Allergy-Safe Movie Snacks

For most people, the hardest part of a trip to the movies is agreeing on what box-office blockbuster they want to go see. People with food allergies, though, find those decisions easy when compared with choosing movie theater snacks.

More than 15 million people have some type of food allergy and it's not always possible to bring snacks from home. Nor is it any fun just to avoid the concession counter altogether, because settling in to watch a favorite movie with popcorn and candy is part of the theater experience. But it doesn't have to be an ordeal if you know what to look for.

This article offers some smart choices at the concession stand when you or your kids have a food allergy. Before you head to the movies, you'll know what to avoid—and what you can all enjoy.

Generic Gummy Candy
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Dairy Allergy

Maybe you love the classic "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" film, but it's not always a good idea to have the chocolate candy. Most allergies linked to chocolate are really a reaction to other ingredients, and many chocolate products have milk in them.

That's true of some popcorn butter seasonings too, although popcorn can be ordered without butter. Be sure to ask about vegan popcorn.

Safe Snacks
  • Chicken tenders

  • Mike and Ike candies

  • Sodas

Avoid These
  • Milk chocolate candies

  • Popcorn butter with dairy

  • Nachos and cheeseburgers

Egg Allergy

After dairy, egg products are the second-leading cause of allergy in children. They're hidden in many foods, too, so be sure to check if eggs are an ingredient in baked goods, like cookies or crackers. They also may be an unwelcome surprise in the breads used for hot dogs and burgers.

Safe Snacks
  • Pretzel bites

  • Plain popcorn

  • Chips and salsa

Avoid These
  • Chocolate chip cookies

  • Chicken sandwiches

  • Mayo and salad dressings

Peanut Allergy

This one's not just about the kids, because most people with peanut allergies will have them all their lives. In fact, more than 17% of the 4.6 million U.S. adults with peanut allergies developed them after childhood. So "mature audiences" need to know what to watch for in theater snacks too.

The good news is that most movie theater popcorns are not made with peanut oils.

Safe Snacks
  • Twizzlers

  • Whoppers

  • Swedish Fish

Avoid These
  • Peanuts (obviously)

  • Ice cream and frozen treats

  • Chocolate candies

Peanut exposure in people with allergies can be life-threatening when severe, and it's important to remember that food may not be the only exposure. Call ahead to ask about how the seats and floor of the theater are cleaned, and whether there are early show times when the theater is "cleaner." This could help you avoid accidental exposure to stray peanut residue.

Be sure to always carry an EpiPen in the event of a reaction.

Soy Allergy

Soy allergies affect roughly 1.5 million people in the U.S. and they're not unusual in people who also cope with peanut allergies. People allergic to soy-based products find that, as with peanuts, it's not always straightforward about which foods have them.

Soy and its oils may be found in candies and baked goods, but also in meat-free and "healthy" snack choices like energy bars or smoothies. Soy is also hidden in places you may not think of, such as the salt that goes on the movie popcorn.

Safe Snacks
  • Applesauce

  • Some milkshakes

  • Pretzel bites

Avoid These
  • Plain popcorn

  • Burgers with meat fillers

  • Candies and cookies

Tree Nut Allergy

If your child is allergic to almonds or walnuts, there's a good chance they're allergic to pecans and pistachios too. Most people with tree nut allergies react to more than one type of nut. This includes people with peanut allergies even though peanuts are legumes and grow on completely different kinds of plants.

Testing for tree nut allergies can be complicated, and it's not easy to know which nuts may cause an allergic reaction. It's best to avoid any theater snacks that you think may have tree nuts.

Safe Snacks
  • Nachos and salsa

  • Chicken tenders and fries

  • Nut-free candies

Avoid These
  • Gourmet popcorns

  • Hot cocoa drinks

  • Trail mixes and energy bars

Wheat and Gluten Allergies

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley grains, and it's the cause of gluten sensitivity even in those who don't have celiac disease. Gluten also shows up in movie theater foods where you may not expect it. Ice cream may be fine, for example, but not if you're choosing cookie dough or another flavor with added ingredients containing gluten.

Fortunately, there are now many gluten-free cookies, chips, drinks, and candies to make it easier.

Safe Snacks
  • Plain popcorn

  • Raisinets and M&M Originals

  • Pretzel bites

Avoid These
  • Malted milk products

  • Sandwiches with buns

  • Cookies and baked goods

Recap

There are plenty of allergen-free options at the movie theater, but there are also pitfalls. It's best to check with your local manager ahead of time, or look at resources provided by AMC or other chains.

If in doubt, remember that some candies—Sweet Tarts and Sour Patch Kids among them—are free from any of the eight major allergens.

More Tips for Allergy-Safe Movie Trips

Before You Arrive

Take the time to call your local theater first, and find out how their popcorn is prepared and what's on the ingredient list. Many theaters even have comprehensive lists.

Aside from popcorn and candy, see what other foods are available at the theater. Many theaters serve chicken or hot dog meals, nachos, milkshakes, and ice cream.

Get familiar with the ingredients in your favorite candies. Knowing what candies contain gluten, dairy, or nuts will help you and your child to choose the best snack option and free you to enjoy the movie.

At the Concession Stand

Be sure to read ingredient labels on popcorn or other foods you purchase to ensure that it's safe for you or your child. Don't hesitate to ask a manager or counter staff if you're having trouble choosing.

When you're done at the counter, thoroughly wash your hands to avoid any risk of contamination with food allergens.

Summary

Food allergies may limit your snack options at the cinema, but choosing safe snacks doesn't have to be an ordeal. Plan ahead and don't be afraid to ask questions. With the right information and preparation, you'll be all set to sit back, relax, snack, and enjoy the show.

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