next time you’re at Panera—either by choice or by circumstance—look for these vegan items.

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How to order vegan at Panera 

Panera does have some vegan options, but it is far from the best place for plant-based diners. While it has pledged to increase its vegan-friendly options in the past, the chain’s recent menu overhaul doesn’t include any new plant-based options. Instead, the chain announced that it has chosen to add four new sandwiches, four new salads, and one mac and cheese, all of which are loaded with animal products like chicken, bacon, and dairy. 

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“We are getting back to Panera at its best with these menu updates that are centered completely on our guests and what they love about us,” Alicia Mowder, SVP of Product Strategy & Insights, Panera Bread, said in a statement about the changes. It seems unlikely that new plant-forward options will be released soon, as the chain has labeled the recent menu overhaul as a symbol of the “new era at Panera.”

All of that said, there are still some meat-free options at Panera. The chain offers a “Plant Based” menu, but it’s important to note that these items are vegetarian and not necessarily vegan. While the items listed below are vegan, Panera cautions that ingredients may vary by location. When in doubt, ask your cashier to read the ingredient list for you (all locations are equipped with a massive binder that includes every single item on their menu). This is particularly helpful when the café offers limited-time specials that the staff may not yet be familiar with.

What’s vegan at Panera Bread?

Whether you customize your own bowl or opt for a simple salad modification, there is one rule: always accept a side of bread. It’s vegan, and it’s what this chain excels at.


1 Vegan breads and baked goods 

Panera is a self-proclaimed bakery at heart, so it would be unthinkable to not order the bread. With the new menu overhaul, many of the chain’s vegan-friendly bagels are no longer available, but plant-based eaters can still rely on the plain and everything bagels along with several of the freshly baked breads. Steer clear of the white and honey wheat (they contain dairy), but feel free to fill your bread basket with the country, sourdough, French baguette, black pepper focaccia, and ciabatta options. 

In case you were wondering, the iconic Panera bread bowl is sourdough, so you can still enjoy your edible serving ware. Unfortunately, none of the sweet treats are vegan; however, the Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries and Pecans and the fruit cup are technically part of the bakery menu, offering a naturally sweet option for those in search of breakfast before 10:30 a.m.


2 Vegan salads 

Panera’s salads don’t come vegan as a standard, though you can certainly customize them. Here’s how to hack it: ask for no meat, cheese, or egg, and substitute these items with avocado (they’ll do it for free). You can also bulk up your salad by selecting the customize button online and adding a medley of crispy, fresh, or crunchy toppings like pickled red onions, bean corn salsa, crispy carrots, apple chips, pecans, and more.

Finally, be wary of the dressings. The balsamic, poppyseed, Fuji apple, Asian, and Greek dressings are all safe. Actually, we buy the poppyseed dressing by the bottle at Target—it’s that good. Pro tip: if you want a smaller-sized salad, ask for a kid’s version with the modifications mentioned above. Alternatively, if you ask nicely, you can get a full-sized salad served in a bread bowl. We don’t know why other restaurants haven’t caught on to this concept! 


3 Vegan sandwiches 

There is one vegan sandwich option at Panera—with a modification. Order the Mediterranean Veggie without feta and ask for it on vegan-friendly bread (listed above). We particularly enjoy this handhold on ciabatta or black pepper focaccia. Even without the cheese, it’s a delicious sandwich packed with peppadew peppers, lettuce, tomato, cumbers, hummus, and red onions. Order a kid-sized salad or a cup of fresh fruit to pair with your sandwich.


4 Vegan drinks 

Unfortunately, the smoothies at Panera are made with dairy-based Greek yogurt, making them unsuitable for vegan diets. For a fruity, refreshing blended drink, the chain’s Frozen Strawberry Lemonade is sure to satisfy. The many flavored lemonades or fruity iced teas are also vegan-friendly. Strawberry Lemon Mint Charged Lemonade, Mango Yuzu Citrus Charged Lemonade, and Passion Papaya Iced Green Tea are all particularly intriguing.

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5 Vegan soups

Every now and then the chain will offer a vegan-friendly special, but since the Ten Vegetable soup was removed from the permanent menu, don’t rely on this section for a vegan option. For now, all of Panera’s regular soup offerings contain either meat or dairy. Instead, try this recipe for Vegan Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheddar Soup the next time your cravings hit.

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