Healthier Options at Au Bon Pain

Healthy Choices at Au Bon Pain

Eating Rules reader Katherine recently asked me to make suggestions for healthier options at Au Bon Pain, a “fast-casual” soup-salad-sandwich chain with over 250 locations around the world.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Menu Monday post, in large part because I have mixed feelings about doing them. The last thing I want to do is encourage people to eat at chain restaurants. However, I recognize that chain restaurants are sometimes the only option available, and I know that chain restaurants are where most of us eat. So I think it makes more sense to help you to find the healthiest options, rather than pretend restaurant chains don’t exist.

Over the past few years when I have eaten at Au Bon Pain, it’s always been at airports — you’ll find them at JFK, LGA, DFW, MIA, BOS, and more. Since my personal experience lately hasn’t been at their full locations, which feature many more options, I’m basing my recommendations on the nutrition information provided on their website and my own best estimates. Conveniently, their website lists all their locations, and will show you the menu for each one separately — including the airports, so you can plan ahead a bit when you’re traveling.

You can only glean so much from nutritional numbers, so it’s good to see what kind of ingredients (additives, preservatives, flavorings) a chain may or may not be using. They reveal their ingredients on the website, though it takes a few clicks and scrolls to drill down to a specific item.

One big caveat, if you’re poking around on the specific items on their website: All of the items from their “Hot & Cold Lunch Bar” are listed per ounce, so it takes some work to figure out what a reasonable serving size is and then how many calories, etc., you’d end up eating..  For example, I checked out the Macaroni and Cheese, and was surprised to see that it only has 100mg of sodium. Then I noticed that the serving size was for one ounce…  so that’s 100mg per ounce. A tennis-ball-sized scoop of Mac & Cheese would be about eight ounces (and therefore 800mg of sodium)… and that’s not very  much Mac & Cheese.

I’m not going to review every single menu item — I’m skipping the desserts and pastries.  I’m also skipping the “Blasts” and smoothies — which all have quite a bit of added sugar. Unless it’s a cheat meal, it’s probably best to avoid all of those entirely.

Bagels – Better Choices

Whole Wheat Skinny Bagel
90 calories, 230mg sodium, 6g fiber.
This is by far the best bagel choice. The first ingredient is whole wheat flour (nice!), though some of the fiber is from added cellulose. Meh.

Honey 9 Grain Bagel
310 calories, 480mg sodium, 6g fiber.
Although it’s about 30 calories more than than the plain or onion dill bagels, at least there’s a bit more fiber. It’s also a little larger, which means at least you’ll be a little fuller for those 30 extra calories.

Plain Bagel or Onion Dill Bagel
280 calories, 440mg sodium, 2-3g fiber.
I’m including these here only because they’re the second-lowest calorie bagel option. But they’re still just a bunch of refined flour…

Bagels – Worst Choices

Cinnamon Crisp Bagel X
410 calories, 25g sugars

Asiago Cheese Bagel
370 cal, 650mg sodium

Jalapeño Double Cheddar Bagel
320 cal, 600mg sodium

Breakfast Sandwiches – Better Choices

Any of the bagel sandwiches will be vastly improved (nutritionally speaking) by getting them on a Skinny Whole Wheat Bagel.

Egg Whites & Cheddar
230 cal,  510mg sodium, 6g fiber.
I’m not in favor of egg whites over eggs — but this is a standard menu item that’s an easy choice, since it’s on a skinny bagel by default.

Eggs (or Egg Whites) with Cheddar and Avocado, on a Skinny Whole Wheat Bagel, hold the Lemon Aioli
Approx 280 cal, 510mg sodium, 9g fiber.
This is what I would order for breakfast.  The avocado adds extra (good) fat and fiber, both of which be satisfying. Skip the Lemon Aioli, though, which as far as I can tell, just adds unnecessary salt, sugar, and canola oil.

Breakfast Sandwiches – Worst Choices

Sausage, Egg and Cheddar on Asiago Bagel X
780 calories and 1,290mg of sodium. Yikes.

Bacon and Egg Melt on Ciabatta X
510 calories, 1,150mg of sodium.

Cafe Sandwiches, Hot Sandwiches, and Signature Sandwiches – Better Choices

The best choice would be to get a half sandwich. The suggestions below are all 550 calories or fewer and under 1,000mg of sodium.

Classic Chicken Salad Sandwich (Half)
230 cal, 480mg sodium.

Classic Chicken Salad Sandwich (Whole)
450 cal, 960mg sodium.

Turkey & Swiss Sandwich (Half)
370 cal, 740mg sodium

Blank Angus Roast Beef & Herb Cheese Signature Sandwich (Half)
260 cal, 620mg sodium

Caprese Sandwich (Half)
300 cal, 620mg sodium

Caprese Sandwich (Whole)
550 cal, 860mg sodium

Cafe Sandwiches, Hot Sandwiches, and Signature Sandwiches – Worst Choices

Some of these are here for the high calories, but most are because they’re so high in sodium.

Black Forest Ham and Cheddar Sandwich
640 cal, 1,870mg sodium

Turkey and Swiss Sandwich (Whole) X
740 cal, 1,490mg sodium

Turkey Cranberry Brie Sandwich X
720 cal, 1,760mg sodium

BBQ Chicken and Black Bean Wrap X
740 cal, 1,600mg sodium

Turkey Cubano
530 cal, 1,750mg sodium

Grilled Chicken Avocado Signature Sandwich X
690 cal, 1,960mg sodium

The Veggie Signature Sandwich X
650 cal, 1,950mg sodium

Turkey Club Sandwich X
600 cal, 1,900mg sodium

Harvest Rice Bowls – Avoid

Roasted Angus Steak Teriyaki Harvest Rice Bowl X
Roasted Mayan Chicken Harvest Rice Bowl X
Both are over 1,000mg sodium, and both include partially hydrogenated oils in the seasoning.

Hot & Cold Lunch Bar – Better Choices

Nutrition numbers below are for a 4 ounce portion (they list 1 ounce portions in their nutrition info, which makes it somewhat tricky to compare).  Also, it’s a shame how much salt and oil they add to their veggies.

Broccoli & Carrots
50 cal, 200mg sodium

Tomato Cucumber Salad
50 cal, 200mg sodium

Green Beans
50 cal, 300mg sodium

Pearl Barley with Vegetables
200 cal, 225mg sodium
Note, this is made with chicken.

Roasted Chicken and Thyme
250 cal, 250mg sodium

Hot & Cold Lunch Bar – Worst Choices

Aegean Pasta Salad X
450 cal, 575mg sodium

Chicken Wings in BBQ or Teriyaki Sauce X
300-350 cal, 900-1,050mg sodium

Eggplant Parmesan
250 cal, 650mg sodium

Thai Red Curry Chicken Wings X
300 cal,  900mg sodium

Alfredo Sauce (2 ounces) X
160 cal, 320mg sodium

Vodka Sauce (2 ounces) X
80 cal, 220mg sodium

Specialty Salads – Better Choices

These numbers are without dressing (see below for dressing info).

Garden Salad
80 cal, 105mg sodium

Southwest Chicken Salad
320 cal, 360mg sodium

Thai Peanut Chicken Salad
200 cal, 300mg sodium
Careful, though, the Thai Peanut Dressing is one of the worst!  It’s only a good choice if you skip (or minimize) the dressing.

Specialty Salads – Worst Choices

Chef’s Salad X
260 cal, 1,110mg sodium

Chicken Cobb with Avocado Salad
300 cal, 910mg sodium

Greek Salad X
230 cal, 1,170mg sodium
If you go easy on the Feta, this could be a good choice. 

Mediterranean Chicken Salad X
290 cal, 1,150mg sodium

Dressings – Better Choices

None of the dressings are great.  The Raspberry Vinaigrette is the only one under 100 calories, but comes at the cost of being mostly sugar.  The best choice is to use the dressing very sparingly — and not eat the entire 2 ounce serving.  Ask them to give you the dressing on the side for any salad, and then you’ll have more control.

Fat Free Raspberry Vinaigrette
50 cal, 190mg sodium, 12g sugars

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
120 cal, 360mg sodium

Lite Olive Oil Vinaigrette
110 cal, 420mg sodium

Dressings – Worst Choices

Blue Cheese Dressing X
310 cal, 460mg sodium

Thai Peanut Dressing X
160 cal, 740mg sodium, 17g sugars

Sesame Ginger Dressing
230 cal, 680mg sodium

Caesar Dressing
270 cal, 370mg sodium

Soups – Better Choices

I’m listing the info for small (8 ounce) servings of soup, which would be a good choice to accompany a half-sandwich.  As with most restaurant soups, calories are less of an issue than the high sodium content.

Southwest Vegetable
130 cal, 290mg sodium

Tomato Basil Bisque
150 cal, 360mg sodium

Mediterranean Pepper Soup
120 cal, 430mg sodium

Soups – Worst Choices

All of these are more than 900mg of sodium or 250 calories, per small (8 ounce) serving.

Lobster Bisque X
270 cal, 930mg sodium

Macaroni and Cheese X
370 cal, 870mg sodium
Not sure why they put this in the “Soups” category..? 

Corn and Green Chili Bisque
200 cal, 910mg sodium

Curried Rice and Lentil Soup
130 cal, 920mg sodium

French Onion Soup
90 cal, 920mg sodium

60 cal, 1,090mg sodium

Harvest Pumpkin Soup
180 cal, 960mg sodium

Potato Choose Soup
190 cal, 920mg sodium

Baked Stuffed Potato Soup
250 cal, 720mg sodium

Corn Chowder
250 cal, 820mg sodium

Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.

indicates the “best-of-the-best,” and X indicates the “worst-of-the-worst,” more or less.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

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Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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July 18, 2012 1:15 am

Awwww, I’m having Nutrition Action Healthletter nostalgia.