Eating Healthy While at the Movies

Eating Healthy While at the Movies
  • Opening Intro -

    We all know how tempting that tub of butter-drenched popcorn and jumbo soda can be when you’re going to a 2-hour movie.

    For many, it's practically a ritual.

    So even though we ought to know better, we shell out 20 bucks for a lapful of snacks - setting back our bank accounts and our diets.


By Alex Levin

Whether you go to the movies or watch movies in your home theater, the following advice is certainly appropriate as you enjoy your favorite flicks.

Studies show people tend to eat more while they’re watching TV, and the same goes for movies. You’re wrapped up in the action and just don’t hear when your stomach tells you it’s full. Before you know it, you’ve packed away the large buttered popcorn and 32-ounce soda. That’s as much as 2000 calories – the average recommended calorie intake for an entire day! Worse, the popcorn probably contained more than two days’ worth of your “daily requirement” of fat.

But good snacking really is possible when you have the facts you need to make healthy choices. We’ve compiled a quick guide to make it easy for you. And you won’t even have to give up the popcorn and soda entirely!

The Classics

To burn off the calories in a large buttered popcorn, you need to do a fair amount of work!

  • 456 minutes of walking
  • 188 minutes of jogging
  • 137 minutes of swimming
  • 251 minutes of cycling


Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? That means it’s got fiber, which makes you feel fuller from less calories. So it’s really not a bad snacking choice at all. The problem is eating way too much of it cooked in oil then smothered in butter (or greasy butter substitutes). Even the standard small-size unbuttered popcorn at the multiplex has an average of 30 grams of fat. So if you must get your fix, go for the kid-sized bag. You’ll be getting a more sensible portion and it won’t break the bank, either.

If you’re lucky enough to find a movie theater that doesn’t prohibit you bringing in your own healthy snacks, a better option might be to make your own air-popped or low-fat microwave popcorn at home.

We wouldn’t want to encourage you to break the rules, but did you know it’s pretty easy to get that movie-theater popcorn taste at home in your microwave? You don’t even need to buy the pre-packaged stuff. Just put 3 tablespoons of popcorn kernels in a plain old brown bag, roll it up and microwave it until the popping stops. Spritz with a butter-flavored spray then sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese or salt or powdered seasoning. It’s about 80 calories a bag if you go with the cheese; less if you gopt for a light dusting of garlic powder or taco spice mix.)

Of course, you’ve got more options if you’re willing to go a less traditional route than popcorn. Yogurt is another food that helps fill you up, so if you’re not a popcorn purist, you might try smuggling in a cup of nonfat fruit yogurt or buying low-fat frozen yogurt from the concessions stand.


Large Buttered Popcorn (20 cups): 1660 calories, 134g fat
Hot Dog on Bun: 305 calories, 4.5g fat
Nachos with Cheese (4 oz): 1101 calories, 59g fat
Soft Pretzel (large): 483 calories, 4.5g fat
Cotton Candy (2.5 oz): 300 calories, 0g fat
Junior Mints (3 oz): 320 calories, 5g fat
Milk Duds (3 oz): 340 calories, 12g fat
Sno-Caps (3.1 oz): 360 calories, 16g fat
Raisinets (3.5 oz): 380 calories, 16g fat, 64g carbs
Gummi Bears (4 oz): 390 calories, 0g fat
Goobers (3.5 oz): 525 calories, 35g fat
Twizzlers (6 oz): 600 calories, 4g fat
M&M’s (5.3 oz): 735 calories, 31.5g fat
Skittles (6.75 oz): 765 calories, 9g fat
Reese’s Pieces (8 oz): 1200 calories, 60g fat
Starburst (24 pieces): 480 calories, 10.5g fat
Coca-Cola with ice (18.9 fl oz): 353 calories, 0g fat

Peanuts, Pretzels & Chocolate

As far as the other old stand-bys of movie theater snacking go, remember that less is more! More healthy, that is.

Pretzels and nuts aren’t really unhealthy, but unless you limit yourself to a reasonable single-serving package going in, you know you’ll find yourself mindlessly munching your way through an obscenely large bag that contains multiple servings.

So, for your own good, skip the candy completely or stick to low-fat favorites like licorice sticks. If you simply must indulge in gooey goodness, then at least choose something with peanuts for a little protein or go for the dark chocolate, which has some cholesterol-fighting flavonoids. And make sure you share generously with a friend!

Guzzling Decisions

Bottled water or juice may be your best bet. Almost any drink is better than soda, but if you go for the soda, consider switching from regular to diet. Neither have any nutrients and both carry the same risk of heart disease, but the diet soda will help you avoid empty calories so it may be the lesser of two evils. Again, portion size is the key. If the “small” isn’t really a single serving, then go for the “kiddie” cup.

The Biggest Threat: Portion Sizes

Portion sizes are consistently getting bigger, as are Americans. In 2005, we ate an average of 3800 calories per day. That’s 600 more than 40 years ago – and 1800 more than the average recommended amount!

Large portions are a major contributor to overeating, especially at the movies where they’re even bigger than usual! It can be easy to confuse portions with servings. For example, did you know that one package of movie theater Reese’s Pieces has 5 servings and over 1000 calories? And many of us have no problem washing down a whole bag with a jumbo soda during the average blockbuster movie.

Ultimately, portion control is about eating less, so help yourself avoid temptation by ordering the smallest size. Checking the nutritional information for your favorite snacks can also be a real eye-opener, and that alone may be scary enough to help you avoid movie-bingeing. Look at the number of servings in the package and multiply to figure out how much it is that you’re really eating.

Final Pointers

The most important thing you can do is simply make sure you have a nutritious meal or a healthy snack before going to the theater. You’ll be much less inclined to munch on junk-food throughout the movie. If you’re one of those people who simply must have something to keep your mouth busy, you might try chewing sugarless gum instead of candy.

While we won’t say we condone sneaking food in, we will say that the best foods to tuck into your bag are small, fiber-rich snacks that won’t be too loud – like bananas or a whole grain sandwich – and small drinks like juice and low-fat milk. Also, you’re more likely to make reasonable portions if you’re packing the food yourself. You can arm yourself with single-serving baggies of mixed nuts, homemade popcorn, grapes, or low-fat string cheese.

On the whole, your best strategy is to be a good Scout and “always be prepared.” Have something to eat beforehand or bring along some healthy snacks.

Home Improvement reference:

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