I had a great lunch the other day at Panera Bread in the Marina and I am impressed by the quality of their food.

As you may have heard, Health magazine recently released its list of healthiest fast food restaurants in the country, and Panera Bread ranked at the top thanks to its “comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal.”

To conduct the research for the article, an expert panel of dietitians and nutritionists surveyed and scored the nation’s 100 largest fast food chain restaurants based on factors such as the use of healthy fats and preparations, healthy sodium counts in entrées and availability of nutritional information, among other criteria.

Here are some of the great things about Panera:

• 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.

• The kids menu offers squeezable organic yogurt, PB&J (with all-natural peanut butter), and grilled organic cheese on white whole-grain bread.

I chose a delicious salad with chicken, dried Fuji apple chips, pecans and Roquefort cheese over greens. I was so happy with it in every way. It was the right portion, great vinaigrette, perfectly cooked (not dry) chicken and the dried apple chips were quite addictive. There were a number of other salads and sandwiches that appealed to me, requiring a return trip.

I highly recommend Panera for an enjoyable meal at any time of day.

Here’s my version of a chicken and apple salad, which is quite different but also yummy! Enjoy!

Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached amandascooking@gmail.com.

Brown Rice and Vegetable Salad with Chicken

This recipe serves 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes


3 cups leftover, cooked, short grain brown rice

1 red pepper, diced

1 yellow pepper, diced

3 ribs celery, diced

1 Granny Smith apple, halved, core removed, diced

4 scallions, white and green part, thinly sliced

1 cup currants

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, about 8 ounces, poached in chicken broth to cover for 8 minutes

3 tbs. tamari sauce

2 tbs. olive oil

1 tbs. sesame oil

2 tbs. chopped parsley or cilantro

Freshly ground black pepper


Combine the rice, peppers, celery, apple, scallions and currants in a medium bowl. Set aside. Cut the chicken into 1/2 -inch cubes. Add to the rice and mix well. Add the tamari sauce, grape seed oil, sesame oil, parsley and fresh pepper to taste. Mix well and taste for seasoning and serve.

This recipe can be made vegetarian by substituting grilled firm tofu for the cooked chicken. Grilled salmon or tuna can be used in place of the chicken if desired.

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