Outside Snacks at Movie Theaters

December 7th, 2009 by Dionna | 25 Comments
Posted in Healthy Living, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting

In most movie theaters, the snack counter choices are limited and unhealthy: candy, popcorn, soda, and maybe some nachos and soft pretzels. Fancier theaters might offer more substantial fare (one Kansas City theater even sells French toast and Thai coconut chicken tenders), but the chances of snack counter food being heart-healthy or waist-wise are slim to none. (2)

A recent report on the nutritional information of movie snacks revealed that:

movie theater popcorn offerings range from 400 to 1,200 calories, with one to three days’ worth of saturated fat and up to 1,500 milligrams of sodium. Make it a combo and add 300 to 1,110 empty calories worth of candy and another 150 to 500 calories from a sugary soft drink to wash it all down. . . . Researchers say the oversized packages of candy at the concession counter aren’t for the faint-hearted either. Calorie counts range from 300 for a 3.5-ounce box of Sour Jacks to a whopping 1,160 for the 8-ounce bag of Reese’s Pieces, which also packs 35 grams of saturated fat. (1)

I work hard (and yet, not hard enough!) to instill healthy eating habits in our almost two year old son. We eat balanced meals and choose healthy snacks throughout the day. I don’t deprive the child of all sugar, but I do limit it, and we already talk about foods that are good for our bodies.

If Kieran was old enough to attend a movie at the theater, I would not want the habits we have worked so hard to form to be challenged unnecessarily. I would want to bring our own healthy snacks: trail mix, veggies, bottled water, fruit slices, etc.

But according to a new nationwide policy in place at AMC Theaters, I will not have that option. AMC, along with several other theater companies, have concluded that the best business decision is to force patrons to buy unhealthy, overpriced concessions (or to not eat at all). And don’t expect AMC to offer healthier alternatives; the company’s spokesman recently revealed that he “knew of no other healthier-food options now in the pipeline at AMC.” (3)

healthy snack

Those movie theaters will not be getting my business. This decision demonstrates a blatant lack of concern about their patrons, especially those who have dietary restrictions. Our family will continue to enjoy our Netflix subscription in the comfort of our home, with treats that promote good nutrition. Or we will look for theaters that either sell healthy treats or choose not to alienate paying customers by prohibiting outside food and drinks.

Will AMC’s new policy change the way you watch movies?

Do you know of any theaters with a policy that allows outside snacks? How about theaters that sell healthy snacks?


(1) “Movie Theater Popcorn a Calorie Bomb,” http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20091119/movie-theater-popcorn-a-calorie-bomb
See “Movie Theater Snack Attack!,” http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=808 for a chart that lists the calorie and fat content of many common snack counter offerings.

(2) “AMC Lays Down the Law: No More Outside Snacks,” http://www.kansascity.com/703/story/1603153.html

(3) Movie Theater Popcorn a Calorie Bomb

25 Responses to:
"Outside Snacks at Movie Theaters"

  1. I thought they already didn’t allow snacks brought in. I just hide them in a purse or diaper bag anyway.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Nope! They actually allowed them, but it wasn’t really advertised ;) Now they will have an official policy that does not allow snacks.

  2. Tonia

    We went to the movies last night (a rare outing in this house :) ). I couldn’t believe how expensive it has gotten. $10/person to get in, and then DH and I do splurge when we actually go to the theater so we have popcorn, nachos, drinks etc. Yea we spent $26 at the concession stand. Of course we were using gift cards :) But I can’t even imagine being a teenager on a date (this used to be what we would do) and affording $45. That is ridiculous!!!

    And my feelings on it are, if they don’t offer healthy snacks they shouldn’t complain about you bringing them in. Now if you are bringing in soda, then maybe :) But yea, growing up my aunts always stashed their purses with snacks for us kids :)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      We always brought stuff in too and never had any problems. If we do go back, I’m sure we’ll do it again, but it irks me that they are taking away a healthy option for families.

  3. Nikki

    Wow. I had no idea it was allowed to bring stuff in before. I always refused to bring stuff in for some ethical reason b/c I didn’t like the idea of hiding items. It felt dishonest. DARN IT! Now I know I should have brought it openly!! And now I missed out on my chance! AAARRRRGGGHHHHH!!

    Actually, we mostly use our netflix, too. But when we do go to the movies, we go to Cinemark b/c it is closer and significantly cheaper than AMC. I should ask them about their official policy…

  4. Katje Sabin

    I practice “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s amazing how much you can fit into a diaper bag…

  5. DT

    This makes complete business sense to me. The money lost from a few people who want healthy food is probably easily offset by the fat Americans who buy the refillable popcorn bucket and soft drink. (I’m totally that guy) Should they offer healthy snacks? I’m guessing since since AMC is a big company, they did some market research and found that it would be financially unwise to do so. If it were me, I’d offer a couple healthy options at exorbitant prices to encourage the healthy minded people to by my $7 bucket of popcorn. Then again, I’m pretty evil.

    And just as clothing stores expect some shoplifting, the movies aren’t going to shake you down or anything. (literally that is. $10 a ticket is a shakedown) So either sneak in your healthy snacks, or allow Tom to get that 65 inch plasma at home to simulate the experience. I vote for the second one.

    • CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

      DT, you are totally right, we’d save $ on gas and we wouldn’t have to wait in line in the cold… plus D always likes to pause for potty breaks, and they ignore you at the theater if you ask them to pause the reel

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      DT that was actually what I was going to ask YOU to get us for Christmas ;)

  6. Rebecca

    hmmmmm, I thought that it was outlawed too…who knew that you could bring snacks in before.

    Learn something new everyday, unfortunately, in this case, it was learned about a day late.

    But, I couldn’t tell you when I was last in a movie theater. More concerning to me than the lack of healthy snacks, is the damage to your hearing that a movie theater does.


    “Exposure to damaging noise does not come only form the workplace. If you use stereo headsets, operate power tools for yard work, have a long daily commute in heavy traffic, or use a number of household appliances, you still may be exposed to potentially damaging noise.

    Recreational activities such as hunting, target shooting, motorboating, waterskiing, jetskiing, snowmobiling, motorcycle riding, woodworking, rock music, or stereo headsets are sources of hazardous noise. So are some movie theaters, home entertainment centers, car stereo systems, health clubs, dance clubs, bars, and amusement centers.”


    Anything louder than the average traffic is damaging to your ears i.e. over 85dB

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Very good point on hearing damage – it will be some time before we even consider taking Kieran to a movie. (He has a minimum of screen time anyway, so movies are out at this point)

  7. Amy

    I agree! Although, I will say that we have always snuck in our own snacks in, it was more for cost reasons and not health reasons :) I do believe, though, that in our family we see going to the movies, baseball game, etc. as a place to “splurge” when it comes to food. We try to eat pretty healthy otherwise but I can’t refuse those ball park nachos!! I think it’s fun to know you have a place (or places) where you can “let your hair down” so to speak & eat calorie & fat filled food. The cost is more my issue. Healthy choices should always be offered, though, as many fast food places do now….although I can’t refuse fries either!!!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      We’ve smuggled food in for both reasons – cost and health. I guess my main problem with the theaters’ snacks is that they teach overindulgence. Why do I have to splurge on a box of candy that could feed a family of 8? Psychologically speaking, if you have a huge portion in front of you, you’re more likely to sit there and mindlessly eat it.
      (of course that issue isn’t limited to theaters, it’s an American epidemic)
      /soap box

  8. CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

    I think they are mostly doing this for $$$ reasons… DVD sales are down, there are fewer movies bringing in huge piles of cash at the box office, and people are staying in a little bit more… especially in this economy…

  9. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I don’t know of any theatres that have ever allowed outside food where I live. It’s always been Junior Mints or popcorn or nothing, according to their policy.

    I will be honest and say that we don’t really sweat this one. My 4 1/2 year old has been to the movies once. If we do attend, it’s very rarely. So having a small treat of popcorn on that rare occasion doesn’t freak me out too badly. Although I would have felt differently when my oldest was a bit younger, and not as able to understand the concept of a ‘treat’.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’m sure this won’t matter much to us too – we so rarely go to the movies anyway. We did go to the drive-in quite a few times this summer, but they don’t care about you bringing your own food (and it’s not as loud on the kid’s ears!). Much better all the way around.

  10. Heather   xakana

    Doesn’t affect me. I’ll sneak things in like I always did if I feel the need. I only go to movies if someone else is paying anyway, since they’re freaking $10/ticket. Or we hit the dollar movies. But really, if you can’t sit 2 hours without eating… seriously? Lilly has never had a problem just nursing through movies, nor has Naomi. And once they’ve self-weaned, they’ll be old enough to eat before the movie and wait 2 hours to eat again if they’re that hungry/snacky.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I don’t think it’s that people can’t sit two hours without eating, I think it’s just part of the social aspect of going to a theater. Plus, they do bombard you with the smells and sounds of everyone else eating.

      • Heather   xakana

        Ahh, yes, that’s true. But like I said, I’d just sneak them in, like always. Never knew it was “okay” anywhere to bring any in, so that’s why it’s just not a big deal to me.

  11. I had no idea that it was ever officially allowed. I’ve done a mix of both. If my kids aren’t with me, I buy a drink and a popcorn. If they are, we typically take in snacks. In most cases, I time it for lunch and actually take in the kids’ meals – 2 birds with 1 stone, I guess. We always wait for movies to hit the discount theatre, so the tickets are much less expensive already.

    It won’t change my actions. If they stop me, I’ll stop seeing their movies.

    Moot point, though, as we don’t have AMC theatres in our area.

  12. Parsnip Milkdud

    Sneak a flask of your favorite booze into the theatre, take a few pulls off of it and you won’t care about the nutritional value of the snacks. It’ll make whatever movie you see much more enjoyable as well!

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