What To Eat For Health – Part 7: At Panda Express

what to eat for health

Over the course of these Restaurant Survival Guides, we’ve mostly stuck with burger and fry types of restaurants except for Chipotle. However, today I want to branch out a bit and find out just what to eat for health from the self-proclaimed “fast-casual Chinese restaurant”, Panda Express.

Welcome back for Part 7 of our series on learning how to eat healthy when you can’t eat at home! If you are interested in the other installments, please feel free to click any of the links below:

For those of you who are new to the site, welcome! The way these articles generally work is that I take an in-depth look at a certain restaurant. I go into the history behind the establishment and look at the various menu items that they offer, before finally giving you some meal options that I think are the healthiest you can get there.

One thing I think is important to mention is that I am by no means saying that if you visit Panda Express, you must get one of these options. I’m merely trying to give information to help you make a healthy decision should you want to.

This is especially true if you only visit these types of restaurants once in a while. If you go infrequently, one unhealthy meal isn’t going to completely derail a healthy lifestyle! One of my goals is to help people who might need to eat out a lot due to their jobs or situations.

Now that you know the purpose of this post, it’s time to take a look at the company behind the food!

How The Panda Got Its Start

The first Panda Express opened in a mall in Glendale, California in 1983 by its founders, Andrew and Peggy Cherng. Since then the company has grown to feature over 2,000 stores across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, South Korea, and Dubai. You can find locations in malls, airports, theme parks, and even sports stadiums now.

Their most famous dish, the Orange Chicken, was developed in 1987, a few years after the first restaurant opened and went on to become a hugely popular option that is still on the menu to this day!

In 2009, they attempted to make a shift toward healthier options with their “Wok Smart” menu that features entrees that are all under 300 calories and have at the very least, 8 grams of protein.

To go with this, they have been focusing on adding more vegetables to their dishes, as well as reducing the amount of sodium and sugar. Part of this is also setting a goal of completely eliminating high fructose corn syrup from all menu items by 2021.

Additionally, they are moving toward fully using chicken raised without antibiotics and cage free eggs while eliminating artificial colors and flavors for their food.

However, they aren’t just all about profits and cuisine. Panda Express has always tried to give back to the community in several ways.

They offer their employees coaching, mentorship, as well as health benefits, 401K for those in eligible positions, paid time off, holidays, sick leave, and scholarship programs.

To give back to the communities that support them, they started Panda Cares in 1999. Through Panda Cares, they are helping “under served” youth by donating food, money, and volunteer opportunities and giving towards disaster relief.

If you want to learn more about Panda Express, you can feel free to visit their “About Us” page. For more information on their Panda Cares program, CLICK HERE.

Additionally, take a look at their 30th anniversary video to hear from those who actually work with them:

Since we have taken a look at the company behind the food, it’s time to actually take a look at what Panda Express offers!

Express Food – What Panda Express Offers

Interestingly, because of the COVID-19 situation, Panda Express has started to temporarily offer a simpler menu featuring their best-selling items. Therefore, you won’t find as extensive a menu when you visit as you normally would.

However, there is still a wide selection of items to choose from, broken down into several categories including: Appetizers, Entrees, Sides, Desserts, and the Tea Bar, all of which I will go over here.





The Tea Bar:

  • Milk Teas: Hot or Cold with Tapioca bubbles or without.
    • Panda Tea
    • Thai Tea
    • Matcha Tea
    • Creme Brulee Tea
  • Fruit Teas:
    • Strawberry Tea
    • Raspberry Tea
    • Hibiscus Tea
    • Passion Fruit Tea
  • Lemonades:
    • Classic
    • Strawberry
    • Raspberry
    • Ginger
    • Pomegranate Pinapple
    • Hibiscus
  • Sparkling Yogurts:
    • Strawberry
    • Mango
    • Pineapple
  • Smoothies:
    • Mango

You can also add Honey Boba, Jelly, Fruit Jelly, Aloe Vera, Pudding, or Chia Seeds to any drink and they have partnered with Coca-Cola for their soft drink offerings.

Before we get into the healthy meal options, let’s take a little break and visit our resident professional eater, Matt Stonie who took on a whole platter of Panda Express’s Chow Mein!

After that break, it’s time now to get into the meal options! As with every other survival guide, nutritional information will be presented in a way that reflects the percent daily values (DV) for a 2000 calorie diet. Here is an example of how it will be written:

Calories: 750 (37.5%)

For more information about the recommended daily value numbers, check out the FDA website.

Meal Option #1 – Mushroom Chicken with Full Portion of Super Greens, Steamed White Rice, and Water.

As far as the chicken is concerned, it was between this and the Kung Pow Chicken. I went with this because simply because their was less sodium. Here are the stats for this full meal:

  • Calories: 690 (34.5% DV)
  • Total Fat: 16.5g (25.3% DV)
    • Saturated Fat: 2.5g (12.5% DV)
    • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Cholesterol: 50mg (16.7% DV)
  • Sodium: 1,100mg (45.8% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 108g (36.0% DV)
    • Dietary Fiber: 6g (24%DV)
    • Sugar: 8g
  • Protein: 25g

Overall, this meal has a good amount of calories, as well as total fat, carbohydrates, and protein to keep you full and going for hours. I love the amount of fiber that is present. The only thing that really gives me much concern is the sodium, which seems par for the course when you are dealing with a soy sauce base, and restaurant food in general.

Meal Option #2 – Beef: Black Pepper Angus Steak with Super Greens, Steamed White Rice, and Water

It was between this and the Broccoli Beef and I chose this because it had a much higher protein content.

  • Calories: 650 (32.5% DV)
  • Total Fat: 9.5g (14.6% DV)
    • Saturated Fat: 2g (10.0% DV)
    • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Cholesterol: 40mg (13.3% DV)
  • Sodium: 1,010mg (42.1% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 107g (35.6% DV)
    • Dietary Fiber: 6g (24%DV)
    • Sugar: 10g
  • Protein: 32g

As you can see, this meal combination has even less fat than the chicken, a great amount of fiber, and a nice total amount of protein. My only concerns are once again the sodium content and that the sugar is a higher.

Meal Option #3: Seafood – Firecracker Shrimp with Super Greens, Steamed White Rice, and Water.

Between the spicy Firecracker Shrimp and the Honey Shrimp with Walnuts, this was the obvious choice since the shrimp are not fried.

  • Calories: 580 (29.0% DV)
  • Total Fat: 6g (25.3% DV)
    • Saturated Fat: 0.5g (9.2% DV)
    • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Cholesterol: 85mg (28.3% DV)
  • Sodium: 890mg (37.1% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 104g (34.7% DV)
    • Dietary Fiber: 6g (24%DV)
    • Sugar: 8g
  • Protein: 24g

The Firecracker Shrimp is a great choice for those who are looking for the lowest calorie option, but still want some type of meat on the plate. It is also the lowest fat option of the meats, has the least amount of sodium (though still a bit high), and retains the fiber!

Meal Option #4: Vegetarian: Super Greens with Steamed White Rice, and Water

There isn’t a vegetarian Entree listed, so I put together a double portion of the super greens side to give a better idea of what a full portion would be like.

  • Calories: 560 (28.0% DV)
  • Total Fat: 5g (7.7% DV)
    • Saturated Fat: 0g (0% DV)
    • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg (0% DV)
  • Sodium: 520mg (21.7% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 107g (35.7% DV)
    • Dietary Fiber: 10g (40%DV)
    • Sugar: 8g
  • Protein: 19g

This all veggie option is a great choice for those who don’t want meat on their dish, but still want a satisfying meal. It still has a good amount of calories, is lower in fat and in sodium, while containing a boatload of fiber. Perhaps where I was most impressed is that there is still a decent amount of protein!

Which Option Is For You?

what to eat for health

Photo by Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash

I hope that this post has given you some insight into what to eat for health at Panda Express. I was really happy to see that there are some great options as I wasn’t expecting much from a primarily mall-based establishment! I was also glad to see that some of their main dishes were on this list, so you don’t have to sacrifice flavor for health!

Wherever you turn, there is opportunity for a filling and nutritious meal full of quality protein and vegetables!

However, now it’s your turn! What do you think of Panda Express? Have you ever been to one? Tell me about your experience there! Unfortunately, the famous Orange Chicken didn’t make the list, but have any of you tried it before? Let me know all your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!

If you are looking for ways to eat better when you are at home, check out these great resources!


Food Analysis:

Ingredients / Nutritional Additions:

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Finally, are you looking to make some extra money, save money and get free gift cards, or potentially start your own business? Check out my suggestions!

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I hope you get some good reading out of this and the other posts mentioned!

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That’s all for now! As always, God bless and Happy Eating!