Panda Express is definitely a great place to satisfy your lust for Chinese food on-the-go, as this fast-food chain provides scrumptious beef, seafood, and chicken dishes that will wow your taste buds big time. However, Chinese food tends to pack a lot of sodium, making it important to choose your meal choices off the Panda Express menu with caution.
To help you decipher the Panda Express menu carefully, we spoke to two expert dietitians about all the best and worst appetizers, sides, chicken, and beef choices available on the Chinese restaurant’s menu. Below are some of the things to order if you’re planning to grab the gang together and pay this popular fast food restaurant a visit.
Best: Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
“The Grilled Teriyaki Chicken is one of the best chicken options on the Panda Express menu, as it is within a 200-400 calorie range and contains 36 grams of protein,” says registered dietitian Summer Yule, MS, RDN. Protein can help increase feelings of satiety, she adds.
Best: String Bean Chicken Breast
Yule explains that the String Bean Chicken Breast is suitable for those looking for a lighter option, as it only contains 190 calories and has the lowest amount of saturated fat of all the chicken options listed on the menu. This dish also offers some essential fiber because of the string beans, she adds.
Worst: Black Pepper Chicken
The Black Pepper Chicken dish may be one of the lighter items on the menu, but Yule suggests that it earns a spot on the “worst” list because it has a whopping 1,130 milligrams sodium. “This is about half of the sodium limit the Dietary Guidelines recommends for the entire day,” she says.
Worst: Orange Chicken
“The Orange Chicken dish is highest in calories, saturated fat, and total carbohydrates out of all the chicken choices on the menu,” Yule says. It is also one of the chicken options that is highest in sodium on the Panda Express menu as well, she adds.
Beef or Shrimp
Best: Broccoli Beef
“The Broccoli Beef dish is lowest in sugar and total carbohydrates, making it a good option for those who are watching their carb intake,” suggests Yule. It is also the lowest in calories and lowest in saturated fat of the beef items listed, she adds. However, since this is such a light entree, she recommends adding in some brown rice to balance out the meal and make it more filling.
Best: Honey Walnut Shrimp
Yule explains that shrimp is higher in cholesterol, but that should not discourage you from ordering this dish, as she says people are less concerned with dietary cholesterol than they used to be. And if you are looking for a real omega-3 boost, she says both the shrimp and the walnuts in this dish will definitely help you obtain those necessary healthy fats your body craves.
Worst: Shanghai Angus Steak
Yule says the Shanghai Angus Steak is definitely an item to avoid, as she explains that it is low in fiber and extremely high in fat, sodium, and sugar.
Worst: Beijing Beef
Like the Shanghai Angus Steak, Yule recommends avoiding the Beijing Beef, as it is equally low in fiber and contains a large amount of fat, sodium, and sugar. In fact, this small meat-based dish has more sugar than 4 Chips Ahoy! Chocolate Chip cookies.
Best: Mixed Vegetables
Yule says that the mixed vegetable side dish is the lightest side option on the Panda Express menu, as it only contains 80 calories. In addition, she notes that the vegetables provide essential phytonutrients and fives grams of fiber.
Best: Brown Steamed Rice
“The Brown Steamed Rice side dish is a great choice for those who are looking for a higher energy meal or are on a low sodium diet,” Yule says. The brown rice contains only 15 milligrams of sodium and it has four grams of fiber, she suggests, while the white rice side dish offers zero grams of fiber in comparison.
Worst: Chow Mein
Yule explains that Chow Mein is one the worst sides on the Panda Express menu you can choose, as it contains over 500 calories per serving and over 800 milligrams of sodium. “The Dietary Guidelines recommends limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day,” she says.
Worst: Fried Rice
Like the Chow Mein side, Yule says that the Fried Rice side also contains over 500 calories and 800 milligrams of sodium. In addition, she notes that this dish appears to be lacking in whole grains since it only offers one gram of fiber.
Best: Chicken Potsticker
“The Chicken Potsticker is pan-seared (not fried) and is lower in sodium than many of these options,” says Yule.
Best: Crispy Shrimp
Although Yule says that most appetizer choices on the Panda Express menu are fried, she notes that this option is quite low in calories and fat and is high in protein.
Worst: Cream Cheese Rangoon
Yule explains that the Cream Cheese Rangoon appetizer on the menu contains the highest amount of saturated fat, so she advises not choosing this appetizer if you visit Panda Express on a regular basis.
Worst: Bowl of Hot and Sour Soup
Although this bowl of soup may seem like a healthy choice, registered dietitian Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN, says it is loaded with 1,260 milligrams of sodium. She also suggests that this soup is worth avoiding as it contains the highest amount of sugar (six grams) out of any of the appetizers on the menu.
Best: Fortune Cookie
“At 20 calories each and two grams sugar, this is a sweet but harmless dessert,” Gulbin explains. Hey, you’re ordering off the Panda Express menu—you can’t leave the Chinese restaurant without a fortune cookie, right?