Panda Express substitutes brown rice for white in their fried rice
Panda Express is on a mission to make Chinese food a healthier option. After announcing that they were going to rebrand their image and renew their menu in March, the chain has permanently swapped their traditional white fried rice for brown fried rice this month.
“Aren’t we fabulous?” Lunde quipped to reporters at Business Week as he spoke of the chain’s decision to “healthify” the fatty side dish. The swap is only one of many changes to come that will push the restaurant further to having a menu full of items with “taste, quality, health, and sustainability.”
Although the restaurant is excited about their healthy change, the question arises if the change will actually be beneficial to customers’ health. While substituting white for brown rice will add fiber and nutrients such as manganese, magnesium, and zinc, any fried rice (no matter what grain) will still be high in fat and sodium
Bethany Thayer, registered dietician and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, told The Huffington Post that there are pros and cons with the new swap. "I do think that we need to be careful of the 'health halos' that sometimes end up on foods," she said, referring to the possibility that people will consume this new brown fried rice with a guilt-free conscience. However, looking on the bright side of things, Thayer also expressed that the change would positively affect those who would have chosen fried rice regardless because they will benefit from nutrients and fiber.
According to the company, their next step toward ‘healthifying’ their menu is whole grain chow mein.
Skyler Bouchard is a junior writer at the Daily Meal. Follow her on twitter at @skylerbouchard.
This recipe is simple and leans pretty heavily on sweet chili sauce (I love this Trader Joe’s option for it) and is a pretty simple and straightforward recipe. The only thing I wanted to note in case you miss the note in the recipe section is that if you want it to be a true copycat don’t dice the chicken into cubes. You need to cut the chicken into thinner squares, so like a 1 inch by 1 inch square that is maybe 1/4 inch thick. Think of it like the shape of a matchbook a thin square.
So if you’ve been following along you know that I’ve been on a mission to recreate the entire Panda Express menu. Why you ask? Well, as a general rule if I go out for fast food my default options I usually pick are In-N-Out (I made the Animal Style Double Double Cheeseburger and the Animal Style French Fries) and Panda Express. So if you would like to take a trip down Chinese food memory lane, here are all the other recipes we have so far so you can build your two or three item plates at home.
Also it is worth noting that even though the recipe uses white meat, this recipe is only marginally healthier than orange chicken. Just wanted to be up front about that with you guys. In the past I’ve seen the ads that highlight the healthier white meat in the recipe but a quick glance at the nutrition facts says it all. As cookie monster puts it (or at least did for a season or two when he ate veggies), we consider this a sometimes food. Haha. For Panda Express recipes I make all the time, I would stick to the Mushroom Chicken, Black Pepper Chicken and Kung Pao Chicken which are all pretty darn healthy.
Beijing Beef from Panda Express
If you've ever tried the Beijing Beef entree at Panda Express, you probably know it's almost as delicious as the famous Orange Chicken, and a lot of that has to do with its ingredients. According to Panda Express, the entree is a mixture of crispy (AKA fried) beef, red bell peppers, and onions all mixed up in a sweet and tangy sauce. Sounds delicious, right?
What's not delicious is the wildly high fat and saturated fat contents in this dish, topping out at 5 grams of saturated fat for one serving, along with 26 grams of fat. A person's daily recommendation of fat, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, is typically 44 to 78 grams according to Livestrong, so this dish will definitely take up a large chunk of that. But what's really alarming is the saturated fat comparison at 13 grams recommended per day. According to the American Heart Association, it's recommended that consumers keep their consumption of saturated fat as low as possible, as it can lead to heart disease and high cholesterol. With almost half of the daily recommended amount, is that fried beef really worth it?
First, you will cook your rice. Follow the package directions on the rice you use. The rice varieties I use typically take about 45 minutes, so allow for this time when making this recipe.
I used a short grain brown rice (Lundberg brand) for this recipe. It has a nice nutty flavor that's not overpowering, but not bland either.
Other Lundberg rice varieties I love include their Volcano rice and Jubilee rice.
You can use whatever rice you have on hand, as this recipe is very adaptable and forgiving. More short-grain rice varieties can be found on Amazon.
When the rice is almost done, you will heat a non-stick or heavy skillet to low-medium heat. I like to use my Lodge cast iron skillet.
While pan is heating, you will beat the eggs with added salt and pepper in a small bowl until well blended.
The oils will be added to the hot pan next. Don't skimp on using the sesame oil, as it will add some great flavor.
If you don't have it and can't get any, you can just substitute another oil (just be aware that the flavor won't be as rich).
You could also consider adding a bit of extra soy sauce to make up for the lack of sesame oil.
You will then scramble the eggs until firm but still soft. Add peas and carrots, stir, and cover for 5 minutes.
Final step is to add the cooked rice, scallions, and soy sauce to the egg and vegetable mixture and stir to incorporate.
Cover to heat through for a few minutes, making sure that the mixture isn't too hot that it will stick to the pan bottom.
Uncover, serve hot, and enjoy this Panda Express Fried Rice with all your favorite main entrees!
Goes with practically anything but can also be eaten all by itself for a light lunch or dinner.
The Best Food to Order at Panda Express
WebMD, the Internet's most trusted source for deeply paranoid self-diagnosing adults, offers no information on "Pandamonium," the trademarked phenomenon Panda Express implores its customers to experience each time they queue up at the scoop-and-serve Chinese-American chain.
As much as I'd like to believe it's a stylized synonym for the euphoria one feels when presented with piles of orange chicken and fried rangoons filled with cream cheese, a perusal of the restaurant's official website suggests a more insidious force of alpha-predator nature is in play. Those big black-and-white fluffers are going to get sick of gnawing on bamboo eventually, and when that happens? Dawn of the Planet of the Pandas:
What's the best protection we can take up against Pandamonium-stricken bears ready to feast on kung pao-style us? Familiarizing ourselves with their headquarters. That's why we've put together this guide to surviving the impending pandapocalypse, starting with how to order at Panda Express.
The Express, long the most dominant brand in Chinese-American quick-serve, grew out of Pasadena, California's Panda Inn, a sit-down entrepreneur Andrew Cherng launched with his chef father, Ming-Tsai (not that one), in 1973. In the three decades since that flagship pushed off, the billion-dollar brand has ballooned to more than 1,600 locations, the lot of them still controlled by Central Panda Command.
There are standalones, drive-thrus and even fancy experimental locations that look like buildings from Rocko's Modern Life. But the lifeblood of the brand has always been the food court—their second-ever location opened in the Glendale Galleria in '83—and chances are a mall near you has got one to call its own.
It's common to find a line at popular Panda Express locations, but the steam-table setup and conscientious workforce allows them to crank it. It's rare to experience shoddy service—the "associates" always smiling, with plenty of toothpicks at the ready to pass out sample bites—so don't sweat that. Focus your energy instead on minimizing risk by maximizing your point-and-order power.
The Fried Stuff
These are a hallmark of any Chinese buffet, and Panda's no exception. Availability varies, but I tend to see chicken egg rolls (bumpy wrapper), vegetarian spring rolls (crispy wrapper), fried shrimp, and cream cheese rangoons on the regular. Go for both rolls, as they tend to hold up a little better against time, fried food's mortal enemy.
Panda sells items à la carte, but most customers opt for the "create your plate" combo option, with either two or three mains and a side, all piled into a styrofoam container with the heft of an Olympic shot put. Options include several types of rice chow mein, tossed with celery, onions and cabbage or mixed steamed veggies. The fresh-cut vegetables, typically crisp, are obviously the wisest nutritional choice here, but you already know you're not doing that, so I suggest opting for the simple fried rice. It's a popular pick, meaning it's replenished often, which will also save time if they don't have white or brown rice at the ready. The noodles, meanwhile, can get a little dry in the steam table.
This is a little tricky, since the options vary from day to day and Panda to Panda.* The logical place to start, however, is the dish that made this place what it is: orange chicken, battered and wok-tossed in that familiar sticky tangy sauce. Since they go through literally millions of pounds of this stuff annually, it's always replenished in big batches, so it's a good bet in terms of freshness. For a small upcharge, they also offer a version with bits of bacon. It's up to you, and only you, to look deep within yourself and decide if that is something you want on your conscience.
Idea: Panda 2 Panda, an animated comedy featuring Kevin James and Benicio del Toro as panda detectives from opposite sides of the planet. Working as a team, they can crack the big case—if they don't kill each other first!
That particular chicken is definitely Panda's biggest hit, but there are other trustworthy pollo options, too—a peanutty kung pao that's sold as spicy (it's not) an inoffensive breast meat-bell pepper-pineapple situation called "SweetFire," which sounds like a drug people take on Game of Thrones. (Skip the shiitake-kale chicken I know kale is super-cool but the texture gets a little weird when it sits.) As for beef, the "Beijing-style" dish, with shreds of meat wokked with peppers and onions, is a popular and reliable pick.
Seafood and tofu is the tertiary entree category at Panda Express, and it's the one you should approach with the most skepticism. It's not that the gloopy-mayo honey walnut shrimp is bad—it's just a more volatile protein for a mall setup, as is the North Atlantic cod and the stir-fried bean curd, none of which hold up too well in the steam table.
But there you have it: your own Pandamonium defense plan, and one that should help you out at plenty of other food court Chinese shops and all-you-can-eat buffets.
- Want to make this vegan? Use crumbled tofu and color it with tumeric, use a plant based egg replacer, or leave out the eggs.
- Want to make this spicy? Use sriracha sauce, chili garlic sauce, or red chili flakes.
- Want to make this healthier? Switch the white long grain to brown.
- Want to make this grain free? Use quinoa or cauliflower.
- Want to make this a main course? Add cubed chicken, shrimp, sliced beef, or crumbled marinaded tofu.
- Want to make this less neutral tasting? Use fresh garlic, ginger, and onion at the beginning, then add fish sauce and mirin during the last few minutes of cooking.
Menu picks: Eggplant tofu Combined sides of brown steamed rice and super greens
What an RD says: The majority of Panda Express’s entrees are meat-based, but Morton spied one that isn’t: the eggplant tofu. While it is tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce&mdashwhich she generally says isn’t ideal&mdashshe points out that it’s entirely plant-based and has protein (seven grams) and fiber (three grams). Morton says the healthiest option for plant-based eater actually comes by combining the brown rice and super greens. “Brown rice is higher in fiber than white rice, which is why I recommend going for that one,” she says.
Order tweak: Because the sauce in the eggplant tofu is high in sugar (17 grams), Morton says to ask and see if you can get it without the sauce if possible and if it isn’t already all mixed together.
Also something to keep in mind: While Panda Express recently revamped a select few of its entrees (like the eggplant tofu) to ensure that they used all-vegan ingredients, they still have a disclaimer on their website that none of their menu items are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten free because of cooking preparation methods. So if you’re a strict vegan, you may run the risk of your dish being cross-contaminated with meat or other animal products.
Side-dish recommendations: If the sides aren’t already part of your main meal, Morton says either the brown steamed rice or super greens are good picks, primarily for their fiber content (four grams and five grams, respectively). To compare, the white steamed rice has no fiber.
Order This, Not That: Panda Express
This Chinese food chain has been around since 1983, when it first opened in a mall in Glendale, California. Chinese fast food isn't known for being healthy, and Panda Express is no exception. However, the next time you order Chinese fast food, keep these better-for-you choices in mind.
This dish (available regionally) consists of wonton wrappers filled with cream cheese and served with sweet and sour sauce. The calories are reasonable for an appetizer, and it's the only one in the bunch that isn't fried or pan-fried.
Nutrition Info (per serving): Calories 190 Fat 8 g (Saturated 5 g) Sodium 180 mg Carbohydrate 24 g Protein 5 g
Shrimp is a very low-calorie protein, but breading and frying it defeats the purpose. The sodium is also pretty out of control for such a small app, coming in at 35 percent of your daily recommended max. (Note: this dish is only available regionally)
Nutrition Info (per serving): Calories 260 Fat 13 g (Saturated 2 g) Sodium 800 mg Carbohydrate 26 g Protein 9 g
This dish is labelled as "wok smart," indicating that it's one of Panda Express's healthier choices. It's made from a combo of chicken, mushrooms and zucchini tossed in a light ginger-soy sauce.
Nutrition Info (per serving): Calories 170 Fat 9 g (Saturated 2 g) Sodium 750 mg Carbohydrate 11 g Protein 12 g
This fried beef option is coated in a sweet-tangy sauce with peppers and onions. With so many wok-friendly options, there is no need to order anything fried.
Nutrition Info (per serving): Calories 470 Fat 27 g (Saturated 5 g) Sodium 660 mg Carbohydrate 46 g Protein 21 g
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, 80 percent of Americans don't meet their daily recommended amount of vegetables. Unlike many other fast-food joints, Panda Express offers steamed veggies as a side, making it easier to meet your daily vegetable goals.
Nutrition Info (per serving): Calories 80 Fat 0.5 g (Saturated 0 g) Sodium 540 mg Carbohydrate 16 g Protein 4 g
Although fried rice is a Chinese restaurant favorite, it actually tops the list of the highest-calorie side dishes on the menu. Further, the sodium for this side alone is 37 percent of the daily recommended maximum.
Nutrition Info (per serving): Calories 520 Fat 4 g (Saturated 1 g) Sodium 850 mg Carbohydrate 85 g Protein 11 g
The only dessert offered is fortune cookies, and this Americanized tradition is worth the 32 calories per cookie!
Nutrition Info (1 cookie): Calories 32 Fat 0 g (Saturated 0 g) Sodium 8 mg Carbohydrate 7 g Protein 1 g
Photos courtesy of Panda Express
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day .
Story time: One time at Panda, I was craving honey walnut shrimp, but they (sadly) were all out. I was hangry and didn't want to wait, so I took a chance and ordered the String Bean Chicken Breast. And I loved it. It has tons of protein, is packed with veggies and, oh yeah, it's delicious.
While Panda's entree items are all delish, their appetizers deserve a round of applause, too, including the chicken egg rolls. Whenever I go to Panda, it's hard for me to pass these up. Cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, green onions and chicken are stuffed into a wonton wrapper and fried until crisp. These make a great addition to your already yummy meal.
Panda’s Fried Rice with Cauliflower Rice (Copy-Cat)
This beloved rice dish taste amazingly authentic even though it’s made with cauliflower rice instead of white rice. Nobody will ever guess it’s not white rice. The entire family will love it, even your kids! Each 1 cup serving has 115 calories 6 grams of fat and just 1 Blue WW Freestyle SmartPoints.It’s v egetarian, paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free and so yummy! Makes a fabulous side dish or meatless, main course meal.
1 (16 oz) bag Trader Joe’s or Green Giant riced cauliflower or 1 medium head cauliflower, see shopping tips
1 tablespoon canola oil or olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas and carrots, not thawed, see shopping tips
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce (use wheat-free soy sauce for Paleo or Gluten-free, see shopping tips
2 teaspoons sesame oil, see shopping tips
1. If you are using a bag of already prepare riced cauliflower, skip this first step. Otherwise, wash and dry the cauliflower. Remove core and coarsely chop into florets. Blot with paper towels to completely dry. Place half of cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower is small and has the texture of rice or couscous. Be sure to not over process or it will get mushy. Add to a large bowl. Repeat processing with remaining cauliflower. Or, using the largest holes on a box cheese grater, grate each cauliflower floret into small pieces, similar to the size of a grain of rice. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, add eggs and beat with a fork. Set aside.
3. Coat a large nonstick pan or wok with cooking spray. Add canola oil and heat over medium-high heat. Stir in cauliflower rice, onions, celery and garlic. Stir-fry for 4 minutes. Stir most of the time.
4. Add in frozen peas/carrots, (breaking them up) and soy sauce. Cook for about 3 minutes until heated through, continuously tossing gently to coat while cooking all the ingredients.
5. Push mixture to sides of pan or wok. Coat the open side of pan with more cooking spray. Add eggs to that side of pan. Cook and stir about 1-2 minutes, until the eggs are completely cooked. It’s ok if some of the cauliflower mixture gets scrambled in. Mix scrambled eggs into cauliflower mixture. Make sure to break up the egg, into small pieces. Add sesame oil, a little black pepper and stir fry ingredients all together.
6. Serve immediately or store leftovers in refrigerator for up to 2 days. This dish freezes great too.
Makes 6 cups total, Each side serving, 1 cup.
Cauliflower rice is amazing! It’s light and fluffy. It takes five minutes to make. It can replace couscous or rice in any dish, hot or cold.
1 head cauliflower, shredded into very small pieces makes about 4-5 cups cauliflower rice.
If you have a Trader Joe’s in your town, they sell a 16 ounce bag of riced cauliflower. You will love it. It saves you a lot of time, not having to prep the cauliflower. In addition, many supermarkets, Target and Walmart carry Green Giant’s cauliflower rice in the produce section.
Sesame oil is sold in most supermarkets in the Asian section. I bought mine at Trader Joe’s.
Frozen bags of peas and carrots are available in most supermarkets.
If you are on a Paleo diet or Gluten-free, use a wheat-free soy sauce, Tamari. Here are a few brands to look for: San-J Organic Tamari Soy Sauce or Wan Ja Shan Organic Tamari Soy Sauce.
WW Freestyle SmartPoints 1- Blue
WW SmartPoints 2- Green
WW Points Plus 3