What to Eat at Panda Express: Healthy Menu Choices and Nutrition Facts

Panda Express

Verywell / Christian Alzate

Among fast-casual Asian restaurants, Panda Express stands out for its flavorful, lower-priced cuisine. In addition to its many stand-alone locations, you may have spotted this chain on college campuses, in mall food courts, or at airports.

The Panda Express menu is based on Chinese-American food classics. Here, you will find a wide array of offerings, from appetizers and sides (like potstickers and egg rolls) to signature entrees (like honey walnut shrimp, orange chicken, and broccoli beef).

And if you’re looking for something lighter, you are in luck. Several menu items come with a “Wok Smart” designation, indicating they have at least 8 grams of protein and 300 calories or less. Numerous kids' options round out the menu with something for everyone.

What Experts Say

“Panda Express serves multiple dishes that contain vegetables (but only one true vegetarian entrée option) and offers brown rice as a higher fiber option. But the fiber still falls short of daily recommendations and the sodium levels are quite high. If you eat here regularly, be sure to fit veggies and higher fiber, lower-sodium foods into your other meals.”

Willow Jarosh, MS, RD

Navigating the Menu

Because of its large range of choices, the Panda Express menu caters to all sorts of palates, appetites, and dietary goals. Below are our top suggestions for the most and the least nutritious options in each menu category.

What to Order & Avoid at Panda Express
Most Nutritious Options Least Nutritious Options
Chicken potstickers (Appetizers) Vegetable spring rolls (Appetizers)
Broccoli beef (Beef Entrées) Beijing beef (Beef Entrées)
String bean chicken breast (Chicken Entrées) Orange chicken (Chicken Entrées)
Steamed ginger fish (Seafood Entrées) Honey walnut shrimp (Seafood Entrées)
Super greens (Vegetable Entrées) Eggplant tofu (Vegetable Entrées)
Super greens (Sides) Chow mein (Sides)
Fortune cookie (Desserts) Chocolate chunk cookie (Desserts)
Black tea (Beverages) Barq's root beer (Beverages)

Most Nutritious Option

Looking for the healthiest meal at Panda Express? We’d suggest the string bean chicken breast.

Appetizers

At Panda Express, you have your choice of four appetizers: chicken egg rolls, chicken potstickers, cream cheese Rangoon, and vegetable spring rolls. Of the four, the chicken potstickers make the best choice. They’re the lowest in calories and, unlike the other three options, are not deep-fried.

✓ Chicken Potstickers

The chicken potstickers at Panda Express are our top appetizer choice, with 160 calories, 6g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 20g carbohydrate, 6g protein, and 250mg sodium.

✗ Vegetable Spring Rolls

Despite their healthy-sounding name, the vegetable spring rolls are Panda’s least nutritious appetizer. They are the highest in sodium and lowest in protein, with 190 calories, 8g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 27g carbohydrate, 3g protein, and 520mg sodium.

Beef Entrées

Whether you’re hungry for a protein-and-veggie meal or meat all by itself, Panda Express has you covered with five beefy options. Several are surprisingly low in calories and, of course, come with plenty of protein. However, high sodium, sugar, and saturated fat content make healthy choices a bit tricky in this category. Before you order a beef dish, we would recommend reading its nutrition info, then choosing a vegetable side to add fiber and micronutrients.

✓ Broccoli Beef

The most well-rounded beef choice on the Panda Express menu is broccoli beef. It contains 150 calories, 7g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 13g carbohydrate, 9g protein, and 520mg sodium. Compared to the other beef items on the menu, it is lower in calories and higher in fiber than most. It is also one of the lower-sugar items, at 7g per serving.

✗ Beijing Beef

For low-calorie or low-carb eating, steer clear of the Beijing beef. This entrée comes with 470 calories, 26g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 46g carbohydrate, 13g protein, and 660mg sodium. It also provides just 1g of fiber and a significant amount of sugar (24g).

Chicken Entrées

The real “meat” of the Panda Express menu is in the form of chicken. There are more chicken-based dishes than any other protein on the menu. Here, you will find everything from lean meats with vegetables to fried, battered choices loaded with sugary sauce. In general, choosing grilled meats over fried will save you calories and carbs—and it is always smart to choose an entrée that comes with veggies.

✓ String Bean Chicken Breast

If you are trying to stay on the lighter side, don’t miss Panda’s string bean chicken breast. This heathier entree has 190 calories, 9g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 13g carbohydrate, 14g protein, and 590mg sodium. Because it comes with a sizable dose of veggies, it packs 4g of fiber. Its sauce, meanwhile, contains just 4g of sugar.

✗ Orange Chicken

We know it’s a total fan favorite, but Panda Express’ orange chicken is not the healthiest option on the menu. In fact, it’s one of the highest-calorie, highest-sugar options. (No wonder its sauce is so finger-licking sweet!) Panda’s version of this Chinese-American classic comes with 490 calories, 23g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 51g carbohydrate, 25g protein, and 820mg sodium. If you order orange chicken, consider skipping an appetizer or boosting fiber by choosing brown rice. You also could split the dish with a friend or family member and add on some super greens.

Seafood Entrées

Panda Express has plenty of entrees for pescatarians—or anyone who enjoys Chinese-inspired seafood. The majority of seafood choices are made with shrimp, but a steamed ginger fish is another alternative.

✓ Steamed Ginger Fish

Panda Express’ steamed ginger fish is lower in calories, has minimal sugar, and a good amount of protein, putting it in among the best seafood choices. That said, it's extremely high in sodium, which means it’s not an ideal choice for anyone watching their salt intake. Per serving, this entrée has 200 calories, 12g total fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 8g carbohydrate, 8g sugar, 15g protein, and 1,990mg of sodium.

✗ Honey Walnut Shrimp

The honey walnut shrimp certainly has some pros (such as heart-healthy fats from walnuts and shrimp), but it is Panda Express’ heaviest seafood entrée overall. This one comes with 360 calories, 23g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 35g carbohydrate, 9g sugar, 13g protein, and 440mg sodium.

Vegetable Entrées

Surprisingly, Panda Express features just two vegetable entrees—the super greens and the eggplant tofu. Here’s how they compare.

✓ Super Greens

You can order the super greens at Panda Express as either an entrée, side dish, or kid’s meal. It’s made of a blend of healthy veggies that includes broccoli, cabbage, and kale. The adult portion contains 45 calories, 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 5g carbohydrate, 3g protein, and 130mg sodium.

The veggies in the super greens entrée are certainly nutrient-rich—but since 45 calories does not make for much of a meal, you’ll probably want to add something to keep you full. Vegetarians could double the portion and opt for a side of brown rice, while meat-eaters might request grilled chicken to top off their veggies.

✗ Eggplant Tofu

The other vegetable entrée at Panda Express is the eggplant tofu. This choice comes with more calories, fat, and sodium than the super greens. This selection contains 340 calories, 24g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 24g carbohydrate, 7g protein, and 520mg sodium, along with 17g of sugar.

Kid's Meals

You may think of kid’s foods as mac and cheese or pizza, but even little eaters will likely enjoy Panda Express’ sweet and savory Chinese-inspired meals. Many of the adult entrees are available in “cub” sizes for kids.

The same principles apply to choosing healthy meals for your child as for yourself. Try focusing on meals that provide protein and fiber while minimizing sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.

✓ String Bean Chicken Cub Meal

Just as the string bean chicken makes a healthy choice for adults, it’s a nutritious, not-too-sweet option for kids, too. The “cub” portion of this meal comes with 140 calories, 7g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 10g carbs, 3g fiber, 3g sugar, 11g protein, and 440mg sodium.

✗ Orange Chicken Cub Meal

The orange chicken cub meal will probably appeal to kids’ palates, but doesn’t offer a great nutrition profile. In a kids’ portion, you’ll find 355 calories, 16g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 36g carbs, 1g fiber, 13g sugar, 18g protein, and 590mg sodium.

Sides

Sides are a major part of the dining experience at Panda Express, and there is no shortage of options to choose from. The chain’s sides run the gamut from low-calorie veggies to high-calorie, high-sodium noodles, and rice dishes.

✓ Super Greens

It’s almost always a good idea to give veggies prime real estate on your plate—which is why the super greens side gets our vote as the best side dish at Panda Express. As a side dish, this menu item contains 90 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 10g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 6g protein, and 260mg sodium.

✗ Chow Mein

For a side to accompany your meat, seafood, or veggie entrée, chow mein is Panda’s most decadent choice. This side dish is high in almost every category, with 510 calories, 20g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 80g carbohydrate, 13g protein, and 860mg sodium. (Fried rice is a close second, with similar nutrition info.)

Desserts

If you still have room for dessert after your Chinese-inspired lunch or dinner, you can choose from a fortune cookie or chocolate chip cookie. Neither choice has much to offer in terms of nutrition, but for fewer calories, fat, and carbohydrates, fortune cookies clearly win.

✓ Fortune Cookies

Is it really a Chinese meal if it doesn’t end with a fortune cookie? These small-bite treats end your meal on a simple, slightly sweet note—for a minimum of calories. One fortune cookie at Panda Express has just 20 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 5g carbohydrate, 2g of sugar, 0g protein, and 0mg sodium.

✗ Chocolate Chunk Cookie

Panda’s chocolate chunk cookie is for heartier appetites. Though it’s not overly indulgent—with 160 calories, 7g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 25g carbohydrate, 2g protein, and 125mg sodium—it’s definitely a heavier choice than the fortune cookie.

Beverages

For a special treat, some of Panda Express’ locations offer a tea bar, featuring unique, hand-crafted beverages like milk tea, fruit smoothies, lemonade, and sparkling yogurts. Because these drinks are highly customizable, with extras like aloe vera, lychee fruit jelly, and boba pearls, their nutrition content varies significantly.

All Panda Express locations offer the typical array of fountain drinks like soda and iced tea. Because regularly drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can increase the risk of health conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes, we would recommend steering clear of sweet drinks in favor of unsweetened iced tea.

✓ Unsweetened Black Tea

Water is, of course, always a good choice for washing down your meals, but if you would prefer something with more flavor, go with black tea. At Panda Express, a small (22 oz) adult-size black tea contains just 5 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 2g carbohydrate, 0g protein, and 20mg sodium.

✗ Barq's Root Beer

Although Barq’s root beer is sweet and tasty, the large (42 oz) size at Panda Express comes with 560 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 153g carbohydrate (152g of which are from sugar), 0g protein, and 190mg sodium.

You can cut back on calories and sugars by choosing the 12-ounce kid’s size, but be aware that you will still take in 160 calories, 44g of carbs (and sugar), and 55mg of sodium.

Diet-Specific Options

Panda Express is quite transparent about the fact that they don’t cater much to special diets. You won’t find a gluten-freevegan, or vegetarian section of their menu. On the other hand, depending on your dietary needs, you may be able to craft a meal that works for you. Try the options below for special diets.

Low-Carb

  • Super greens
  • Mushroom chicken
  • Grilled Asian chicken
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken
  • String bean chicken breast

The trick when eating low-carb is to make selections that provide some fiber while keeping total carbs and sugar low. For a lower-carb meal at Panda Express, skip the rice or chow mein as sides and opt for vegetables instead.

Diabetes-Friendly

  • Super greens
  • Mushroom chicken
  • String bean chicken breast

For a lower-sodium, higher-protein meal, check out the black pepper Angus steak. With a side of super greens, it makes a diabetes-friendly meal that is satisfying and flavorful.

Low-Fat

  • Super greens
  • Chicken potstickers
  • White or brown rice

It’s not too difficult to customize a low-fat meal at Panda Express. Try pairing the broccoli beef with white rice for a total of just 7g of fat.

Lower-Sodium

  • Super greens
  • Chicken potstickers
  • White or brown rice
  • Cream cheese Rangoon
  • Sweet and sour chicken breast

Sodium is always a nutrient of concern when dining out—but that does not mean you cannot find a lower-salt meal at Panda Express. The sweet and sour chicken entree has a moderate 260 milligrams.

Food Allergies and Safety

Panda Express is not the most allergy-friendly place to pick up a quick meal. Their foods are prepared with ingredients that may contain all nine of the FDA’s most common food allergens, including eggs, milk, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, and wheat. Sesame, another common allergen, is also present in many of their menu items.

Fortunately, you can research which menu items contain which allergens by viewing Panda’s allergen info online. However, keep in mind that cross-contamination is possible, because shared utensils and cooking equipment could introduce allergens into any dish.

A Word From Verywell

For Chinese-inspired cuisine at a lower price point, Panda Express has plenty to offer for most people. If you follow a specific diet or have serious food allergies or intolerances, however, you’ll likely need to be careful about dining at this chain. 

Although many of Panda Express’ dishes are high in sodium and sugar, you can still find nutritious choices on their menu. If you are looking for a healthier lunch or dinner, plan ahead by researching lower-sodium, lower-sugar items—or consider the chain’s line of lower-calorie Wok Smart entrees.

Was this page helpful?
1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Sugary Drinks.