Hot summer days call for cooling off with the latest blockbuster in a dark theater or on your living room couch. Unfortunately, typical concession stand fare tends to be filled with some of the worst offenders when it comes to ultra-processed foods: sugary drinks, neon candy, and “buttery flavor” topping. Not-so-fun facts: A large buttered popcorn can set you back 1,640 calories, 126 g fat, and 1,945 mg sodium. It’s often popped in coconut oil (read: saturated fat) or canola oil, which may be a few days old. And that topping is actually soybean oil, pumped with artificial colors and flavors. Still want to share a bucket with your date (shudder)?
Skip the fake butter bomb in favor of these healthy snacks. You can sneak a zip-top plastic bag of popcorn or veggie chips into your bag before hitting the mall—or whip up homemade slushies before settling in for a movie night at home.
1. HEALTHY HOMEMADE POPCORN
Underneath all of the salt and grease, popcorn is still a whole grain! And it can definitely be a healthy, crunchy, and satisfying snack. Make it fresh at home, and treat it right with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of sugar and spice, a little parmesan and black pepper, or any of these healthier ideas for toppings.
2. FROZEN GRAPES
If your movie candy of choice is gummies (62 g sugar), chewies (90 g sugar), sours (65 g sugar), or any other fruit-flavored candy, one theater-sized box is easily double to triple the recommended daily limit for sugar! Frozen grapes are the more natural choice. They’re cool, easy to pop in your mouth, and a sweet-tart solution to sugar cravings. Spread grapes out on a baking sheet, so they freeze separately, before tossing them into a zip-top plastic bag.
3. CHOCOLATE-DIPPED STRAWBERRIES
Chocoholics can really rack up the calories on movie night—chocolate caramels can set you back 595 calories, peanut butter pieces at 600 calories, and malted milk balls at 665 calories. Consider nibbling on an ounce or two of quality dark chocolate, instead. You can savor it longer and get in a serving of fresh fruit—strawberries and bananas love a dunk.
4. CRISPY CRUNCHY BEANS
Both chickpeas and edamame are doing a pretty good job of pretending to be popcorn these days, and they offer some satisfying plant protein. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt, and roast until crunchy. You can roll them around in some Italian-inspired garlic, oregano, and parsley, or Indian-style coriander, cumin, and cayenne, to up the savory edge.
5. GARLICKY KALE CHIPS
Sweet potato, kale, and zucchini chips are one of those on-the-fence foods. They’re probably better for you than plain old potato chips, but before grabbing a bag, check the label for fat and sodium. Roasting at home is really the best option—you have more control over the ingredients and can preserve some of the nutritional benefits of the veggies. Toss kale leaves with olive oil and garlic, and toast until papery and crisp in a hot oven.
6. TORTILLA CHIPS & GUACAMOLE
Nacho cheese is another mystery sauce that can mean almost anything—is it cheese? Wait, what kind? You can make your own at home with skim milk and sharp cheddar, so at least you know what’s going in the pot. But better yet, reach for nature’s butter: avocados, of course! Mash them into a homemade guac, and serve with veggie sticks and whole-grain chips. (As with veggie chips, keep an eye on fat and sodium and look for tortillas made from real and recognizable ingredients, starting with whole-grain corn—you might also see multigrain wheat, barley, or rye.)
7. CHICKEN DOGS WITH GRILLED VEGGIES
There are a lot of good reasons to avoid processed meat—starting with that foil-wrapped dog. But if you love your summer sausages, there are for sure some better alternatives. Fitbit nutrition expert, Tracy Morris, feeds her kids all-natural chicken dogs, made with real boneless, skinless meat. Put them on a whole-wheat bun, and pile on grilled onions and peppers.
8. HOMEMADE SLUSHIES
The number one ingredient in that electric blue drink? High-fructose corn syrup. But homemade slushies, made with real fruit, are so much fun! Blend cherries or raspberries with ice, sparkling water, a squeeze of lemon, and only if it needs it, a touch of honey. Then make your way to your seat for some living room theater.
If you’re setting out a spread at home, dips and dippers, like veggies and hummus, or fruit and yogurt, are also a great option. If you need something quick to throw into a bag, take a handful of spiced pecans, rosemary almonds, or olive-oil granola to go. What’s your favorite healthy movie snack?