Panda Express: Wok Smart (Low-Calorie) Dishes

7.5 Overall Score
Flavor: 8/10
Healthiness: 8/10
Variety: 7/10

Light, but still filling | Large portions | Strong flavor | Variety of chicken and beef dishes

No vegan options | No regular seafood options | Fatty deposits | Minimal sauce variety

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If you haven’t ever heard of Panda Express—you know: America’s largest Chinese fast-food chain restaurant—you’re probably living in a cave somewhere on an unnamed island in the Pacific. With over 1,600 locations across the US alone, Panda has taken the “land of the free” by storm, and Florida is home to over sixty of these storefronts.

But while that crunchy Orange Chicken or that juicy Shanghai Angus steak may look good and taste even better, they come with hefty price tags, and I’m not talking about, “That’ll be $1.25 extra. Is that OK?” Both dishes (and a majority of Panda’s other offerings) cost over 300 calories in daily nutrition.

So, if you’re like me, you’re thinking, “How can I enjoy my favorite, fast-food, Chinese cuisine without bursting my belt?”

The answer: Panda’s Wok Smart dishes (or servings for under 300 calories).

To really narrow down the focus of this review, however, I’ll be taking the most health-conscientious route and discussing only those dishes with servings less than 200 calories.

Mixed Veggies – 80 Calories

The bad news is that Panda Express only has one “healthy” option when it comes to “choosing sides,” as even their brown rice is over 400 calories a serving.

The good news is that Panda’s mixed veggies aren’t your average greens. Broccoli, zucchini, carrots, string beans, and cabbage—they’re all there, but blended together in a delicious, stir-fry mix that’s neither crispy nor mushy. Served warm and tender, these mixed vegetables offer authentic tastes for a calorie cost that won’t pack on the poundage. Drizzle some of Panda’s Teriyaki sauce (70-80 calories) overtop the greenery for extra, Chinese authenticity and flavor.

Rating: 4½ out of 5

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Broccoli Beef – 150 Calories

thumb-beef-broccoliIf you aren’t crazy for chicken, then you won’t take any “beef” with this dish. (Well, actually, you’ll take quite a bit of beef once you wade through all that broccoli, but—

Sorry, I’ll try to stop the puns.)

Panda’s broccoli beef balances animal and vegetable: thinly flayed and tender beef slices with soft, moist broccoli heads. On top of the marinated meat, this dish is coated with a mild ginger soy sauce and tossed in the wok for maximum flavor.

Whether served as the protein of a Panda Rice Bowl, or accompanying a side of mixed veggies, Broccoli Beef is a Cantonese dish you can’t go wrong with. And as Panda’s lowest calorie-count entrée, you’re guaranteed to get a delicious meal for only a handful of dietary points.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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Mushroom Chicken – 170 Calories

thumb-chicken-mushroomPrepared almost identically to the Broccoli Beef dish, Mushroom Chicken keeps the ginger soy sauce and wok-tossing, but exchanges the beef for diced chicken and the broccoli for zucchini and button mushrooms.

A tender and healthy dish, Mushroom Chicken none-the-less maintains infamy as a crapshoot. While mushrooms and zucchini return again and again impeccably moist and soft, the chicken nearly always tastes room-temperature (and occasionally slimy). Even worse is that, more often than not, you’re likely to get a mouthful of fat instead of poultry, making dining from this dish a delicate and cautious process.

If you’re lucky enough to get a good, fat-free batch straight from the wok, then Mushroom Chicken makes for an ideal meal, especially alongside a serving of rice. Otherwise, you run the risk of picking through a lukewarm, chewy batch of fatty chicken.

Rating: 2 out of 5

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String Bean Chicken Breast – 190 Calories

thumb-chicken-stringbeanIf you find that Mushroom Chicken makes you squirm, but aren’t a fan of beef, then String Bean Chicken Breast may be the solution.

Also wok-tossed in ginger soy sauce, this dish mixes warm, marinated chicken breast among crispy string beans and supple sliced onions. At 190 calories, it’s on the mid-to-high end of Panda’s Wok Smart delicacies, but String Bean Chicken Breast none-the-less offers a healthier alternative to the likes of Black Pepper Chicken or Grilled Teriyaki.

It isn’t as flavorful as Broccoli Beef, but this dish prides itself in airy freshness without any fatty, meat-clinging deposits to ruin your appetite.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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The Verdict

Fast food doesn’t have to be just as fast to ruin your diet—something Panda Express seems to have realized. And while many of their popular Wok Smart dishes run over the 200 calorie range (Kung Pao Chicken, Teriyaki Chicken, etc.) at least four of them sit comfortably between 80 and 200 calories—a relieving and encouraging notion for the health-conscious.

Next time you’re craving your favorite Chinese take-out, don’t skip Panda to spite your diet: skip Orange Chicken, which has over 160 calories of fat; skip Beijing Beef, which has over 240 calories of fat; skip the Chinese Spare Ribs, which clock in at over 230 calories of fat.

And choose something healthier—something Wok Smart.

At Panda, eating what’s healthy and eating what’s nasty don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Whatever you’re craving—beef, chicken, or vegetable—Panda delivers the flavor… without bursting your belt.

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Author: Casey Covel View all posts by
Casey Lynn Covel (known online as “Cutsceneaddict”) is an award-winning, published writer, avid reader, and aspiring author. She runs a nerdy writing blog called Meek-Geek and founded PROJECT: Magic Kingdom Hearts in 2012. When she’s not writing for Geeks Under Grace, Florida Geek Scene, Beneath the Tangles, or FROM JAPAN, she enjoys cosplaying, and has won several awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram for her latest cosplay endeavors. #meekischic

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