To the relief of cooped-up powder hounds everywhere, skiing has proved to be relatively safe during the pandemic, thanks to the abundance of fresh air and natural social distancing on the hill. But one aspect of a day at the resort still poses significant COVID risk: the ski lodge. To avoid crowded indoor spaces, many Outside editors have been trading their slopeside burgers and chicken fingers for meals prepared at home.
But which brown-bag lunches are best for getting you through a day at the resort? We rounded up the Outside staff’s favorite to-go meals, below, then asked Kristen Gravani, the director of sports nutrition for Stanford University athletes, to weigh in on our choices. Gravani, a former college ski racer, says there are three components of a good to-go meal:
- The right balance of nutrients. Generally, you want your meal to be higher in carbohydrates, with a moderate amount of fat and protein. Carbohydrates are a skier’s main fuel source, and a little fat and protein help stave off hunger longer while providing slowly released energy. (Exact proportions will vary depending on your individual nutrition needs, but typically, the more intense and sustained your ski day is, the more this ratio will skew toward carbs.)
- Ingredients that sit well in your stomach. If you know that spicy chili makes you sprint for the bathroom, leave the beans at home. The less your stomach is churning, the more you can enjoy your turns.
- Food safety. If you’re carrying a meaty burrito around in your pocket, that’s the ideal habitat for bacteria that causes foodborne illness. Ideally, you want to keep perishable foods cold, or just stick with shelf-stable options.
With those criteria in mind, here’s what Gravani thinks about Outside editors’ ski-day lunches:
Pandemic or not, my go-to is a homemade breakfast burrito: a ten-inch tortilla, hash browns, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and green chili. It’s really two meals in one. I eat one half on the drive to the mountain, then wrap the other half in tinfoil and stash it in my jacket for lunch. That, plus an energy bar in reserve—I’m a fan of GoMacro’s maple sea salt flavor—always gets me through the day. —Chris Keyes, editor
I have two go-to ski lunches, depending on how much I rallied that morning. If I’ve given myself enough time to get a breakfast burrito from my favorite spot in Santa Fe (hello, Betterday Coffee!), I will eat exactly one-third of it for lunch, with a Modelo on the chairlift. (The first third is consumed on the drive up in the morning, and the last third on the drive down at the end of the day.) Betterday burritos are made up of five key ingredients: tortilla, egg, cheese, and chile. Sometimes bacon, too. If my morning is rushed (or my bank account strained), I’ll eat a Perfect Bar for lunch—it’s my favorite on-the-go snack. Its macros are pretty well-balanced, so it feels less like a sugar or protein bomb and more like a meal. I also wash that down with a Modelo. —Abbie Barronian, associate editor
“You’ve got really good combinations of carbs, fat, and protein,” says Gravani of the two burritos. The tortilla and hash browns provide a nice boost of carb-based energy, while the eggs and cheese round things out with protein and fat. Gravani thinks the GoMacro and Perfect bars are also solid choices. Food safety in regards to the burritos, however, docks them a grade. “When you put a warm burrito in your pocket, keeping that moderate temperature as it’s cooling down over time puts it at risk for microbial growth,” she says. If you’re going to go with a perishable lunch, it’s better to refrigerate it first.
My go-to lift lunch is the eggadilla. First, fry two eggs, making sure to break the yolks so they don’t run all over your gloves when it’s time to eat. Then sauté whatever veg you have on hand—onion, bell pepper, zucchini, etc. Finally, stack your eggadilla on a tortilla, with a layer of cheese on the bottom, your egg and veg in the middle, and another layer of cheese on top, and then add the second tortilla. Heat the whole thing in a large frying pan, or just microwave it. Cut it into quarters, and put it in a Ziploc bag, so you can throw in your pack or even a jacket pocket. It’s portable, squish-proof, delicious, and filling. —Luke Whelan, senior research editor
An excellent ski lunch consists of a few triangle-shaped sections of leftover, cold, homemade quesadilla—I use flour tortillas, sautéed mushrooms, chopped chicken breasts, Mexican-blend cheese, and canned green chile. It carries well, because it’s already flat. I also take along some good salsa in a small, leakproof container. —Alex Heard, editorial director
“I love the addition of vegetables here,” says Gravani. “Along with that lean protein and carbs, it seems like a nice combination.” The quesadillas, above, have a similar protein-fat-carbs ratio to the breakfast burritos, making them a well-balanced choice for a midday ski meal. But they also lose points for the elevated potential to bring on a bout of foodborne illness.
I always bring a thermos of good-quality chili, like Annie’s, and a bag of Fritos. When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll top the chili with shredded Tillamook white cheddar. Bonus: it’s gluten-free, which is a must when you have celiac like I do. —Aleta Burchyski, associate managing editor
My boyfriend and I are known for only bringing Frito pies on backcountry and camping trips. It’s what we ate growing up at the Santa Fe ski area, and we’ve been continuing the tradition during the pandemic. We bring a bag of Fritos, a thermos of hot beef chili, and sometimes also a bag of shredded lettuce and cheese. It’s full of carbs, protein, and salt—what more could you ask for! We accompany the meal with a thermos of hot chocolate or tea. And as any ski day should have, a candy bar will always be on hand. —Petra Zeiler, art director
“I give them points for being able to navigate that meal and bring it heated,” says Gravani. And while the macronutrient balance is decent, this meal’s potential to cause tummy troubles warranted a grade reduction. The combo of fat, fiber, and spice can lead to an upset gut. “Especially with beans, it can cause GI distress for some people,” she says. Being at a high altitude doesn’t help the stomach situation either. Some people may have no issue with the magical fruits, and GI problems are very individual, but if you’re unsure about your reaction to beans, you may want to save yourself—and everyone in your group—the trouble.
I keep it simple with an almond butter and jam sandwich, usually on Trader Joe’s Super Grain and Seed bread. I pack on the almond butter, and go light on the jam so it doesn’t get all sticky, and put it in a small Ziploc bag. It’s great fuel, and I can cram it in a ski-jacket pocket and eat it on the lift. It doesn’t matter if it gets smashed. In fact, it tastes better smashed a bit, because the jam marinates the bread. I also always keep some peanut M&M’s or a Kind bar in my pocket for extra fuel when needed. —Mary Turner, deputy editor
PB&J all the way! This sandwich is a classic and might be the ultimate-adventure pocket snack; we even have articles to prove it. But I don’t make just any old PB&J—if it’s going in my pocket, it has to be a “dub” PB&J. Instead of loading up just one side of the sandwich with peanut butter, I prefer to coat each slice of bread with a thin layer of peanut butter, and then add the jelly in the middle. This is key for keeping your PB&J al dente all day, an improved sandwich structure for zero sogginess and better pocket durability for the inevitable yard sale. If you’re looking for something a little more gourmet, just add bacon. —Jackson Buscher, video producer
It’s hard to beat the humble PB&J. Not only does it meet the right balance of nutrients that you need to keep skiing through the afternoon, but it’s also easy to digest and shelf-stable. Gravani herself likes to pack a PB&J when she hits the slopes. “Having a less heavy lunch, and being able to supplement with some snacks, sets you up to avoid that post-lunch slump,” she says. Chairlift grazing not only reserves more time for skiing but also can keep you energized throughout the day.
During ski season, Friday nights at my house are usually pizza nights. Homemade pies loaded with cheese, veggies, and pepperoni are the ultimate comfort food and the best way to cap off a stressful workweek. The leftovers also make the best ski lunch imaginable. My boyfriend and I always make extra to bring to the mountain the next day. A few slices fit neatly into a Ziploc that lies flat in my jacket pocket, and they’re easy to eat one-handed (and glove-handed if it’s frigid and I’m really desperate). It feels more indulgent than the usual PB&J or energy bar but is still easy to snack on during lift rides without making a mess. Plus, cheese and bread are good endurance fuels, right? —Ariella Gintzler, associate editor
A cheesy slice contains more fat than would be ideal midway through a ski day, according to Gravani. That means you may feel sluggish after eating it, as fats tend to sit heavier in the stomach and digest slower than carbs and protein.
With a kid at home, I’m all about efficiency on the slopes. My go-to lunch is a simple flour-tortilla wrap with peppered salami, cheddar cheese, avocado, and hot sauce. It’s easy and tidy to eat on the run, but the protein hit gives me sustained energy without bogging me down. —Will Taylor, gear director
“I do love that he chose a shelf-stable meat, and the rest of the components are really quality, too,” says Gravani. Salami is still a fatty meat, though, so swapping it out with a low-fat alternative like turkey would make this meal perfect and help avoid post-meal sluggishness.
Cheese and Crackers
Since I won’t be able to treat myself with chicken fingers and ranch dressing this year—the absolute best ski lunch, in my opinion—I’ll be packing my favorite backpacking meal: cheese and crackers. I prefer a solid hunk of cheddar cheese paired with Wasa Multi-Grain crispbread. And I’ll throw in a beef stick or jerky if I get really hungry. —Kelsey Lindsey, associate editor
“This one is lower protein and higher fat than is ideal,” says Gravani. Adding in a lean meat like turkey jerky to increase the protein would achieve a better nutrient balance.