New feature: the Dietitian Dine Around

Today I’m launching a weekly blog series: the Dietitian Dine-Around. Each week I will feature a review of a food find at area restaurants and cafes. And although I’m a sucker for locally-owned businesses, for the most part  I’ll be reviewing items found at popular chains, so that non-DC-area-based readers can enjoy the “fruits” of my labor as much as the local folks.

Photo credit: Panera Bread

The first installment of Dietitian Dine-Around features a healthy food find from Panera Bread. This morning I found myself with about 20 minutes to spare while I waited for a local grocery store to open. In the same shopping plaza was a Panera Bread, so I decided to have a quick breakfast and some coffee.

A typical on-the-go healthy and satisfying breakfast for me is a bagel and peanut butter, but I was delighted to see a few egg and cheese sandwich options. I chose the Breakfast Power Sandwich – a complete 340-calorie meal of a grilled egg with cheese and ham sandwiched between a slice of whole grain bread. Eggs in the morning tend to satisfy me longer than most other breakfasts, so I was excited to try this healthy-seeming sandwich.

When my Panera Pager went off, I picked up my sandwich at the counter. I’ll be honest, what was awaiting me was a little disappointing. The sandwich looked bland and lonely on its large, bright yellow plate. The fork and knife provided were unnecessary, as the sandwich itself was just a slice of bread cut in half with the egg/ham/cheese layered between. I’m certainly not complaining about the portion – the sandwich was certainly filling and provided plenty of calories and nutrients – but eating is a multisensory experience, involving not just our taste buds, but also our noses and eyes, even our sense of touch (mouthfeel) and ears. No wonder healthy food sometimes gets labeled as boring…this sandwich certainly looked it.

Undeterred, I found a place to sit and picked up my breakfast, ready for the first bite. As I did, water dripped out and made a small puddle on my plate. How an egg, ham and cheese sandwich could be watery is beyond me, but sure enough I had a soggy sandwich.

Not only was it wet, but the sandwich was really salty. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since both ham and cheese tend to be salty, but this combo seemed especially so. Sure enough when I looked up the nutrition info online when I got home, this 340-calorie meal wasn’t quite the bargain I thought: at 820 mg sodium, I was getting about 1/3 of my daily limit (current guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day for the average healthy adult; that number drops to 1,500 mg for certain populations and those at higher risk for hypertension and heart disease).

Another closer look at the nutrition info found that my little sandwich had 15 grams of fat, 7 of which were saturated fat. Not terrible, but also a little high considering that 40% of the calories in the sandwich came from fat (most nutrition professionals recommend getting no more than 30% of calories from fat).

All told, six hours later I realize I didn’t need my usual mid-morning snack and am now finally ready for lunch. Still, here are some improvements I suggest to Panera:

  • Hold the salt! Not sure why additional salt is needed. Keeping it off will save 40 mg sodium.
  • Use lower-sodium ham and/or cheese.
  • Add some veggies for extra nutrients. The Mediterranean Egg White sandwich has spinach and tomatoes – those would be great additions to this “Power” sandwich as well.

Published by

Elana Natker, MS, RD

I'm a dietitian, communications professional, wife, mother - just your typical modern-day woman trying to juggle it all.

3 thoughts on “New feature: the Dietitian Dine Around

  1. When Panera started listing calories on their menu, I told the person taking my order that I was so happy they did. The reply, “Most people don’t like it!” While I don’t eat breakfast at Panera, I usually have lunch there once a week and dinner about twice a month. I really enjoy their Pick Two salad and soup combo. And you can ask for an apple instead of the baguette or chips with this menu item.

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    1. Thanks, Neva. I’ll admit, I’m not wild about posting just calorie information on menu boards, since calories only tell part of the story. I prefer the full nutrition information available online or in brochures. But then again, I’m a nutrition nerd 🙂 I do like the You Pick Two options and getting an apple instead of the chips as a side for no extra cost.

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  2. I think the reason most of their customers don’t like the calorie info is because they don’t want to know how many more calories they are eating than they should! But it really helps me. Sometimes the descriptions don’t give a true picture of the calories an item contains, meaning that it is often more than you would expect.

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