Eating Healthier Snacks at the Movie Theater

movie snacks

While you probably can’t get fresh fruit or veggie smoothies at the movies, there are other options beyond butter-soaked popcorn that are still satisfying. Here’s how to navigate the theatre concessions, so you can enjoy the movie with a snack without sabotaging your health.

Be Picky About Popcorn

It may taste good while you’re watching that action flick, but show popcorn is not that good for you. According to WebMD, most theater popcorn has up to 1,200 calories, with up to three days’ worth of saturated fat and as much as 1,500 milligrams of sodium. If the popcorn is pre-popped, it’s usually cooked in unhealthy trans fat oils, then flavored and colored with artificial ingredients. Equally troublesome is the “butter” most people glob on their popcorn. No, it’s usually not real butter; sometimes, it’s just oil with artificial butter flavoring and coloring. If you’re a movie popcorn junkie, call ahead and go to a theater that uses nonhydrogenated canola oil to pop its corn, and see if they give you the option of leaving out the salt.

Avoid Movie “Meals”

A lot of movie theaters offer meal-like snacks for those who rushed from work to catch an early premier to beat the crowds. These can include chicken tenders, hot dogs, and nachos slathered with “cheese.” Better to eat dinner at home, says Molly Kimball, RD, a nutritionist at Oschner Clinic’s Elmwood Cardiovascular Health and Fitness Center in New Orleans. The chicken tenders are usually deep fried in saturated fat; the hot dogs are loaded with sodium, and the nachos are covered with “cheese food,” not real cheese (nacho cheese remains one of life’s great mysteries, according to a recent article by Mike Pomranz). Conclusion: have a quick veggie smoothie or salad before you hit the show and forgo the movie “meals.” If you can’t do that, opt for an unsalted pretzel with just a dab of mustard to spice it up.

Skip the Soda Pop

It may be just what you need to quench your thirst after gobbling up a $10 bucket of popcorn, but an article in HealthSite points out that a large serving of Coke at the movies contains excessive amounts of sugar—a whopping 44 teaspoons. If you go for a diet drink, it’s not much better, according to Brooke Alpert, RD, author of The Sugar Detox, who notes in a Health article that sugar substitutes have the same effect on your body as sugar, triggering insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode and leads to weight gain. A healthier alternative would be the bottled waters many movie theaters now offer—some with a hint of flavoring.

Cut the Candy

Best to avoid these over-priced, unhealthy treats. Many of the candies at the show are the stick-to-your-teeth type that not only contain gobs of sugar but will rot out your teeth. Better to buy a small bag of roasted, unsalted nuts beforehand and put them in your purse or pocket to satisfy those hunger pangs. If you feel too guilty (or too embarrassed) about sneaking stuff into the theater, some theaters now offer low sugar, low sodium health bars.