You rarely find the words “movie theater” and “health food” in the same sentence, but this could change. As more Mainers seek out healthier fare and adopt alternative diets, cinemas around the state are responding with new menu offerings.

During the past year, Cinemagic – with theaters in Westbrook, South Portland and Saco – added a Fruit, Nut & Snack Pack to its concession stands. The treat features almonds, pretzels and raisins, and sells for $4.

“We’re always trying to meet our customers’ expectations and needs,” said Bob Collins, director of marketing for Zyacorp, which owns Cinemagic. “And in the last couple years, people are heading to healthier lifestyles, and we can add to that by offering a healthier choice.”

If someone was to eat the whole Snack Pack, he or she would consume about 450 calories, 18 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 10 grams of protein and zero grams of cholesterol and trans fat.

In contrast, the Center for Science in the Public Interest analyzed movie theater food in 2009 and found that a medium popcorn and soda purchased at a Regal cinema contained 1,610 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat, which is triple the recommended amount of saturated fat someone should consume in one day, according to the Food & Drug Administration. The FDA bases its recommendations on a daily diet that includes 2,000 calories.

Many movie theaters cook their popcorn in a product made with coconut oil, artificial flavor and beta carotene. A mixture called Flavacol, which contains salt, artificial butter flavor and yellow dyes No. 5 and No. 6, is the seasoning of choice at many cinemas.

Two smaller movie theaters have changed their popcorn routine to appeal to people who want healthier options and whole foods instead of processed alternatives.

“We use real butter on the popcorn,” said Barry Norman, who owns the Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick. “It’s definitely a selling point.”

Norman, who bought the theater a year ago, said he may explore adding healthy fare, as long as space permits and customers show an interest.

At the Harbor Theater in Boothbay Harbor, the popcorn is cooked in canola oil and seasoned with real butter. The theater also sells Welch’s fruit juices as an alternative to soda.

Harbor Theater owner Jason Sheckley said he’d like to offer fresh baked goods or fruit, but he hasn’t done so because the cinema doesn’t get enough traffic in the off-season to allow him to maintain a stock of food with a limited shelf life.

Portland’s robust vegan community can find tailor-made treats at the Nickelodeon in the city’s downtown. The cinema sells more than a dozen varieties of vegan cookies made by the Alternative Baking Co. All are soy-free, two are wheat-free and, as of last week, four are gluten-free.

Each cookie sells for $3.

“We added them about two years ago,” said Nickola Cole, a manager at the theater. “It was done to try something new that was an alternative and that would appeal to people with vegan diets.”

Cookie flavors include Colossal Chocolate Chip, Outrageous Oatmeal Raisin, Double Chocolate Decadence and Snicker Doodle.

“They sell pretty well,” Cole said. “For the first six months, it took a while for people to catch on that they were here and tasted good. Now we place an order every week.”

While these cookies appeal to people following special diets, they’re not necessarily health food, clocking in at more than 400 calories and 30 to 40 grams of sugar each. Still, for folks who avoid dairy and eggs but crave a sweet treat, such offerings provide a welcome change from the standard candy lineup.

Two theaters that serve full meals offer another place to find better-for-you movie fare. At the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick, patrons who come in to watch independent and art-house films in the adjacent theater can order from the cafe’s full menu, which emphasizes local and seasonal food.

Choices include soups, salads and sandwiches. MezePlates – sold in varieties such as kalamata and feta or dried fruit and nuts – and MarketPlates – which come in Italian, French, Middle Eastern and cheese varieties – make good snack plates to enjoy while watching a movie. The cafe serves two vegan sandwiches.

Reel Pizza Cinerama in Bar Harbor offers a full pizza menu to go along with its films. More than half of the menu is made up of vegetarian pies, and the theater also offers gluten-free crust, soy cheese and tofu.

As more people move away from processed foods and toward more healthy fare, expect to see additional theaters catering to customers’ changing tastes.

“It’s our job to provide our patrons with what they want,” said Cinemagic’s Collins. “If customers express to us they want a particular item, we’ll be all over it.”

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila