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

Photo of three spring rolls with sauce
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The first Panda Express opened in Glendale, California in 1983. Today, the chain is a staple of quick and affordable Chinese-inspired cuisine. Panda Express is popular on college campuses and in mall and airport food courts. At some of the chain’s 2,000+ locations, you’ll even find a drive-thru, although sitting down to eat in the restaurant may provide a more satisfying experience.

The menu at Panda Express is inspired by traditional Chinese food as well as some of the chain’s own creations, such as its famous orange chicken. You’ll find a mix of appetizers, entrees, and sides such as egg rolls, potstickers, honey walnut shrimp, beef and broccoli, teriyaki chicken, as well as sides of veggies and rice. Several menu items are marked with a green Wok Smart icon to indicate that they contain 300 calories or less per serving and at least 8 grams of protein.

What Experts Say

“Panda Express serves multiple dishes that contain vegetables (but only one true vegetarian entree 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 on a regular basis, be sure to fit veggies and higher fiber, lower-sodium foods into your other meals.”

Willow Jarosh, MS, RD

Navigating the Menu

With a large range of options to choose from, you should have no trouble finding a meal that you're happy with at Panda Express. These are some suggestions we came up with based on the menu.

Most Nutritious Options
  • Chicken potstickers (Appetizers)

  • Broccoli beef (Beef Entrees)

  • String bean chicken breast (Chicken Entrees)

  • Steamed ginger fish (Seafood Entrees)

  • Super greens (Vegetable Entrees)

  • Super greens (Sides)

  • Fortune cookie (Desserts)

  • Black tea (Beverages)

Least Nutritious Options
  • Vegetable spring rolls (Appetizers)

  • Beijing beef (Beef Entrees)

  • Sweetfire chicken breast (Chicken Entrees)

  • Honey walnut shrimp (Seafood Entrees)

  • Eggplant tofu (Vegetable Entrees)

  • Chow fun (Sides)

  • Chocolate chunk cookie (Desserts)

  • Barq's root beer (Beverages)

If you're looking for the healthiest meal at Panda Express, the broccoli beef's nutrition profile makes it the best choice.

Appetizers

There are four appetizer options at Panda Express, including the cream cheese ragoon, chicken egg roll, chicken potstickers, and vegetable spring roll. The only appetizer we would recommend is the chicken potstickers.

The other three are deep-fried with minimal nutritional value. However, if you choose to enjoy one of these appetizers, there's always room to improve your overall meal with a healthy beverage, entree, or side dish selection.

Most Nutritious Option

The chicken potstickers at Panda Express have 160 calories, 6g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 20g carbohydrate, 6g protein, and 250mg sodium. The Chicken Egg Rolls are similar but higher in sodium and fat (even for a smaller serving size).

Least Nutritious Option

Don't let the name fool you, the vegetable spring rolls are actually the highest in sodium and lowest in protein of all the appetizer options. One order has 190 calories, 8g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 27g carbohydrate, 3g protein, and 520mg sodium.

Beef Entrees

The main menu at Panda Express features beef-based meals with various flavors and spices, some of which are served with vegetables and others are standalone meat. Several of the beef dishes are high in protein and lower in calories, however, they can also be high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.

A good starting point is to look for items with more protein and less sugar. Because many of the beef dishes are lacking in fiber, opting for brown rice on the side or super greens can help nutritionally balance your plate.

Most Nutritious Option

Panda Express offers a broccoli beef entree that contains 150 calories, 7g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 13g carbohydrate, 9g protein, and 520mg sodium. This item is relatively low in saturated fat and sodium, while still providing 9g of protein. It is also one of the lowest sugar options in the beef category, with 7g per serving.

Least Nutritious Option

The Beijing beef at Panda Express has 470 calories, 26g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 46g carbohydrate, 13g protein, and 660mg sodium. Perhaps the least redeeming quality about this dish is its 24g of sugar, which is more than double that of any other beef entree at Panda Express.

Chicken Entrees

The chicken-based meals at Panda Express range from lean meat with veggies to fried or sweetened dishes. Most of the meals in this category are nutritionally sound, with a couple of options to watch out for. Look to grilled versus fried chicken options and dishes that include vegetables to get the most from your meal.

Most Nutritious Option

The string bean chicken breast at Panda Express has 190 calories, 9g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 13g carbohydrate, 14g protein, and 590mg sodium. The dish is flavored with ginger soy sauce so it only has 4g of sugar. Because of the vegetables, this meal also offers 4g of healthy fiber.

Least Nutritious Option

If you order Panda Express' Sweetfire chicken breast, you'll get 380 calories, 15g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 47g carbohydrate, 13g protein, and 320mg sodium. This meal also has a whopping 27 grams of sugar, making it one of the least healthy chicken dishes on the menu.

Seafood Entrees

Most of the seafood entrees at Panda Express are made with shrimp but there is one fish dish as well. As with chicken meals, looking for lighter cooking methods (steamed or grilled) instead of fried seafood and avoiding added sugar will help you spot the healthier choices available.

Most Nutritious Option

The steamed ginger fish at Panda Express has 200 calories, 12g total fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 8g carbohydrate, 15g protein, and 1990mg of sodium. Because it is very high in sodium, this isn't exactly a "perfect" choice (no food ever really is); however, it has a good amount of protein and less fat and sugar than many other Panda Express seafood entrees.

Least Nutritious Option

The honey walnut shrimp entree has 360 calories, 23g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 35g carbohydrate, 13g protein, and 440mg sodium. Although it's hardly that unhealthy, it does have a bit more sugar (9g) and it's higher on the calorie end than other seafood options.

Vegetable Entrees

There are two vegetable options at Panda Express, either of which is an OK choice. Here's how they stack up against each other.

Most Nutritious Option

Super greens can be found at Panda Express as either a side dish, entree, or kid's portion. The adult super greens entree has 45 calories, 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 5g carbohydrate, 3g protein, and 130mg sodium. While it's a bit light to serve as its own filling meal, this entree provides lots of vitamins and minerals with just 2 grams of sugar, minimal sodium, and no saturated fat.

Least Nutritious Option

The eggplant tofu entree at Panda Express has some redeeming nutritional qualities but it isn't the healthiest vegetable entree available. It has 340 calories, 24g total fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 24g carbohydrate, 7g protein, and 520mg sodium, along with 17g of sugar.

Kid's Meals

It's worth noting that the entrees listed above are also available in kid-sized portions at Panda Express. The same suggestions apply for choosing a healthy kid's meal as for adults.

Looking for lower sodium, higher protein meals, with some fiber and not too much sugar, can ensure that your child receives optimal nutrition. Adults can also opt for a kid's meal at Panda Express to keep the calories down or mix and match a nutritious choice with a less healthy option.

Sides

The sides that you choose at Panda Express can make a big difference in the overall nutritional value of your meal. Choose wisely, as certain items have more sodium and saturated fat than a meal.

Most Nutritious Option

The super greens side comes out on top again as a great choice. The side dish portion contains 90 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 10g carbohydrate, 6g protein, and 260mg sodium. You'll also benefit from 5 grams of fiber.

Least Nutritious Option

Chow fun isn't the best choice, especially if you're watching your sodium and fat intake. This side dish has 410 calories, 9g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 73g carbohydrate, 9g protein, and 1110g sodium.

Desserts

For a sweet treat at Panda Express, you have a choice between a fortune cookie or chocolate chip cookie. Neither option provides valuable nutrition, but one choice has less of an impact on the overall healthfulness of your meal.

Most Nutritious Option

Fortune cookies are a Chinese food staple. They offer the perfect amount of sweetness to top off your meal without putting your sugar intake over the top. One fortune cookie has just 20 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 5g carbohydrate (including 2g of sugar), 0g protein, and 0mg sodium.

Least Nutritious Option

The chocolate chunk cookie is a more substantial dessert with 160 calories, 7g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 25g carbohydrate, 2g protein, and 125mg sodium. Although no food is "off-limits," it's probably best to avoid the chocolate chunk cookie on a regular basis.

Beverages

At some locations, a Panda Express Tea Bar features a menu of hand-crafted Asian inspired beverages like milk tea, fruit smoothies, lemonade, and sparkling yogurts. With the ability to customize your drink with add-ins like aloe vera, lychee fruit jelly, and boba pearls, the nutrition of the beverages varies considerably.

You'll also find typical fountain drinks at most Panda Express restaurants. If you choose a higher-sugar beverage, consider opting for the smaller size.

Most Nutritious Option

Unsweetened black tea is one of the healthier beverages at Panda Express (aside from good old water). 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.

Least Nutritious Option

Barq’s root beer is already one of the highest sugar options on the beverage menu at Panda Express, but choosing the large size (42 oz) solidifies it as the least nutritious choice available. You'll get 560 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 153g carbohydrate (of which 152g are from sugar), 0g protein, and 190mg sodium from this drink alone.

If you're really in the mood for a root beer, opting for the smallest size (which is the 12-ounce kid's size), saves a bunch of added sugar and calories. In this case you'll be getting just 160 calories, 44g of carbs (and sugar), and 55mg of sodium. This is a great example of enjoying treats in moderation.

Diet-Specific Options

Panda Express clearly states on its website that it does not offer any certified gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian items on its menu, however, their varied selection of dishes makes room to accommodate a range of dietary preferences.

Low-Carb

  • Broccoli beef
  • Super greens
  • Mushroom chicken
  • Grilled Asian chicken
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken

Look for low-carb options that are low in sugar and provide some fiber. The string bean chicken breast is one of the best choices with 13 grams of carbs, 4 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of fiber.

Diabetes-Friendly

  • Super greens
  • Hot & sour soup
  • Mushroom chicken
  • Black pepper Angus steak
  • String bean chicken breast

The black pepper Angus steak is lower in sodium and higher in protein than some of the other menu items at Panda Express. Pair it with the super greens side dish and you've got a great diabetes-friendly meal that's low in sugar and high in protein and fiber.

Low-Fat

  • Broccoli beef
  • Super greens
  • Hot & sour soup
  • Chicken potstickers
  • White or brown rice

Lower-fat menu items can help you avoid the saturated fat associated with high cholesterol. The super greens option (whether as an entree or side dish) is free of saturated fat and is low in total fat (plus they contain vitamins and minerals beneficial for health). The white rice is also naturally fat-free.

Low-Sodium

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

The brown rice is the best all-around choice for heart health because in addition to being low in fat, it is also naturally low in sodium and high in fiber. Choose brown rice as a side if you're watching your blood pressure levels.

Food Allergies and Safety

The menu at Panda Express is prepared with ingredients and utensils that may contain all the major food allergens, including eggs, milk, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, and wheat, as well as allergens such as sesame. For a general guide, people with food allergies can review the allergen information on their website for various dishes.

If you prefer to avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG) Panda Express notes that it does not add MSG to its dishes, however, ingredients used to create its menu may naturally contain MSG. If you have a food allergy, always be cautious when going out to eat. If there are certain ingredients you need to avoid, let the employee taking your order know so additional precautions can be taken while preparing your food.

A Word From Verywell

Panda Express offers a menu of Chinese-inspired dishes with several protein-packed meals and low-sugar dishes than you may find at many other casual dining chains. The Panda Express Wok Smart menu helps you find sensible entree options, but keep in mind that adding sides, beverages, and sweets quickly changes the overall nutritional composition of your meal.

While many diners can create a tasty and satisfying meal at Panda Express, if you have severe food allergies or follow a special diet, you may find your options limited. Luckily, the Panda Express website lists menu details that can help you plan ahead for your order.

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