With more than 2,000 locations in shopping malls, food courts and stand-alone restaurants, Panda Express rises to the top of the list for many people on the hunt for a quick lunch option. The American-Chinese chain lets you mix and match entrees and sides, making it easy to create a combination that’s loaded with calories, fat and several days’ worth of sodium.
But don’t worry, not all Panda Express options weigh you down. Here’s how to order at Panda Express and get a somewhat balanced meal, while still reaping the benefits of quick-service convenience.
Why it made the cut: This bowl combines protein, whole grains and vegetables for a balanced meal. It’ll keep you full with 17 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, while clocking in at just 330 calories.
RD tip: Stick to a bowl with one entree and one side at Panda Express. Their entrees quickly add on the sodium, and opting for a plate with one side and two entrees could easily provide a full day’s worth.
Why it made the cut: This bowl also combines protein, whole grains and veggies to keep you satisfied, without going overboard on calories or sodium. The lighter sauce on the broccoli beef keeps the sodium in check, making this entree a great choice for those looking for something other than chicken.
RD tip: A side of brown rice at Panda Express is 10.5 ounces, which is a ton of brown rice. Eat just 1/3 of that for a reasonable 3.5-ounce serving — and take home the other 2/3 to use in two more meals later on.
Why it made the cut: Most seafood options at Panda Express clock in at nearly 2,000 milligrams of sodium, so if you’re in the mood for shrimp, the Honey Walnut Shrimp is your best bet for an entree at just under 450mg. The side of veggies adds a bit more sodium, but it helps make a satisfying meal with 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber for less than 400 calories.
RD tip: When your entree doesn’t come with any veggies (yes, it happens), order a side of steamed veggies to add volume, fiber and nutrients without tacking on tons of calories.
Why it made the cut: This popular chicken bowl packs in a whopping 38 grams of protein to keep you satisfied, along with veggies that add filling fiber, all for less than 350 calories.
RD tip: This meal has just over 800 milligrams of sodium, but if you’re eating lots of home-cooked healthy meals and generally lower-sodium foods throughout the day, it can certainly fit into a healthy diet as an easy option when you’re in a time crunch. If sodium is on the watch-list for you, sub the veggies for the brown rice to save yourself 280mg of sodium.
Why it made the cut: This side adds satisfying volume and 3 grams of filling fiber for just 35 calories, making it a great way to round out your meal without weighing you down.
RD tip: Stir-fried vegetables can often add an unexpectedly high amount of fat and sodium, so sticking to steamed vegetables is usually your best bet. If you get a saucy entree, some of that sauce can carry over to flavor your vegetables, so you won’t miss the flavor of stir-fried veggies.
Why it made the cut: When you eat just 1/3 of the side serving of brown rice, you end up with a side dish that clocks in at just 140 calories, making it the perfect way to round out an entree with some whole grains.
RD tip: Opt for steamed brown rice over fried rice to save around 400 calories and 8 grams of fat per 3 1/2-ounce serving, while also incorporating more fiber, vitamins and minerals from whole grains.
Why it made the cut: Without many vegetarian options on the menu, grabbing a vegetable spring roll is your best bet if you need a quick snack while stopping by a Panda Express. One spring roll clocks in at just under 100 calories, with plenty of savory, satisfying flavor.
RD tip: Order a bowl with steamed veggies as a side and a vegetable spring roll as the entree if you’re in need of a larger vegetarian option. You won’t get much in the way of protein, but it’s the better choice calorie-wise.
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