Food on the Run: Panda Express

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As we have seen in our ongoing Food on the Run series, the calories, fat and sodium content at fast food restaurants tends to be quite high and finding better choices can be difficult. Our goal remains to offer things to consider when ordering as well as providing you with specific nutrition information for some of your better choices.

In this week's installment of Food on the Run, we will take a closer look at a fast food style restaurant that can typically be found in shopping malls and supermarkets throughout 38 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, Panda Express

Many individual entrées and side items at Panda Express meet our guidelines and provide less than 250 calories and 10 grams of fat. These can easily be identified with the new Wok Smart identification symbols. However, when you add several of these items together, this is usually no longer the case and it is difficult to find a meal that is less than 500 calories and 20 grams of fat. One of the best options in this case is to plan on eating only half of the serving size and either sharing the other half with a friend or taking it home for another meal.

Things to Consider

  • There are no gluten-free items available at this restaurant chain and some of the dishes contain allergens such as eggs, peanuts or shellfish.
  • Panda Express does not use MSG in their food but care is still necessary when making selections if lower sodium intake is desired.
  • Avoiding fried foods is always your best bet to reduce your fat intake. Panda Express entrees and side items contain zero grams of Trans Fat because of the use of 100% soybean when preparing recipes.
  • There are vegetable-based entrees which are wonderful lower calorie and fat choices. However, it is important to note that they would not be certified vegetarian because of the cooking processes that are used which include the use of shared equipment that has been used with meats.
  • Appetizers are usually fried so it would be better to avoid selecting one as a meal starter.
  • Rice and noodles provide the basis of many entrée selections. Chow Mein noodles and fried rice are higher fat choices so stick with the steamed rice and ask if they have brown steamed rice as an option. You can also skip these all together in favor of a double serving of vegetables.
  • Sauces can slip calories into your overall meal without even realizing it. Mandarin Sauce is the higher calorie option compared to Potsticker sauce, which is the best choice.
  • With a fortune cookie only providing 32 calories and 2 grams of fat, there is no need for concern about including one at the end of your meal.

Some Good Choices

Egg Flower Soup – 12 oz serving
Calories – 90
Fat – 2.5 grams
Sodium – 895 mg
Carbohydrates – 16 grams
Fiber – 0 grams
Protein – 2 grams

Hot & Sour Soup – 12 oz serving
Calories – 110
Fat – 3.5 grams
Sodium – 1370 mg
Carbohydrates – 14 grams
Fiber – 2 grams
Protein – 5 grams

Mandarin Chicken with a double serving of Mixed Vegetables
Calories – 430 calories
Fat – 24 grams
Sodium – 1370 mg
Carbohydrates – 24 grams
Fiber – 6 grams
Protein – 35 grams

King Pao Chicken and Mixed Vegetables
Calories – 330
Fat – 22 grams
Sodium – 650 mg
Carbohydrates – 20 grams
Fiber – 8 grams
Protein – 18 grams

Tangy Shrimp with Pineapple and Mixed Veggies
Calories – 240
Fat – 12 grams
Sodium – 660 mg
Carbohydrates – 24 grams
Fiber – 5 grams
Protein – 11 grams

Broccoli Beef with Vegetable Chow Mein
Calories – 540
Fat – 19 grams
Sodium – 1530 mg
Carbohydrates – 70 grams
Fiber – 11 grams
Protein – 22 grams

String Bean Chicken Breast with Steamed Rice
Calories – 540
Fat – 10.5 grams
Sodium – 580 mg
Carbohydrates – 91 grams
Fiber – 8 grams
Protein – 21 grams

Have you seen this restaurant in your area? Have we seen them in all 38 states?

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ELRIDDICK 6/20/2017
Thanks for sharing Report
Time to re-visit this one. Panda Express no longer have soup and they have changed up some of their regular offerings. Report
We have Panda Express here in Wisconsin. I like their variety as opposed to the local Chinese take-out. It's a "treat" for my daughter and I to get together for lunch and their Orange Sauce is yummy and available for sale. Report
I never been there but would like to go now. Doesn't seem so bad. Report
Thank goodness I'm not a Panda Express fan. While I have most certainly had their food on numerous occasions, it's most certainly not my first thought when I think of fast food and especially not when I think of chinese food. Report
I LOVE Panda Express! Unfortunately, my favorite thing there has close to 1,000 calories (Beijing Beef), so I eat there only rarely, and I make sure everything else on my plate is veggies. :) But they do have some excellent lower-calorie options, so I would highly recommend it. Report
glad to see Kung Pao low(ish) in calories! Report
Thanks for the suggestions! Report
They are good; lucky for me it is about a 20 minute drive to get there which usually isn't worth the drive when I am really hungry. Report
We're down to 38 states? My grandson's favorite is the tofu and veggies. Report
How come the steamed rice is lumped in with the string bean chicken nutrition numbers? I usually just get it a la carte with no rice, or just share one serving of rice with my hubby. Or else I get steamed veggies as the side. Or maybe half steamed rice, half veggies.

Kelly, you can get just a single item--just order it a la carte (the ones by my house allow it). Report
About the only time I eat at Panda Express is when I'm at the mall and have limited choices. I tried one of the free standing Panda Expresses to see if it was any better than the ones at mall food courts and was equally disappointed.

When I'm at the mall and the other choices are BBQ, Pizza and Burgers Panda Expresses is often the best and healthiest choice but there is a lot better Chinese food out there.

Tonight I ate at Panda Express, but I looked online at the menu and put a plan together. I still got the two entries I love and saved the chow mein for my mom tomorrow. I looked at the sodium and it was high, but my sodium total was pretty low today, so I still came in under my limit. Report
Oh whine - heehee - my FAVORITE there is the Orange Chicken, which isn't listed here, but I've looked before & it is the Worst one. sigh. I don't eat it often at all. But my oh my..... Report
im guilty of pulling my fiance over to Panda Express when we want a quick bite, but this made me see that just because it's good, doesnt mean i should always have it. i think im gonna start going with the kung pao and double veggies instead of my beef and broccoli with steamed rice and an egg roll! Report
I've only eaten at Panda Express twice. We have them all around the metro Atlanta area. I love their Kung Pao chicken but I didn't know there was soooo much sodium in it. Looks like I will have to avoid eating there from now on because I am supposed to limit my sodium intake. Thanks for the helpful information. Report
They are all over CA. It used to be you could only find them in a mall food court, but they are now popping up as stand alone restaurants. We have one close to our house that has a drive-thru, but we try to not eat there too often. Especially since I like the Orange Chicken and Beijing Beef! Report
We love Panda Express but have cut down eating there because of the sodium! After eating, I always swell up and extremely thristy! Report
I'm almost always high on sodium but so glad to see that I can get something from one of my favorite restaurants and not feel quite so guilty about the choice and eating out! It should be a good guide for choosing at other Asian restaurants as well.
Is Panda Express the same as Panda? If not are there any in Southwestern PA? Report
I am floored by the sodium content in some of the "good" choices recommended above. Sure there may be lower calories and fat but isn't overall health what we should be going for? Plus all of that sodium can promote water weight gain that will show on the scale. . . Report
Also, for everyone who has posted that there isn't a lot of nutritional value at PE, remember it's all about what you order. Everything I order has tons of vegetables - if I were to eat the whole 2 entree plate, I would have at least 4 servings of vegetables! I'm in Washington state, and the PE's here have VERY fresh food, the veggies are cut fresh daily and of consistently high quality here. Report
Panda Express is my favorite fast food restaurant - my boyfriend gets his "Chinese Food" fix, and I get healthier fast food. I usually get the 2 entree meal, with string bean chicken breast, tangy shrimp and mixed veggies on the side. Once in a while as a treat I will get half chow mein & half veggies for my side instead. And then I usually only eat half of everything! All that for around $6.00 Report
Haven't tried it yet, but printed out the nutritional information in case I do. Report
I've not seen them in my corner of PA, nor did I notice any while on vacation in Tennessee and Alabama. Report
The MSG in soy sauce and chinese food triggers migraines for me, swells my tongue, and makes me feel bad.
I feel cheated, because I love the taste. It is just not good for me. Report
I am not familiar with them, I will be on the look out when out of town. Report
As with most franchises, PE quality varies from place to place. The one near us is quite good, with very fresh veggies, so we go there about twice a month for takeout. I like the veggie and chicken dishes (Stringbean Chicken, Mushroom Chicken, Snow Pea Chicken, etc.) and DH likes the beef and/or fried items. I find their servings HUGE, so usually make 2 meals, sometimes 3 out of a single purchase. The sodium is a bit high, true, but I use my nutrition tracker to balance it out for the day/week. Report
Thanks Im really learn a lot Report
We hardly ever go to fancy Chinese restaurants, forget the Chinese fast food, only due to their extra salt content and fat. I am truly amazed at a couple of dishes listed that have less than 600 mgs of sodium and not very high in fat. Thanks, now I know which dish I can eat if I am hungry at the mall. Report
Panda Express is like the equivalent of a Chinese McDonald's, IMO. I would rather time my visits to the mall so that it doesn't include mealtime. I have never been impressed with the quality of their food, either. I think I'll stick to my home cooking. Or to places that have better quality food; if I'm going to eat out infrequently, I'm not going to pick Panda Express over my favorite Japanese hibachi, BBQ pit, or Steak House. Report
I was surprised to see that there were lower calorie items at PE; I've been avoiding it. I have one near my home and it is hard to drive past because it smells sooo good. My favorite is the String Bean Chicken but I may switch to the Kung Pao since the calorie levels are less. I don't usually order the starchy sides like rice or noodles. I notice that one poster said the String Bean chicken alone is only about 200 calories so maybe I will stick with it. Report
Way to much sodium and empty calories. And I'm hungry an hour later after that junk! I'd much rather occassionally splurge at PF Changs. Report
We have them in central California. I eat there occasionally. It's not the best Chinese food but is quick and easy when your in a hurry. Report
I've only eaten at Panda Express once or twice. I was less than impressed. It's good to know the nutritional info, though, if I'm ever in a pinch. Report
I never been to Panda Express, but I figured that it wouldn't be a very healthy choice to eat there, because it is a chain and very Americanized. My husband is Chinese and if we want to eat Chinese food, we make it at home or go to Chinatown for a real Chinese dish. Report
I used to eat at Panda Express on a fairly regular basis for lunch, but I'd rather go to a Real Chinese restauarant, or Thai...I don't much care for the Americanized version of Asian foods. Report
I love Chinese, but avoid eating and/or cooking it as much as possible because of the sodium. (Even low sodium soy sauce has too much sodium in it!) Report
As Albert & Pogo would say: "Oooooooog." No thanks - way too much sodium, way too much cornstarch, way too much sugar. Plus all that packaging and waste. We love "real" Chinese food (meaning homemade and not drowning in sauce, which is an American invention) and make it at least 2-3x week at home. If you love Chinese, I urge you to find a good cookbook and learn to do it right - it's MUCH healthier than anything you'll find in a restaurant. Guess what? Most real Chinese recipes contain very little (if any) soy sauce! Report
My family likes Panda Express but WOW we did not know it used that much salt. This will llimit how often and what we will eat there. Thank you for this info. Report
I have eaten at Panda Express in GA. I, too, find some of the items a little too salty because I have somehow unintentionally decreased my taste for salt over the years - which has been good for me in the long run. But I like the opportunity to make several veggie choices. Report
I saw this restaurant only when I was living in California. It is a very good restaurant overall. The food is usually pretty freshly cooked. My family enjoyed eating there several times. Unfortunately we don't have any in my local Florida area. Report
i love Panda Express and its good to know what foods I can still eat if I was craving for that food Report
They are all over Arizona. People here love them but every time I eat it I get sick. Report
I don't care for Chinese food much. Report
We don't eat fast food so not sure if they have it in Calgary. Even if they do, that wouldn't be my choice. I like Chinese food but my stomach doesn't like it. Report
I'm in Texas and there is one on every corner!!! I don't frequent this restaurant often though because I don't like that the food is just sitting there. I only visit restaurants that cook to order and I make substitutions. Oh, and I always order kids meals and take out so they don't ask questions. Report
In New Jersey, Panda Express is pretty much limited to food courts in malls. My perception of them is that they are not a healthy option and that I would rather eat at a "real" Chinese restaurant. I was in southern California in February and was surprised at how many free standing PEs were there. You have to be careful with Chinese food. A lot of it is very fattening and/or high in sodium. Report
I usually hit the PE once a month as a treat....I happen to know the manager and when its not busy, A.M. will wok smart me my veggies, which is the zuchini, brocolli, carrots, waterchestnuts and greenbeans, steamed in water. I hit it with a little soy sauce when its done and I am happy happy happy!! Report
I have recently found Panda Express near me and I have to say its a great alternative to the Chinese carry out I used to buy. The Panda bowl is the perfect serving size and I can get a pretty decent dish for under 400 calories. I had pretty much given up going for Chinese carry out when I started my weight loss journey - WAY TOO MUCH FOOD. I love to cook asian food, and make much healthier dishes, but sometimes I need to pickup a quick meal on the way home from work and I will choose this over any fast food place going. At least I am getting chicken breast & vegetables rather than a burger and fries. Report
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