How to Make a Copycat Panera Lemon Chicken Soup

Skip a trip to the restaurant and learn how to make copycat Panera Lemon Chicken Soup at home. This healthy, flavorful recipe comes together quickly and easily on the stovetop in about an hour. Serve with a side of crusty baguette!

Panera is one of my favorite fast-casual restaurants and the Lemon Chicken Soup is one of the best seasonal items on the menu. The combination of tender chicken breasts with hearty vegetables, satisfying brown rice and a touch of fresh lemon makes this a cozy way to boost your immunity, keep you warm and get you through those last few weeks until spring—especially when it’s served in a bread bowl!

Key Ingredients for Panera’s Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

There are a few key ingredients that truly make this dish special. I’ve suggested alternatives, where appropriate, too!

Chicken: Brown boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the pot before preparing the rest of the soup. If you like dark meat, you can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead. For a shortcut, use about 4 cups of shredded or chopped store-bought rotisserie chicken meat in this soup. Since the rotisserie chicken is already cooked, you can wait to add it to the pot at the very end (at the same time that you add the rice and spinach).

Brown Rice: I used cooked brown rice in this recipe, but you can substitute with an equal amount of cooked and drained orzo pasta. Similarly, you can use cooked white rice or other small shapes of cooked pasta (such as ditalini, acini de pepe or orecchiette). For a shortcut, I like to use the microwaveable packets of brown rice, which cook in just 90 seconds. Each packet typically includes 2 cups of cooked rice, so you would need 2 packets for this recipe.

Lemon: Fresh lemon juice and lemon zest give the soup a bright burst of citrus flavor. If you prefer a stronger lemon taste, you can add more lemon juice to the broth or garnish each bowl with a little bit of extra lemon zest.

Spinach: You can swap out the baby spinach and use other greens instead. Good alternatives include Swiss chard or kale. Just be aware that these sturdier greens will require a longer cooking time in the broth, so you’ll want to add them when you still have about 20-30 minutes left to simmer the soup.

How to Make Copycat Panera Greek Lemon Chicken Soup, Step by Step

This is a great lemon soup recipe because it doesn’t require much prep work. It simmers on the stovetop for just a short amount of time. Skip Panera and whip up a batch of our lemon chicken soup right in your own kitchen. Just don’t forget the baguette for dipping!

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
  • 8 cups loosely-packed baby spinach (about 5 ounces)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Optional, for garnish: thinly sliced lemon; chopped fresh parsley; grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Step 1: Brown the chicken

Brown the chicken Copycat Panera Greek Lemon Chicken Soup Horizontal LargeBlair Lonergan for Taste of Home

In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken; cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Repeat with another 1 tablespoon of oil and the remaining chicken; remove to the plate and set aside.

Step 2: Saute vegetables

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pot. When the oil shimmers, add the carrots, onion and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Step 3: Simmer

Simmer Copycat Panera Greek Lemon Chicken Soup Horizontal Large 3Blair Lonergan for Taste of Home

Stir broth, lemon juice, lemon zest, pepper and browned chicken into the pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Step 4: Add rice and spinach

Add rice and spinach Copycat Panera Greek Lemon Chicken Soup Horizontal Large 4Blair Lonergan for Taste of Home

Remove cover; stir in rice and spinach; heat through until the spinach wilts, about 2-3 minutes. Taste and season with kosher salt, if necessary.

Step 5: Serve and garnish

Serve and garnish Copycat Panera Greek Lemon Chicken Soup Large 3Blair Lonergan for Taste of Home

Ladle into bowls and garnish with lemon slices, fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Tips for Making Copycat Panera Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

  • When zesting the lemon, be sure that you only scrape off the outer layer of the peel (this is where the essential oils and delicious flavor can be found). Do not grate any of the bitter white pith.
  • For even more flavor, add some fresh herbs to the soup. I love the combination of dill and lemon, but parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano and thyme are also great options.
  • The total amount of salt that you need for the soup will depend on personal preference, as well as on the saltiness of your broth. I highly recommend using plenty of seasoning. There’s nothing worse than a bland soup, so stir in extra salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Add extra chicken broth or water, as necessary, to thin the soup to reach your desired consistency.
  • Offer a crusty baguette on the side to soak up any extra broth. It’s just like you’re dining in the restaurant!
  • If you’re feeding a smaller family, you can cut all of the ingredients in half to prepare less soup. The cooking instructions remain the same.

How to Make This Soup Ahead of Time

If you’re planning to make this soup in advance, prepare as instructed but do not add the rice and spinach. Let the soup cool, cover and refrigerate for 3-4 days or freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to serve the soup, warm the broth over a low flame, stir in the rice and spinach, and simmer (covered) until warmed through.

How to Store Soup

Leftover soup will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Reheat individual portions in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, or warm larger servings in a covered saucepan on the stovetop over low heat.

If you want to prepare more of your restaurant favorites at home, try this Panera Copycat Broccoli Cheese Soup, these Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels or this Olive Garden Chicken Gnocchi Soup.

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Blair Lonergan
Blair Lonergan lives with her husband and three young boys in a 100-year-old farmhouse at the base of Central Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. A freelance writer and food photographer, Blair shares easy, quick-prep recipes for busy families on her blog, The Seasoned Mom. Her work has been featured in magazines and online at Today, SELF magazine, Buzzfeed, Parade, and Redbook magazine.