Gluten-Free at Panera, Dairy Queen, Panda Express and More

gluten-free-panera

If you’re looking for me, you probably won’t find me in a bakery. Even after having celiac disease for 12 years, the smell of fresh baked breads and treats can really bring on an appetite, and 99% of the time, these temples of gluten do not have anything we can eat.

Panera Bread, contrary to its name, has always been different.

They’ve always had items on their menu that don’t contain bread, although they’ve never really made much of an effort to claim anything as gluten-free and make us feel safe.

Well, that’s changed. In a big way.

Panera’s new gluten-free menu is such a big deal that it’s actually a secret… kind of.
 

Panera’s Gluten-Free Menu

Panera recently went nationwide with their “hidden” menu. Not only is it “hidden”, but it’s also gluten-free. As the name would imply, this menu can’t be found on the menu board. Instead, you have to ask the employees, or know what you’re going to order beforehand.

In my opinion, Panera is just calling this a “hidden” menu because they want to test out healthy and gluten-free options without permanently changing their menu. If this succeeds (and I believe it will), it will eventually make its way onto their permanent menu.

Well, Panera might be your new favorite fast food restaurant, since you can now order dishes like their Power Steak Lettuce Wraps or their Power Chicken Hummus Bowl. They even have breakfast dishes, such as the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey or their Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak.

You can view Panera’s entire “hidden” menu here.

 

Dairy Queen’s Gluten-Free Menu

While Dairy Queen offers a number of gluten-free menu items, they also caution that the Blizzard mixing machine is used for all flavors, so cross-contamination may occur unless you request that the crew thoroughly clean the machine prior to mixing your Blizzard. Also fryers are joint use, so unless your store has a dedicated fryer, French fries should not be considered gluten-free.

That said, the menu items listed as gluten-free are bunless grilled chicken patties, hamburger and GrillBurger patties and hot dog franks, vanilla or chocolate soft serve, packaged frozen DQ bar treats, sundaes, Blizzards, shakes, MooLattes, Arctic Rush slushes and fountain sodas.

 

Panda Express’ Gluten-Free Menu

Panda Express’s website unapologetically states that they do not have any gluten-free items at this time. A glance at their nutrition and allergen listings confirms that the only menu items which do not contain wheat are the steamed rice, fountain drinks and teas. As for the fortune cookies, read the fortune and ditch the cookie. They taste like cardboard anyway.

 

El Pollo Loco’s Gluten-Free Menu

El Pollo Loco’s nutrition guide does not list allergens but a reputable source from El Pollo Loco provided this list of items that do not contain gluten: pinto beans, refried beans, Cotija cheese, mixed vegetables, corn tortillas, avocado salsa and flan.

The Flame Grilled Mexican Chicken and BBQ Chicken Flavor Event do not contain gluten; however, they are both prepared on the same cutting board using common utensils as other chicken products that contain gluten, so you may want to avoid those items.

 

Chick-fil-A’s Gluten-Free Menu

While Chick-fil-A cautions that they do not have gluten-free prep areas, they do have written procedures for avoiding cross-contamination. Gluten-free menu items are the bunless Chick-fil-A chargrilled chicken fillet, chargrilled chicken garden salad, chargrilled chicken and fruit salad, tortilla strips, fruit cup, side salad, cole slaw, carrot and raisin salad, waffle potato fries and yogurt parfait.

For breakfast, choose the bacon slice, egg, sausage patty, hash browns or American cheese slice, and for dessert the Icedream with chocolate syrup or blueberry topping. Kids can have the grilled nuggets or Buddy Fruits applesauce. All of the beverages and most of the dipping sauces, dressings and condiments are okay, too.

 

Steak ‘n Shake’s Gluten-Free Menu

Items on Steak-n-Shake’s menu listed as not containing gluten are bunless 100% pure beef patties, all beef steak franks, bacon, grilled chicken fillets, all cheeses, sauces and dressings, genuine chili or chili deluxe (skip the 3-way, 5-way or chili mac versions), grilled chicken salad without croutons, garden salad and apple pecan salad.

Skip the Southwest chicken salad. Side offerings are cottage cheese, coleslaw, Mandarin oranges, apples, baked beans, milkshakes, floats and sundaes, except for the walnut fudge brownie. Relatively safe breakfast items are eggs, bacon, sausage patties, shredded and silver dollar hash browns, and blueberry compote.

 

Jason’s Deli Gluten-Free Menu

Jason’s Deli offers a whole gluten-free menu; however, they caution that they cannot guarantee the absence of cross-contamination due to common preparation areas. Still, you can build your own sandwich on gluten-free bread, or without bread, selecting from a wide variety of deli meats and cheeses, vegetable toppings and gluten-free spreads, choose a Big Chef, Nutty Mixed-Up or Turkey Twist salad, or just hit Jason’s famous salad bar with a generous spread of vegetables, cheeses, hummus, potato salad, coleslaw, ten different dressings and chocolate mousse for dessert.

Also available are soups, baked potatoes, baked potato chips, blue corn tortilla chips with salsa, hummus or guacamole, steamed veggies, fresh fruit and dip, and chocolate or vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce topping.

 

CiCi’s Gluten-Free Menu

CiCi’s Pizza does not currently offer a gluten-free crust, therefore all of their pizzas contain gluten. Menu items that do not contain gluten, however, are the Ole, Italian salad, garden salad, all of the dressings except light ranch, and the BBQ flavored wings. Avoid the hot and mild wings, however.

 

Sbarro’s Gluten-Free Menu

Sbarro does not offer any gluten-free choices on their menu, nor do they publish a nutrition guide of any sort. A number of nutrition-focused websites have attempted to break down their menu offerings, however none have been able to retrieve any information from Sbarro management as to whether any of their menu items are safe for celiacs.

Since most of what they serve is pizza and pasta, it is highly unlikely. There are three salads on the menu (Caesar, tomato and cucumber, and Greek salad), which may be all right, sans the croutons. With the high possibility of cross-contamination given lack of concern for allergens, however, it might be best to give this one a pass.

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Comments ( 8 )

  • Jeanne

    I don’t know…..last time I ate at Panera i had a reaction that was so strong it started as I was leaving the building. Now I’m afraid to eat there again. I suspect serious cross-contamination.

    • Kim M.

      Jeanne, I think it largely depends on the franchise owner and the quality of the manager on duty about cross contamination issues. I always order a gfree soup or one of their salads. I had 1 employee be so careful with my food at the instruction of her manager that she changed gloves with each ingredient she put on my salad. The manager also told staff that when an allergen order comes through it should be handled by one employee to avoid cross contamination. She used it as a teaching moment when I ordered to educate her staff. I consistently go to the Panera’s on that side of town because they are so accommodating. I am sensitive too, and I have never had a reaction. They have even made me something off the menu so I could have something I really wanted like their lobster salad made over a salad instead of on bread. Maybe try a different Panera’s and see if you have better results.

  • Melisa

    The Panera page says these items contain limited processed carbs. No where does it say they are gluten free. Has anyone verified that the meats don’t contain gluten?

    • Jeanne

      Very good point, Melisa. I’m still not sure where the gluten was the day I had a reaction, but I know it was somewhere. I had what should have been a safe meal. Even though my daughter, my favorite eating-out companion, really likes the place, we haven’t been back since. Just don’t know if I can trust them anymore.

  • Lisa

    Panara has an extensive allergen listing in a large binder behind the counter. In my experiences, the employees have been really great about looking up menu items and flagging my orders to reduce risk of contamination. Eating out is always a risk, but so far, I have not had any trouble with soups or salads served at Panera. And I would consider myself quite sensitive to contamination.

  • Tara

    Since Panera owns Paradise Bakery, are they going to have the gluten free options?

  • Sue

    Sorry, but I don’t think the risk of cross contamination is worth eating at any of these establishments. I’ll spend my money and eat safe food in a place I know to be truly gluten free, my home!

  • Gerry

    This info about Panera is not quite right. If you look at the nutrition and allergen statements for the items on the menu, two of them mention wheat (the two breakfast items, I believe), although the listed ingredients would not seem to contain wheat. And an email to Panera confirmed this, with the customer service person saying only that “Four of the products on the Hidden Menu are made without gluten containing ingredients.” She also, of course, warned that cross-contamination is a problem for all items. All a bit mysterious, but in any case Panera itself is only willing to say that 4 of the 6 items are actually made without gluten.

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