Make Your Own Popcorn
Shelling out $10 each for a ticket to the movies can really strain the budget. Add those sugar-y, fatty snacks to that tally and you're dipping into the retirement fund. Instead, gather the family for a stay-at-home movie night and serve up a bowl of healthy popcorn. It’s quick, easy and won’t disappoint your taste buds.
Popcorn was very popular from the 1890s (when vendors sold it off carts) until the Great Depression. Then popcorn, which went for 5 to 10 cents a bag, became a luxury only a few families could afford. Once the 1950s hit, television became popular and attendance at the movies dropped -- the biggest seller of popcorn at the time.
Microwave popcorn was introduced in the 1940s, and by the 1990s, it racked up $240 million in annual sales in the U.S. Growing up throughout the 1979s and 1980s, I remember the UFO-shaped Jiffy Pop and popping fresh kernels at home on the stove.
Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of fiber. It's also low in calories -- coming in at about 31 to 55 calories in a single cup (that’s without any butter or oil). Popcorn contains no cholesterol or saturated fat unless you add it in yourself. Beware of bagged microwave popcorn, which can contain as much as 180 calories per cup with artery-clogging saturated fat and some trans fat. Make sure you read the labels and pick up bag with less than 30 calories per cup and unbuttered and unflavored, if possible.
Make popcorn on the stove or in the microwave -- both are quick and easy. Air poppers are a third option. When using the stove, pre-heat 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil over high heat in a large saucepan for about a minute. Add 4 ounces of popcorn kernels and cover. Lower heat and shake pot slightly until kernels stop popping.
Microwave-safe popcorn bowls are also available. Add 3 tablespoons of oil and 4 ounces (about 2/3 cup) of kernels to the bowl, cover and place in microwave. Cook on high for 3 to 5 minutes until popping slows. Take out of microwave carefully (the bowl may be hot!) and be careful not to burn the popcorn. You can also pop kernels in the microwave using a brown paper bag.
Various kernels are available to suit your preference. Bob’s Red Mill makes white and yellow kernels. Amish Country Popcorn kernels come in a variety of flavors and colors, including purple, blue, red and Lady Finger.
Butter is the classic popcorn flavor enhancer, but each tablespoon adds 100 calories and 11.5 grams of fat. Packaged popcorn seasoning is available and contains few calories, no fat and is very low in sodium (75 milligrams per serving).
Make your own topping for popcorn. Try traditional cheese-flavored popcorn or pizza-flavored. Grated Romano and Parmesan cheese work well, too, but a little sprinkle goes a long way. Is sweeter more your style? Try bittersweet chocolate-flavored popcorn. Other seasonings to try are fresh rosemary, thyme and lemon zest, basil-Parmesan or cinnamon and sugar.
Popcorn recipes to try: