Using criteria that was created with the help of our expert panel, we scored the chains on such factors as the use of healthy fats and preparations, healthy sodium counts in entrées, availability of nutritional information, and the use of organic produce to determine the 10 highest-ranking restaurants.As for Panera itself:
This bakery-café-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal. "Variety makes it easy for everyone to choose healthy," praises registered dietitian and panelist Marisa Moore. What does that mean for you? For starters, you can pick from two whole-grain breads for your sandwich and have an apple with it instead of chips (though the chips are fine, too--they can be baked!). Half-size soups, salads, and sandwiches make it a cinch to control portion size. Also, most of the chicken is antibiotic- and hormone-free, a rarity for large chains.Looking over the entire top-ten list, I have to conclude that this "award" has as much to do with diners as it does with the restaurants. Case in point: The inclusion of Chipotle at #6 and McDonald's at #8. Sure, you can have a "healthy meal," defined simply by the number of calories and grams of fat, at either establishment -- but only if you choose very, very carefully from Chipotle's seleciton of burrito contents, and only if you ignore just about everything on McDonald's menu.
Even the Panera citation quoted above follows this logic: You can pick whole-grain bread for your sandwich; you can choose an apple over chips -- or baked chips over fried. I suppose, if you're going to eat at one of these restaurants, it helps to have this information. But if you visit one of these joints intending to limit your selections to such a narrow range...why bother going in the first place?