A few weeks ago I found myself out and about with the family at dinner time. We were far from home and would have to find something on the road. My husband saw that there was a Panera ahead, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to look into their “Hidden Menu”. I had heard about this at the beginning of the year and was curious about it (although not curious enough to go there until faced with a dinner challenge on the road).
I googled the hidden menu on my phone (since it’s hidden, you can’t find the menu in the store) and saw that I had four choices for dinner. I picked the “Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad” because it was the only one without raw onions and I didn’t want to be tasting onions for the rest of the night.
I thought it was a nice touch that the olive oil was given on the side in little packets. It was actually a pretty nice salad and the ingredients were fresh, although I’d like to see more lettuce and tomato. When I got home, I was able to look up all of the information about the hidden menu online. Here’s what it said:“All of these meal selections are an excellent source of protein and contain limited processed carbs. But you won’t find these items on banners in our cafes, or even on the menu board.”
So I found it interesting that this hidden menu is full of high protein and low carb offerings. Perhaps the reason that Panera (known for its bread and pastries) thinks it needs to be hidden? There was also an interesting story about how the Chief Concept Officer, Scott Davis, lost 60 pounds. In this piece he talks about reducing his calorie intake and increasing exercise, but I have to wonder if he also used a low carbohydrate approach, inspiring this hidden menu along the way. Regardless of the reasoning behind this menu, why hide it? I can guess several corporate rationales behind this, but ultimately it makes me think of something Scott Davis mentions in his article; “Knowledge is power”.
I encourage everyone to seek out the nutrition information for everything you eat and drink. Most companies have their nutrition information on their websites (in some states they must post it in the restaurants on the menu), and all packaged foods have nutrition labels on them as well. The first step is to read those labels and develop an understanding for what you are eating. Note how much sodium, saturated fat, trans fats, sugar, fiber, calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats are in your foods. Remember that you want to keep sodium low, saturated fats low, trans fats zero, and need to stay within your calorie needs.
If you are eating foods without a label (like fresh produce!!) check out a website like nutritiondata.com which gets it’s information from the USDA. There you can find almost every food under the sun with full information about macro- and micro- nutrient contents. When you start looking at the contents of vegetables and fruit versus those of your favorite take out meal, you’ll get an inkling of why I am such a produce pusher. Low in sodium, high in fiber and nutrients, produce is the way to go – now go read some labels!