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The best and worst movie-theater snacks (plus, what to eat at home)

By Nicci Micco, July 23, 2010 - 12:01pm

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The best and worst movie-theater snacks (plus, what to eat at home)

Blockbusters and air conditioning make going to the movie theater one of my favorite summer indulgences. But the treats at the concession stand can turn an afternoon of laughs into a calorie-and fat-laden horror show. For example, if you go wild and order the biggest popcorn, a large soda and then eat half your friends’ M&Ms, you could consume nearly 2,400 calories—that’s like eating nearly an entire large Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza by yourself. Considering that most people don’t need more than 2,000 calories a day, that’s going way overboard, especially when you consider the amount of saturated fat and sugars you’ve also consumed.

I won’t suggest that you don’t buy any snacks at the movie theater—that’s just not realistic and you wouldn’t listen anyway (I wouldn’t either!), but there are clearly healthier choices you can make—and they’re just as satisfying as the diet-busting ones.

Related link: 5 “Bad” Foods You Should Be Eating.

Here are my picks for healthier ways to treat yourself at the theater, complete with nutrition info to guide your choices, plus healthier options to make at home, when you’re watching the DVD version.

Related Link: Satisfy your junk-food cravings with healthier recipes for Microwave Potato Chips, Chocolate Crunch Snack Mix and Onion Rings.

Popcorn
Worst Choice: Large popcorn with buttery topping. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), nutritional content can range from 1,170-1,460 calories and 22-64 grams of saturated fat, depending on the theater.
Healthier Choice: Junior-size popcorn without buttery topping. This size provides 225-350 calories and 2-18 grams of saturated fat. Consider splitting it with a friend.
Make this at home: Super-easy Cheesy Popcorn has just 75 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat.

Candy
Most movie theaters just serve “movie-sized” packages of candy, which usually provide 3 to 5 portions. Look for the smallest box.
Worst Choice: Reese’s Pieces (8 oz., 1,160 calories, 35 grams saturated fat, 122 grams sugars)
Healthier Choice: Welch’s Fruit Snacks (2.25 oz, 130 calories, 0 grams saturated fat, 23 grams sugars)
Make this at home: Chocolate and Nut Butter Bites (79 calories and 2 grams of fat) come together in seconds with ingredients you likely have in your kitchen.

Drinks
Water is always a good choice. And if you’re at a theater with a coffee bar you could go for an iced coffee. Add plenty of milk and you’ll get a little calcium.
Worst Choice: Large soda. Depending on the theater, a 54-ounce soda may deliver as many as 500 calories and 132 grams of sugars.
Healthier Choice: Water. You could pick a junior-size soda—this option is usually 16 oz., but ice takes up about a quarter of the cup, leaving only 12 ounces of soda (124 calories and about 30 grams of sugars).
Make this at home: Make your own Greek Iced Coffee, which has 57 calories and is sweetened with only 2 teaspoons of sugar (8 grams).

Beyond what you choose to eat, here are some other suggestions for keeping calories, fat and portions in check during movie time:

1. Share with a friend. Splitting your favorite movie-watching snacks allows you to indulge without going overboard.
2. If you can, pick a theater that has healthy snack options. Some Cinemark theaters offer low-fat milks. Others sell Skinny Cow low-fat ice cream sandwiches, which at 140 calories and 1 g saturated fat won’t bust the bank.
3. Save money and broaden your snack options by watching a movie at home.

What do you order at the movie theater? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Nicci Micco, Diet Blog, Nutrition

Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.

Nicci asks: What do you order at the movie theater?

Tell us what you think:

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