Nutrition Articles

Movie Theater Snack Attack!

Two Thumbs Up or Blockbuster Diet Disaster?

826SHARES
The aroma hits you as soon as you walk through the doors of any movie theater…popcorn! For many people, a trip to the movies isn’t complete without a big tub of buttery popcorn and a giant cup of soda. But if you don’t choose carefully, that treat could be scarier than the next blockbuster horror flick! With a little planning, you can still enjoy a yummy snack that doesn’t wreak havoc on your good eating habits.

In theory, popcorn should be low in calories and high in fiber—a healthy, whole grain snack. And it is when you air pop your own at home. But everything changes when it's made at the theater and becomes a greasy and oil-soaked mess covered in artery-clogging butter or margarine.

A few years ago, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reported that movie theater popcorn was full of unhealthy fat, the industry immediately made changes, switching from coconut oil to healthier oils, such as peanut. Over the years, however, some chains have switched back to coconut oil to save money and improve flavor.

But just how bad could a tub of popcorn be? On average, a large popcorn (which contains 20 cups) boasts a mind-boggling 100 grams of fat—the equivalent of more than six fast food hamburgers. With about 1,300 calories, that large popcorn packs almost a full day’s supply of calories for the average dieter.

If movie theater popcorn is a must-have, stick with a kid-sized serving and forgo the added butter or margarine. Avoid the larger sizes completely, even if it seems like a steal. Moving up to the medium serving from the small size costs only pennies more, but adds about 500 more calories and two days worth of saturated fat. Ouch!

Think you can get away with buying large and sharing? Think again. One study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that people who were given a large bucket of popcorn ate 50 percent more than those who were given a medium-sized bag. When asked to estimate how much they had eaten, participants thought they only ate as much as those with a smaller bag. This is one of many studies proving that if there’s food in front of us, we’ll eat it without thinking.

Those giant chocolate bars and boxes of candy at the counter are also bad news. While you might kid yourself into thinking that you won’t eat the whole thing, chances are that once you're munching away in the dark, you’ll mindlessly consume the entire box without blinking. If you absolutely have to have a treat from the candy counter, choose the smallest sizes. They offer built in portion control and fewer overall calories.

Check out the following chart to see how your movie favorites compare. Pay particular attention to the sizes, which vary from two to over nine ounces.

Theater Food Size Calories Fat
Sno Caps 3.1 oz box 300 15 g
Hot dog Medium (2 oz) 305 5 g
Mike & Ike 3 oz box 320 0 g
Junior Mints 3 oz box 360 7 g
Milk Duds 3 oz box 370 12 g
Gummi Bears 3.5 oz bag 390 0 g
Raisinets 3.5 oz bag 400 16 g
Soft pretzel Large (5 oz) 480 5 g
Starburst 4.4 oz 480 11 g
Goobers 3.5 oz box 500 35 g
Twizzlers 6 oz bag 570 4 g
M&M's 5.3 oz bag 750 32 g
Skittles 6.5 oz bag 765 9 g
Peanut M&M's 5.3 oz bag 790 40 g
Dots 9.2 oz box 850 0 g
Cheese nachos Large (4 oz) 1,100 60 g
Reese's Pieces 8 oz bag 1,160 60 g


One way to enjoy at treat at the movies without destroying your waistline is to bring your own snacks from home. Yes, this is discouraged by most theater owners because they make a huge profit at the concession stand. However, all theaters have different policies, and some even allow you to bring food from outside vendors (such as restaurants or shops in the same mall or shopping center). Find out the policy at your favorite theater, and be prepared to lose your snacks to an angry employee if you get caught breaking the rules.

Here are some healthy alternatives you can bring from home to munch on:
  • Bottled water or 100% fruit juice
  • Trail mix, made with nuts and dried fruit
  • Dry cereal
  • String cheese
  • Air-popped popcorn, flavored with Parmesan cheese, chili pepper, or garlic powder
  • Whole grain crackers, graham crackers, or rice crackers
  • Baked potato chips or tortilla chips
  • Bananas, grapes, raisins, or other no-mess fruit
  • 2-3 miniature chocolate bars
The best way to avoid temptation at the theater is to eat a balanced meal beforehand—lean protein, whole grains, veggies and healthy fats will keep you satisfied for several hours. (Sorry, but the concession's pizza, nachos and hot dogs don't fit the bill of a healthy meal.)

Going to the movies is a social experience—and that means eating for many people. But you don’t have to miss out on the fun just because you’re watching what your diet. By bringing your own portion-controlled snacks from home or choosing carefully at the candy counter, the only things you’ll be missing are the inches you'll lose from your waist.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
826SHARES

Member Comments

  • Thanks, no popcorn since last year.
  • Interesting information.
  • I had no clue the nachos had that many calories...I always thought maybe 800, but never thought over 1,000!!!! Well, next time, I'll just split them between 3 people!
  • I never go to the movies.
  • I never go to the movies.
  • Frecklepup- glass bottles for water can be a problem because they can break when you're out and about. I'm very sensitive to plastics and can't stand drinks packaged in soft plastics. But the bottled water I get when needed (usually I filter my own, can't drink unfiltered tap water) is filtered by a soda company and their plastic bottles don't bother me at all (Aquafina works for me, they use activated carbon and reverse osmosis which is the same as is done by my home filtering unit) . So leaching varies according to the material used and according to how long the liquid is in contact with the bottle. If you are refilling the bottle frequently, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. If I can't taste it, with my sensitivity, that's a good sign. But you also can get stainless steel bottles specifically for transporting water around. I hate the taste of metal, though, so I actually prefer a hard plastic.
  • When I was a kid in ancient times, picking the longest lasting movie snack was an artform. I remember even eating jujubes even though I didn't like them much, because they took forever to eat! So that's one option, choose something that you can't eat fast... When I was an adult, my brother treated me to the very first Star Wars movie that had just come out. I assumed an "action film" would be boring, so I got a big tub of popcorn to keep me busy. The tub went home with me, untouched, because I got interested in the film so much so fast. When a movie is really good, I don't want to eat. So another option is to always pick a movie that is too interesting to get distracted by munching.
  • I have some other alternatives. At the movies, you can get a bottle water instead of a soda. Also, if you buy a large popcorn you can ask if they can give you a small popcorn bag and you can put your share of the popcorn into the bag. Better yet, bring yourself a small bowl or zip lock bag and put the measure amount into that small bowl or zip lock bag. I have done this as of recently and find this works. I get myself a large bottle of water at the concession stand and then a large popcorn and ask if they hand me a small or kid size popcorn bag so I can put my portion of the large into the bag. Works out great for me.
  • While I do agree with most all of the article for myself I think for the amount of times I go to the cinema (less than once a year) I almost think I can get away with having the large popcorn and pop.
  • Ouch! It's been a while since I have been to the movies but I sure never thought that even the plain movie popcorn was to be such a problem.
  • I do take dry cereal and don't feel bad about it. If they actually offered healthy choices, I'd gladly support that. I used to work at a movie theater as a teenager - honestly, workers understand, just be discreet. Once, a family tried to walk in with several buckets of fried chicken and got angry with us when we couldn't allow them in. They weren't looking to be healthier, they wanted greasy food for cheaper.
  • I love my popcorn. I have a small bag of popcorn almost every night for my snack. I don't care what snack I have in there the popcorn is on top of the list.
  • If I want to avoid popcorn, I just bring some sugar free gum, usually in a minty flavour. Hard to smell the popcorn over the mint. I bring a baggie and/or a kleenex to get rid of the gum when I'm done so I don't have to interrupt the movie.
  • I just did a search for this article, because I remembered reading it a while back and I am planning to go to the movies this afternoon with my kids. I wanted a review of which items had the fewest calories. I usually get a small popcorn so I can much continuously through the movie, but I knew from reading this that it was a bad idea. I was pleasantly suprised to find my childhood favorite, snow caps, was the lowest calorie item listed. Eaten slowly it will satisfy my need to nibble through the movie and help me avoid the cotton candy my kids tend to get (once a year treat).

About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

x Lose 10 Pounds by September 1! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.