The 5 Healthiest Concession Stand Foods, According to a Certified Nutrition Coach

Updated: Nov. 10, 2023

Take me out to the ballgame—or a concert, or amusement park, or any other fun outing with crowds! A certified nutrition coach shares the healthiest options you can score from the menu board.

Sports Game Seats
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In summer, ball games, concerts, and other forms of outdoor entertainment give us something to look forward to. Whether it’s the neighborhood little league game or that long-awaited stop on the ERAS tour, your ticket to admission is a fantastic way to get outside, build community, and support talent you love…be it the tee-ball team or Taylor.

But all that cheering can lead you to work up an appetite. Concession stands often call to mind images of greasy pizza slices, over-sized soft drinks, and high-sodium bites, like hot dogs. Although in the past few years, some venues have updated their menus to answer the demand for healthier choices, you’re still bound to find yourself facing the more traditional concession stand items.

As a nutrition coach as well as a dad of two active kids, I’m a firm believer that the occasional indulgence can be a part of any healthy diet (and a fun part of the overall experience). The key is being informed on what your healthier options are…which is why we’ve curated this list of the healthiest concession stand foods.

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Homemade Cheeseburger
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Grilled Chicken Sandwich or Hamburger

From a total health standpoint, the grilled chicken sandwich provides the lower fat and calorie content of the chicken, compared to the ground beef (420 calories versus 540 calories).

That said, the difference may not be significant enough for a burger lover to deprive themselves on a special occasion—plus, the chicken sandwich is probably tougher to find at many concession stands. Both options are great sources of protein, and a much cleaner protein compared to other typical options, like the hot dog. Hot dogs tend to be higher in fat, much higher in sodium levels, and more importantly, processed meats have been linked with higher risk of colorectal cancer and premature death.

You can increase the nutrition points from your burger or sandwich by dressing it with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles—and if you’re more carb-conscious, you can ditch the bun and wrap that protein in a few extra pieces of lettuce. Take note of any sauces like mayonnaise, “secret sauce,” or ketchup, all of which can quickly add unwanted calories from fat or sugar.

And if you’re looking for a good side to replace those fries, try adding a piece of fruit or carrot sticks, both of which are more commonly found at concession stands these days.

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popcorn from concession stand
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Who can resist the smell of those roasted kernels wafting through the air? Not this fan. Popcorn can be a great snack option if you’re looking for something on the lighter side. The key is to hold any added butter and salt, which can pour on unhealthy levels of both fat and sodium.

By keeping it as au naturel as possible, popcorn serves up moderate levels of carbohydrates and fat (plus some healthy fiber), and a lower overall calorie content at roughly 44 calories per cup. So it might not hurt to follow your nose to the source of that aroma when it becomes a little too hard to ignore.

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Two traditional soft Octoberfest pretzels on brown paper
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Soft Pretzel

When it’s baked, a soft pretzel can also be a great option. Coming in a bit higher in terms of carbohydrate content, this may not be the ideal low-carb choice—but with moderate levels of both fat and protein, this lower calorie option (389 cal per medium-sized pretzel) certainly earns a spot on the list.

A pretzel generally lacks protein and fiber and therefore may not keep you full for long, but it can most certainly take the edge off of a hunger craving.

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Bags of peanuts.
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Peanuts are actually part of the legume (bean) family, not part of the tree nut family with which they’re most often associated. Traditionally roasted and packaged in-shell, peanuts are another snack item worth considering. They’re a bit higher in overall fat content compared to the popcorn and pretzel noted earlier, but much of this fat is from omega-6 fatty acids, often referred to as the “healthy” fats. Peanuts are specifically high in the fatty acid linoleic acid, which has actually been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to one 2019 study published in Circulation, a medical journal from the American Heart Association.

How the peanuts are served is another win. Most often in-shell from the concession stand, this option requires a bit more work to get to the edible components, which can actually slow the eating process…and in turn keep you from over-consuming. How’s that for a hit?

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Takeaway fruit cocktails with straw
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Last, how do you wash down those tasty snacks? My personal recommendation is to avoid alcohol, and to double down on your water intake to ensure adequate hydration—especially if you’re out in the heat.

Should your palate desire a bigger thrill than water, shoot for iced tea, which can deliver less sugar than traditional soda as long as you’re sweetening it lightly. For an extra-refreshing zing, splash in a little lemonade for the ultimate warm-weather drink that’s most often referred to as an Arnold Palmer.

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