Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vanderbilt Med Center Dropping McDonald's, Welcoming Au Bon Pain

Posted By on Tue, Sep 7, 2010 at 2:31 PM

A Caprese Sandwich and Peach Ice Tea at the Au Bon Pain at LaGuardia Airport.
  • Au Bon Pain
  • A Caprese sandwich and peach iced tea at the Au Bon Pain at La Guardia Airport.
If you've ever had a doctor's appointment or visited a recuperating friend at Vanderbilt's hospital complex, you probably know about the crazy-busy McDonald's that resides on the Medical Center Plaza.

Well, you only have a few more months to indulge a Big Mac attack within gurney's range of the emergency room. As part of a wider initiative to expand healthy food options and nutritional awareness, Vanderbilt has picked another national chain, Au Bon Pain, to replace McDonald’s when the Golden Arches' lease is up in January.

You can get more details in my Food Biz column in the Nashville Post section of the print edition of The City Paper. The important thing to know, in Vanderbilt's view, is that the change is not intended as a criticism of McDonald's (and, we presume, especially not Ronald).

“This isn’t any sort of attempt to single out McDonald’s,” said Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman John Howser. “McDonald’s has been a great partner, lo these many years.”

Howser said the change came as part of the work of the medical center’s Food Advisory Committee, which aims to diversify the nutritional options available to faculty, staff and visitors to the hospital. The committee asked several vendors to submit proposals, which the committee reviewed to decide which vendor could best address issues of capacity and healthy food options — while also offering customers extensive nutritional information about the food served.

“Au Bon Pain was the most accommodating,” Howser said, adding that the new restaurant will have an interactive kiosk where customers will be able to see a complete list of ingredients and nutritional content for each menu item. Au Bon Pain also agreed to team up with the med center on some upcoming wellness and nutritional programs.

As for concerns that the Boston-based cafe's menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, bagels and French-inspired pastries will be more expensive than McDonald's, Howser said Au Bon Pain has different pricing tiers for different markets and has said it would keep prices "competitive" with the burger chain.

He also said the cafeteria at the Vanderbilt Clinic, the Courtyard Cafe, will add more affordable, healthy options as soon as this week.

So, you may ask, does Bites have any thoughts about Au Bon Pain? When I worked in Washington, D.C., I went through a phase of eating lunch at ABP every day. The coffee's definitely good, and as for healthfulness, as is always the case, it depends on what you order.

For a while my standard lunch was a spinach-and-cheese croissant (290 calories) followed by an almond croissant (600 calories) and a small latte (200 calories). That combo (1,090 calories) is considerably more of a caloric indulgence than a Big Mac (590 calories). So there ya go. And now you know why I'm a food writer and not a reporter for Fitness magazine.

If healthy nutrition were my goal, I could've done a lot better, as you can see if you scrutinize Au Bon Pain's nutritional info. (It's a PDF available for download at the company's website.) McDonald's has a similar PDF nutritional list on its site.

(To be fair, I did eventually grow out of my croissant phase and ate more of les salades.)

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