Secret Menu Items You Can Order At Panera

It might seem odd to find Panera Bread, the bakery-café chain that boasts a "healthier" fast food choice, would offer a secret menu. Especially since the restaurant's current menu full of soup, salad, sandwich, and pastry choices offer plenty of customization.

Secret menus at restaurants aren't exactly new, either, especially at popular fast food chains. But typically, they're a manifestation of customers getting creative with unlimited free toppings, or the result of Frankenstein creations that run for limited, promotional purposes but gain cult followings.

Additionally, secret menu items often trend towards the extremely over-the-top variety. Quadruple burger stacks, mountains of extra cheese, or strange flavor combinations (peanut butter and bacon burger, anyone?). This swing to extravagant excess runs a little contrary to Panera's core beliefs of offering clean, nutrient-rich choices for customers. Which is why it's probably unsurprising that their secret "power" menu subverts the usual trends in favor of protein packed bowls and salads, minimizing processed carbs.

And yes, that means a lack of bread for your Panera Bread order.

Panera's secret menu isn't new... or secret

Interestingly enough, Panera Bread's secret menu isn't the result of creative customers or a loophole in topping choices, but a dedicated effort from the company. And it was introduced in 2013 through its customer loyalty program and social media channels.

At the time of its rollout, former chief concept officer Scott Davis explained that the move to feature secret, breadless menu items was an effort to target new customer demographics: anyone avoiding gluten, looking to lose weight by cutting carbs, or diabetics.

"This is probably the most extreme anti-kind of Panera diet you can have, right? It doesn't include bread and flour and that sort of stuff," said Davis. "If someone never considered Panera before because the name 'bread' is in it ... this is a way of opening that door."

To gain access, all you had to do is mention you'd like to order from the secret menu and the staff would handle the rest, opening the doors to a world of "power" items. These days, the secret menu no longer officially exists — at least according to Panera Bread. Of course, you can still order these secret menu items from most Panera locations, you'll just have to tell the staff exactly what's in each item.

Panera's power breakfast egg white bowl with roasted turkey

There are a few excellent breakfast options on Panera Bread's secret menu, starting with a protein-packed egg white bowl with roasted turkey. In keeping with the low-carb treatment that each item on this menu gets, this bowl also includes warm baby spinach, roasted peppers, and basil pesto. It's not fancy, and there really isn't much to it. But as far as fast food breakfasts go, this is almost as clean as it gets and certainly doesn't skimp on flavor. It's even available on the normal menu board in some locations — though most locations prefer to keep these one secret.

Plus, how often do you get an opportunity to eat turkey for breakfast? Sure, you can find turkey-based sausage or bacon fairly easily these days, but actual roasted, sliced turkey over egg whites feels a little more unique. And with Panera Bread's commitment to responsibly sourced food, you can expect the turkey to be antibiotic free.

Nutritionally clocking in at 180 calories, seven grams of carbs and 25 grams of protein, the additional protein should be more than enough to carry you through the start of the day.

Panera's power Mediterranean roasted turkey salad

Let's keep the turkey talk rolling with the power Mediterranean roasted turkey salad from Panera Bread's secret menu. This salad feels like something like this should be included among Panera Bread's usual salad offerings, but that's not the case. While it might lack the Fuji apple or strawberry poppy seed pizzazz of what's expected from Panera, the added protein from the tukey makes this a great choice while cutting out the added sugar and carbs of too many toppings. Not to mention the flavor layers from red onions, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives, as well as olive oil dressing, all on a bed of baby spinach and romaine lettuce.

Panera originally rolled the secret menu out to MyPanera loyalty program members as part of its "Panera Lose It! Challenge" in 2014. The event encouraged consumers to lose five pounds in six weeks. A low-carb salad isn't exactly a surprising feature of a weight loss challenge, but at least this one is tasty. The nutritional value of this secret menu salad lands at 320 calories, 12 grams of carbs and 22 grams of protein.

Panera's power breakfast egg bowl with steak

Looking to up the ante with your breakfast bowl? Panera's power breakfast egg bowl with steak includes a few ounces of seared sirloin steak, two sunny side up eggs, avocado, and tomatoes. Panera does offer a steak and egg sandwich on its normal breakfast menu, but the bowl simply cuts the carbs from the everything bagel in favor of healthy fats from the avocado and egg yolk.

Even at a slightly reduced 20 grams of protein, the extra jump in calories to 230 make it the perfect fuel for a morning workout. Plus all of those healthy fats make an ideal morning choice for those on the Paleo diet.

And if that's not enough to convince you of the power of steak and eggs, the combo is the traditional breakfast choice of NASA astronauts. With that in mind it's safe to make terrible puns and call this bowl out of this world.

Panera's power Mediterranean chicken salad

Panera Bread offers an impressive array of Mediterranean-style salads, and they tend to cycle specials as it is. But in the case of Panera's power Mediterranean chicken salad, you're getting another simple, clean choice for a healthy lunch. It mirrors the base of the power Mediterranean turkey salad in that it starts with a base of baby spinach and romaine lettuce. This one, though, is topped with antibiotic-free chicken slices, diced tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and bacon, as well as a drizzle of olive oil.

Again, these salads aren't designed with unique flavor angles in mind. In fact, they probably look closer to something you might create in your own kitchen, but that's partly the point. This menu was designed with weight loss goals and dietary restrictions in mind.

Panera's power Mediterranean chicken salad has higher nutritional stats than the turkey salad, with 360 calories, 12 grams of carbs, and 35 grams of protein. But if you're worried about those numbers, hold off on the olive oil dressing. And as with all Panera Bread salads, you'll be able to customize your greens.

Panera's power chicken hummus bowl

Back to the bowls! The power chicken hummus bowl adds a much-needed kick to the secret menu listings at Panera Bread with its cilantro jalapeno hummus topping. The unique hummus flavor combined with chicken, baby spinach, diced tomatoes, and chopped cucumber, and red onion, finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon and chopped fresh cilantro, make it a true standout.

"The hummus brings a unique bite to this dish," says John Taylor, a member of the restaurant's food team in a blog on Panera's website. "The flavor is truly unmatched."

This is another secret menu item that was moved to Panera Bread's normal menu board in some locations — but if your location wasn't so lucky, you'll have to order it on the sly. It's a little higher in carbs than the other secret menu choices, but the protein makes it worthwhile in this case, with 330 calories, 23 grams of carbs, and 33 grams of protein.

Panera's power steak lettuce wraps

It still feels a bit like heresy to order something at Panera Bread and not receive any bread, but that doesn't mean you still can't order a sandwich. The power steak lettuce wraps from Panera's secret menu let you build your own wrap for a more hands-on experience.

Even if for some reason the Panera Bread you land at doesn't recognize the secret menu, most locations should still be able to provide the necessary ingredients. Ask for a few cuts of sirloin steak, some giant lettuce leaves, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, and basil pesto. Add cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice to top it off.

The DIY nature of the power steak lettuce wraps compared to the other secret menu items actually make it more similar to the customer-created items found on the secret menus at other establishments. Regardless, it's another low-carb, high protein choice with 280 calories, 7 grams of carbs, and 28 grams of protein.