Friday, February 3, 2012

Panera -- Being Gluten Free Where the Name Literally Means Bread

For my husband and I, our go to "I don't feel like cooking tonight so let's just pick something up" place is Panera Bread. Their bread is great, their sandwiches filling, and their baked goods delicious. After getting my celiac diagnosis, I just assumed I, and by extension, my husband, would never be able to enjoy Panera again.

That's one of the hardest things about celiac disease. It's not the giving up of food, but for my husband to also have to give up stuff. I certainly don't make him give things up, but he just doesn't want to go to Panera by himself. And he's not going to make a big box of regular pasta for himself if I can't eat any. I feel guilty a lot, despite his assurances that he hasn't really had to give up anything. While he hasn't, WE as a unit have. We no longer have the same "share a pizza" night. We don't get to go to our favorite Italian place with handmade pasta and enjoy the fresh-baked bread together.

But after some research, I discovered that Panera is not only good about celiac disease, they go above and beyond to make sure there's no contamination. For example, a lot of people assume that because the bread is baked on-premises, there must be flour floating about. Obviously, if this were the case, it would not be safe to eat there. But Panera gets their bread dough delivered every morning -- it's already made, so there's no flour being tossed around. Also, if you tell them you have a food allergy, they actually have a command on their computers that says "change gloves." It shows up on the receipt you get, which I appreciate. I watched the guy making my salad check the receipt and toss out his gloves for a fresh pair. You can also ask them to open a new bag of ingredients, in case you're worried that a gluten-contaminated glove reached into the container of lettuce.

Many of their soups are gluten-free, such as my favorite -- the low-fat black bean soup. Obviously, you can't have any of the sandwiches, but they will do them for you as a salad or a lettuce wrap instead. I for one can't stand lettuce wraps (just eat a damn salad instead of wrapping it in lettuce and getting your germy hands all over it), so I always get the salads. My personal favorite is the Chopped Chicken Cobb -- I order it with feta instead of gorgonzola (Panera warns that their gorgonzola, like much of the stinky blue cheese family, could be cultivated with gluten). With the pick 2, I get a small soup and a half salad, and I am very happy.

Obviously, there are never guarantees unless you've made it yourself. There's always human error. But as someone who enjoys food as much as I do, I don't think it's worth living in fear. People are going to do the best they can. But the convenience of being able to pick up a salad at Panera outweighs the tiny risk that I might get some gluten contamination. Yes, it could happen at Panera -- but it could happen at any restaurant that also touts itself as gluten-free. And even cooking at home, I might absentmindedly contaminate what I make. No one is infallible, so I will continue to test my options in and out of my home. That includes Panera Bread, or as my husband calls it, "Bread Bread."

Check out the full list of gluten-free menu items from Panera.

1 comment:

  1. Great info, thanks! I'm a fellow Coeliac, as is my father, but my Mom just *loves* Panera, so meals there now seem difficult. Plus, my husband and I are low-carbers, so we didn't think we had any options at a place that I, ironically, also call, "Bread Bread"! LOL

    We actually love lettus wraps. (Germy, yes, but we find them fun, especially at Red Robin, where we first found them. They're also GF!) We had NO idea that Panera offered their sandwiches in other formats, including our favourite, lettus wraps!

    Thanks so much for the info, and happy eating!