When it comes to choosing between Chick-fil-A and Panda Express you might not be sure which restaurant is better for your health.
Is Chick-fil-A or Panda Express a healthier fast food choice? Panda Express is healthier than Chick-fil-A because most menu items are lower in calories, fat, and sodium. However, Chick-fil-A still ranks highly in terms of being healthy as they have many high protein options and more variety in terms of salads and side dishes.
Depending on your nutrition goals, you might discover that you can more easily meet your needs at one restaurant verus the other. In this article, I’ll give you the details on the most popular and healthiest menu items at each chain.
You’ll also learn:
- The pros and cons of Chick-fil-A & Panda Express
- If Chick-fil-A or Panda Express is a healthier choice
- Which menu items from each location are better for you
- How to order a healthy meal option at both Chick-fil-A & Panda Express
Chick-fil-A vs. Panda Express: Overview
Chick-fil-A is an American fast-food restaurant chain that specializes in fried and grilled chicken menu items based on high-quality, antibiotic-free chicken.
The vegetables for their toppings and side dishes are of equally high quality and fresh produce is restocked several times each week from local farmers.
At Chick-fil-A, chicken is the star of the show (the chain does not have any beef or seafood options).
However, Chick-fil-A does have a number of breakfast items (featuring chicken, bacon or pork sausage), as well as salads and side dishes.
The majority of their menu items are higher in calories, fats, and sodium than Panda Express. I was actually surprised to find out that Panda Express was lower in sodium because of a commonly held belief that Asian dishes are high in sodium.
This is an important consideration for anyone who has been advised to keep their sodium intake low, perhaps due to high blood pressure.
Chick-fil-A also has a very limited selection of options that are suitable for vegetarians or vegans.
That said, Chick-fil-A main menu items are higher in protein than Panda Express, which is usually a positive for helping to meet protein targets.
- Better Quality Meat
- Fresher Produce
- More Variety of Menu Items
- Higher Protein
- Higher Calories
- Higher Fat
- Higher in Sodium
- Limited Plant-Based Meal Options
Panda Express offers an Asian dining experience with a focus on traditional Chinese cuisine turned into fresh and fast meals for North American tastes. Panda Express menu items are lower in calories, fat, and sodium than Chick-fil-A.
It’s much harder to find information about where the protein sources and vegetables for Panda Express come from, which leads me to believe that they are more likely to be using conventional products such as animals that are raised using antibiotics.
That said, the menu at Panda Express includes a much wider variety of protein options compared with Chick-fil-A, including chicken, beef, steak, shrimp, and fish.
So far, neither Chick-fil-A or Panda Express has brought on a plant-based meat alternative.
However, Panda Express does have Eggplant Tofu as an entree featuring a plant-based source of protein, whereas Chick-fil-A only has salads and side dishes for plant-based meals, without a protein source.
- Lower Calories
- Lower Fat
- Lower in Sodium
- More Variety of Protein
- Lower Quality Meats
- Lower Protein Content
Comparing Chick-fil-A & Panda Express: Which Is Healthier?
To determine whether Chick-fil-A or Panda Express is healthier it’s important to compare them across different metrics of nutrition to see which one comes out on top.
Chick-fil-A has menu items that range in calories from 45 to 720 calories, whereas Panda Express has menu items that range from 45 to 520 calories.
The average entree at Chick-fil-A has 372 calories, but the average entree at Panda Express has only 294 calories.
The average entree at Chick-fil-A has 4.2g of saturated fat; the single highest item is the Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich with 8g.
The average entree at Panda Express has 3.1g of saturated fat; the single highest items are the Shanghai Angus Steak or Grilled Teriyaki Chicken, each with 4g. This is only half the saturated fat of Chick-fil-A’s sandwich.
Panda Express menu items have significantly less sodium on average than Chick-fil-A’s menu items. The average entree at Panda Express has 705mg of sodium, whereas the average entree at Chick-fil-A has 1150mg (more than 50% greater).
Panda Express has only one menu item with no sodium (plain steamed white rice), and its highest-sodium menu item is the Ginger Steamed Fish with 1990mg.
Chick-fil-A’s only menu items with no sodium are its fruit cups; its large chicken soup has the highest sodium content with a whopping 1920mg.
The upper limit for sodium intake is 2300mg; however, the recommended sodium intake for those who want to maintain healthy blood pressure is between 1200 to 1500mg per day. It would be much harder to stay within this range eating at Chick-fil-A compared with Panda Express.
Related Article: 12 Best Low Sodium Panda Express Meals (What To Eat)
Ease of Customization
Chick-fil-A and Panda Express are very similar when it comes to customization because both restaurants give you the opportunity to mix and match side dishes with entrees, and what sauces are used.
- At Chick-fil-A you can order a burger without a bun if you’re trying to reduce your carb intake
- At Panda Express you can skip rice or noodles if you’re trying to reduce your carb intake
Customization allows you to tailor your meal based on your personal preferences and health and fitness goals.
Quality of Produce
Chick-fil-A makes its salads on-site daily to ensure freshness. The vegetables for the salads and for toppings come from deliveries of fresh produce that arrive at the store multiple times a week.
The nutrients in fresh produce are at their peak when it is first picked. Getting fresh produce means that your food will have more vitamins and minerals than if the produce is older and/or has undergone more processing such as cooking it into dishes or sauces.
Panda Express doesn’t provide information about how often its produce is restocked.
Quality of Meat
When deciding whether a restaurant is healthy, it’s also important to consider the quality of the meat in its meals. One important aspect is whether the animals are raised with the use of antibiotics. Eating meat that contains antibiotics can make germs more resistant to drugs, which makes medications less effective.
Chick-fil-A’s chicken is whole breast meat raised with no antibiotics,no fillers, and no added hormones. The chicken is then breaded by hand in the restaurant for Chick-fil-A’s Original Chicken menu items.
Panda Express doesn’t provide information about the source of its chicken, beef, shrimp, or fish.
Chick-fil-A does not currently have any plant-based entrees.
Its vegan options are salads and side dishes: salads (without meat or cheese), fries, fruit cups, and a wrap (without meat or cheese). For vegetarians, there are the same options plus English muffins, biscuits, and yogurt parfaits.
Panda Express has its Eggplant Tofu as a plant-based entree.
There are also several seafood dishes (some vegetarians also include fish in their diet). Beyond that, Panda Express has a Super Greens entree, and many of its side dishes are suitable for vegetarians/vegans: chow mein, chow fun, rice, and a vegetable spring roll.
Menu Items: Side by Side Comparison
Chick-fil-A and Panda Express do not offer the same types of meals, so a direct head-to-head comparison is not possible.
However, I will show some common meals that have similar ingredients.
Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich vs. Panda Express String Bean Chicken Breast
|Nutrition Info||Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich||Panda Express String Bean Chicken Breast|
|Calories||310 calories||190 calories|
The String Bean Chicken Breast dish from Panda Express is lower in calories, carbs and sodium than the Grilled Chicken Sandwich from Chick-fil-A. The dish also contains string beans, so it includes a serving of vegetables compared to just a topping on a burger.
However, the protein content of the Chick-fil-A sandwich is double, and the sandwich is lower in fat.
An option to reduce the calorie and carb content for the Chick-fil-A sandwich is to order it without the bun.
Chick-fil-A Side Salad vs. Panda Express Super Greens Side
|Nutrition Info||Chick-fil-A Side Salad|
|Panda Express Super Greens Side|
|Calories||80 calories||45 calories|
The Panda Express Super Greens side dish is lower in calories, carbs and fat, and higher in protein, than the Chick-fil-A side salad.
However, the Chick-fil-A side salad has less than half the sodium content of the Panda Express Super Greens side.
Chick-fil-A Chicken Soup vs. Panda Express Hot & Sour Soup
|Nutrition Info||Chick-fil-A Chicken Soup|
|Panda Express Hot & Sour Soup |
|Calories||240 calories||170 calories|
The Chick-fil-A chicken soup is higher in calories, carbs and sodium than the hot & sour soup from Panda Express. It does, however, offer nearly double the amount of protein, and the fat content is the same.
Healthy Meal Options at Chick-fil-A
Really, you can make healthy choices at any fast food restaurant.
The key is to focus on what and how much you eat, regardless of where.
Below, I’ll be giving my top recommendations for the healthiest meals at either Chick-fil-A or Panda Express.
My top 3 healthy meal recommendations from Chick-fil-A are:
1. Egg White Grill + Fruit Cup
A healthy breakfast option from Chick-fil-A is the Egg White Grill. This option is high in protein to help keep you feeling full, but lower in fat and calories than options with whole eggs. The addition of a fruit cup makes an overall balanced meal.
The Egg White Grill and the Fruit Cup (medium size) together have 345 calories, 8g fat, 45g carbs, 27g protein, 3g fiber, and 980mg sodium.
The sodium content of this meal can be reduced by 230mg by removing the cheese from the Egg White Grill.
2. Grilled Market Salad w/Toppings
Another healthy meal option from Chick-fil-A is the Grilled Market Salad with Toppings. This meal is high in protein from the chicken and is also a great source of micronutrients and fiber from the vegetables in the salad.
This salad has 330 calories, 15g fat, 26g carbs, 27g protein, 6g fiber, and 690mg of sodium. This includes the salad dressing.
Ordering this salad with the dressing on the side will allow you to reduce the amount of calories, fat, and sodium.
3. Grilled Chicken Sandwich + Side Salad
The third healthy meal option that I would suggest you order from Chick-fil-A is the Grilled Chicken Sandwich with a side salad to create an overall balanced meal.
The grilled chicken is an excellent lean source of protein. The carbs in this meal come from the bun and the vegetables in the salad. The fat source is mainly the salad dressing. The vegetables provide fiber and micronutrients.
The overall meal is 470 calories, 17g fat, 48g carbs, 35g protein, 6g fiber, and 1000mg of sodium.
Skipping the toppings for the salad saves 80 calories, 6.5g fat, 6g carbs, 1g protein and 70mg of sodium.
Healthy Meal Options At Panda Express
My top 3 healthy meal recommendations from Panda Express are:
1. String Bean Chicken Breast + Kids’ Steamed Rice + Super Greens Side
My first meal recommendation from Panda Express is the String Bean Chicken Breast entree with a side of the kids’ size steamed rice and a side of super greens to create a high-protein meal with lots of vitamins & minerals.
Panda Express has an extensive kids’ menu, with all of the main menu items appearing in a smaller serving size, which is also perfect for adults who are looking to manage their overall calorie intake. If it is not possible to order from the kids’ menu, then the other option is to simply eat half of the regular steamed rice order and save the rest for another time.
The overall meal is 475 calories, 10.5g fat, 72g carbs, 22g protein, 7g fiber and 720mg of sodium.
2. Shanghai Angus Steak + Super Greens Side
My next meal recommendation from Panda Express is the Shanghai Angus Steak and Super Greens for a lower-carb meal option that is high in protein.
The Super Greens is a great option to add to any meal from Panda Express to add micronutrients and fiber for minimal added calories (only 45 calories in the side dish size).
The entire meal is only 355 calories, 20.5g fat, 22g carbs, 22g protein, 4g fiber and 920mg of sodium.
3. Broccoli Beef + Kids’ Steamed Rice
My final meal recommendation from Panda Express is Broccoli Beef, again paired with the kids’ size of white steamed rice for lower overall calories and carbs.
The meal is 390 calories, 7g fat, 67g carbs, 14g protein, 2g fiber, and only 520mg of sodium.
Other Fast Food Chain Comparisons
- Which is Healthier: McDonald’s or KFC?
- Which is Healthier: McDonald’s or Subway?
- Which is Healthier: McDonald’s or Burger King?
- Which is Healthier: Chick-fil-A or McDonald’s?
- Which Is Healthier Subway or Taco Bell?
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.