Dining Out: Theater Concession Stands

by in Dining Out, February 25, 2010


You may love to take your family to the movies, but you’ll want to shield their eyes from the concession stand. Buttery popcorn, pizza, nachos, french fries, hot dogs, slushies, ice cream and gobs of candy sound appealing, but chow down on a couple of these and you might gobble up two days worth of calories in two hours.

So what’s a movie-goer to do?

Popcorn & Soda
If you’re in the mood for these, be wary. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently analyzed a medium popcorn and soda combo at a major movie theater chain and discovered it totaled 1,610 calories and 60 grams of fat. That’s like eating THREE McDonald’s Quarter Pounders topped with 12 teaspoons of butter! But wait, there’s more. CSPI also found tons of saturated fat in the popcorn. What’s that from? Well, the movie theaters are frying the popcorn in heart-clogging coconut oil.

    Popcorn can be very healthy choice — keep the calories down this way:

  • Order a small tub to share.
  • Don’t top your popcorn with artery-clogging butter.
  • Use low-calorie seasoning blends to top your popcorn (many theaters have it available at the counter).
  • Pop your own low-cal bag at home or make your own and bring it to the theater.

Of course, that salty popcorn will make you thirsty, but think before you gulp up a 54-ounce soda. A small, non-diet soda can range from 150 to 300 calories. Go for the mega-sized one and you’re giving yourself 33 teaspoons of sugar. Although diet sodas contain zero calories, not everybody wants or likes the taste of artificial sweeteners. Water, seltzer, freshly brewed iced tea or a plain cup of Joe all contain minimal calories (or none at all).

Main Meals
Many theaters now offer meal-style foods to go along with the soda and popcorn. It’s no surprise that most selections are high in fat and calories (and cost a pretty penny). A slice of plain pizza can run about 400 calories and even more if you add toppings. A chili dog comes in at 400 calories and 23 grams of fat, while a side of medium serving of French fries is 440 calories and 29 grams of fat. Pair that with the popcorn and you’ve racked up 2,000 calories in no time (that’s the suggested daily calorie intake for an entire day!).

    A few tips to making healthier choices:

  • Eat a healthy meal before going to the movies and don’t come hungry! Folks tend to choose anything within reach when they’re starving.
  • Find a restaurant nearby with a bigger selection of healthier choices (and they’re probably cheaper too) and eat before the show.
  • You can’t have it all! Choose one favorite thing to eat at the theater — a small popcorn, one slice of plain pizza or a hot dog. Switch off on your next visit to the theater.

Chocolate & Candy
I’m a chocoholic and the mega packs of M&M’s and Raisinets always tempt me. But buy two or three packs and you’re giving your family 400 to 500 calories and at least half a day’s worth of saturated fat. Non-chocolate candies aren’t always better either. A five-ounce bag of Twizzlers has 460 calories and almost four teaspoons of sugar. If you’re reaching for the Reese’s Pieces, think about this: the CSPI equates those to eating a 16-ounce T-bone steak with a buttered baked potato on the side.

    If you’re a candy love, try this:

  • Tuck a smaller snack pack of candy or chocolate in your pocket.
  • Opt for either popcorn or candy, not both.
  • Split one pack two, three or even four ways.
  • Make your own trail mix with a handful of nuts, dried fruit and one to two tablespoons of dark chocolate chips mixed in.

TELL US: What’s you favorite movie snack?

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