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, affordable, Chinese-inspired cuisine. The fast-food chain can be found on college campuses, in mall food courts, as well as its own as a casual dining restaurant. At some of the chain’s 2,000+ locations, you’ll even find a drive-thru.

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.

If you follow a special diet or have specific health needs and goals, you may find it challenging to choose a meal at Panda Express. While there are some low-calorie and low-carb Chinese food meals, many dishes are high in sodium.

It can be helpful to review the online nutrition information for the Panda Express menu online before you go. You’ll see several items with a green Wok Smart icon. These dishes have 300 calories or less and have 8 or more grams of protein.

You can also use the online nutrition calculator to estimate the calories, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium content of your order and plan a meal that suits your needs and tastes.

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

Most Nutritious Options

  • Chicken Potstickers

  • Broccoli Beef

  • Super Greens

  • Fortune Cookie

  • Black Tea

Least Nutritious Options

  • Chicken Eggrolls

  • Orange Chicken

  • Fried Rice

  • Chocolate Chunk Cookie

  • Barq’s Root Beer

Appetizers

There are plenty of Chinese food favorites on the starter menu at Panda Express, including potstickers, egg rolls, and cream cheese rangoons. While the smaller portions of appetizers may be lower in calories than an entree, be sure to check the serving size.

Most Nutritious Option

160 calories, 6g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 250 mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 2g sugar, and 6g protein
Least Nutritious Option

200 calories, 10g fat, 2g saturated fat, 340 mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 2g sugar, and 6g protein

Entrees

The main menu at Panda Express features meals inspired by Asian cuisine made with chicken, beef, and shrimp and served with rice and marinated veggies. To save calories and fat, choose grilled options rather than fried and avoid adding any extra sauces.

Most Nutritious Option

150 calories, 7g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 520 mg sodium, 13g carbohydrate, 7g sugar, and 9g protein

Least Nutritious Option

490 calories, 23g fat, 5g saturated fat, 820mg sodium, 51g carbohydrate, 19g sugar, and 25g protein

Sides

There are only a few options for side dishes at Panda Express, but they range widely in nutrition. A side of greens contributes filling fiber to a meal without adding many calories, but favorites like chow mein add over 500 calories and 80 grams of carbs.

Most Nutritious Option

90 calories, 2.5g fat, 260 mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 4g sugar, and 6g protein
Least Nutritious Option

520 calories, 16g fat, 3g saturated fat, 850 mg sodium, 85g carbohydrate, 1g sugar, and 9g protein

Desserts

For a sweet treat at Panda Express, you have a choice between a fortune cookie or chocolate chip cookie. Neither option adds any valuable nutrition to your meal, but one choice is a more sensible choice if you want to finish off your meal with a treat.

Most Nutritious Option

20 calories, 0g fat, 8 mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate, 2g sugar, and 0g protein

Least Nutritious Option

160 calories, 7g fat, 3g saturated fat, 125 mg sodium, 25g carbohydrate, 14g sugar, and 2g protein

Beverages

You’ll find a mix of standard fountain soda offerings at Panda Express, as well as iced tea, fruit juice, and lemonade. While water is always the most nutritious option to accompany your meal if you’re looking for a low-calorie beverage that will add a little flavor without adding sugar or carbs Panda Express does offer a few choices.

Most Nutritious Option

Black Tea (12 oz)

5 calories, 0g fat, 10 mg sodium, 1g carbohydrate, 0g sugar, and 0g protein

Least Nutritious Option

Barq’s Root Beer (42 oz)

560 calories, 0g fat, 190 mg sodium, 153g carbohydrate, 152g sugar, and 0g protein

At some locations, you’ll also be able to order from the Panda Express Tea Bar, which 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.

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, starting in 2019 the chain announced it plans to add several items to its menu that may be suitable for some plant-based diets.

Availability of these menu items will vary depending on location, but are expected to include:

  • Chow Mein
  • Spring Rolls
  • Super Greens
  • Eggplant Tofu
  • White or Brown Rice

Low-carb

  • Broccoli Beef
  • Super Greens
  • Mushroom Chicken
  • Grilled Asian Chicken
  • Grilled Teriyaki Chicken

Diabetes-Friendly

  • Super Greens
  • Hot & Sour Soup
  • Mushroom Chicken
  • Blackpepper Chicken
  • String Bean Chicken Breast

Low-fat

  • Broccoli Beef
  • Super Greens
  • Hot & Sour Soup
  • Chicken Potstickers
  • White or Brown Rice

Low-sodium

  • Super Greens
  • Chicken Potstickers
  • White or Brown Rice
  • Cream Cheese Rangoon
  • Sweet and Sour Chicken Breast

Food Allergies and Safety

The menu at Panda Express is prepared with ingredients that contain or 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 people who avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG) Panda Express notes that while it does not add MSG to its dishes, 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.

A Word From Verywell

Panda Express offers a menu of Chinese-inspired dishes you can use to create a protein-packed meal for fewer calories than at many other casual dining chains. The Panda Express Wok Smart menu has several sensible entree options, but keep in mind that adding sides, beverages, and sweets easily increases the calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sodium of your meal. While many diners can create a tasty and satisfying meal at Panda Express, if you have food allergies or eat a special diet, you may find your options limited.

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