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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Comments (13)

  1. I always pack my own snack, usually some sort of grain and nut bar. Last time, I brought along a sweet and salty bar with peanut butter chips, pretzels, and soy protein. The flavors were enjoyable, very fitting for a movie, and the protein and fat were good nutrients to get

  2. Casey says:

    I pack my own snack too! One day I brought apple slices! Last time we went I brought dark chocolate – yum!

  3. Julie says:

    I understand the temptation to pack your own snack, but I think it should be clarified that this is often in violation of posted theater policies. Even if all of the options are foul, you have the choice to not eat during the movie if rules prohibit sneaked-in snacks. Movie-theater munching is the very definition of distracted eating.
    Also, a note on not getting "artery-clogging butter" on your popcorn. You'd be lucky if it's butter. Listen the next time a theater employee offers you butter. I bet they offer "butter-flavor topping" which means you're getting all the fat and calories but made out of god-knows-what instead of dairy products.
    In high school, I dated a movie theater employee. When we'd do staff-only screenings, we'd clean all of the equipment and bring in our own, healthier food to cook in less-gross ways. Very cool.

  4. FYI says:

    Um…coconut oil is NOT heart-clogging. It's actually a healthy oil. Just FYI.

  5. tar says:

    i work at a theatre and we don't use coconut oil.. we use canola

    • Mary says:

      We have watched Despicable Me a hudnred times already and laugh so hard every time!! Another family favorite is Up!! WE LOVE FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT!! Tip to you – we pull out a matress off of our guest bed and lay it out in the living room to veg on- makes for a fantastic movie night and its an easy clean up!!

  6. tar says:

    also, we have butter and margarine.. you get to pick

    • Ibnu says:

      May you continue to find joy in the smiple things around and within you, Shel, and may every hug from your children continue to fill you up with joy and contentment and blessedness.As you wish for yourself, so I wish for you!

  7. Amiyrah says:

    I'm with tar….the big theater here has a choice of butter or margarine. Also, the offer coffee, bottled water, sparkling water, and even a few low fat treats, fruit slices and boxed juices for the kids, for those who want to go that route. We still try to bring our snacks or just stick to one treat, like the idea of getting the small popcorn and spliting it. I have lately started to feel bad about bringing our own snacks in, since they clearly say that it is against policy before every movie there, but since they are starting to add some more responsible choices, the transition should be easier to do.

  8. CAZZIE says:

    The two healthiest oils to consume are olive oil and pure organic coconut oil. That's it! Since olive oil does not do well at high temp cooking it cannot be used for popcorn. Coconut oil produces a heart-healthy treat that has many other advantages. As with anything though, the movie theatres do not use the pure organic oil AND as far as I can tell they add chemicals to it (orange dye and whatever else). So that is to be avoided. I pack my own corn, white organic corn popped in pure organic coconut oil with Celtic sea salt. VERY healthy and delicious. I will continue to do so until the theatre industry gets wise to both nutrition and good taste. I for one think movie popcorn tastes terrible anyway.

  9. Michelle says:

    You really should look into the facts regarding coconut oil.
    Shame on you!

  10. Salamatin says:

    Have you ever thought about inliudcng a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. However think about if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more, pop ! Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this blog could undeniably be one of the best in its field. Fantastic blog!

  11. tamidor says:

    Hi FYI,
    Thanks for your comment. Coconut oil is a hot debate–you can read more information in our previous post on the topic.

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