When it comes to office lunches, fish gets an unnecessarily bad rap.
But in reality, packing fish for lunch doesn’t need to be a risky (or smelly) endeavor. For a viable midday option, simply select a less fishy species and preparation, cook and store it properly, and avoid reheating.
Here are five ways to take a healthy fish lunch to work without annoying your colleagues.
1. Choose meals that don’t require warming, like salads.
At the risk of stating the obvious: no one wants to smell microwaved fish all afternoon.
The good news is that fish makes for a great salad topper, and when you serve it this way, it doesn’t require reheating. Cook—poach, grill, or bake—your fish the night before, and pack it with your salad the morning of.
Avoid delicate leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, arugula, since these can wilt and get soggy. Opt for darker, sturdier greens like kale: dressing it ahead of time will actually help soften the fibrous, bitter leaves.
Slaw makes for another great based for a pre-mixed salad. It’s crunchiness offers and a foundation for strong, rich flavors. This flavor-packed Macadamia Crusted Barramundi with Pineapple Slaw Salad is the perfect example. Make it for dinner and pack leftovers for lunch. Easy.
Also, consider thin slices of summer vegetables for your salad base like this Grilled Barramundi and Zucchini Salad, or in-season fruit such as this Cedar Planked Barramundi is served atop a bed of pickled nectarines.
2. Go for grain bowls (aka. salads with a dose of healthy carbs).
Grain bowls are having their moment at fast-casual lunch spots and Instagram-friendly cafes, but they’re also an easy make-ahead meal prep option. A hearty batch of grains will stay good in the fridge for up to four days and tastes great tossed into salads, or used as a base for veggies, dressing, and a lean protein like fish or chicken. They’re versatile and satisfying.
A bowl of grains topped with raw veggies and some fish, like this Teriyaki Barramundi Bowl, is light and refreshing. For those days when you’re in need of some comfort food, this Farro-based Grain-and-Veggie Power Bowl has roasted root vegetables and barramundi in a flavorful sauce.
3. Reheat vegetable soup or stew, then add in chopped, cooked fish afterward.
It’s possible to make a hot, unoffensive lunch that involves fish! Hack a seafood soup or stew by adding cold, pre-cooked fish to a piping hot cup of vegetable-based soup.
Spicy, tomato-based soups work well, as do brothy ones packed with greens. Both are easy to make from scratch or buy pre-made. Any kind of fish will work, as long as it’s pre-cooked and cut in small pieces—think leftover baked or poached fish, pre-cooked frozen shrimp that’s been thawed, or even canned fish like tuna or sardines.
When it’s lunchtime, reheat the soup until it’s very hot, then drop in the cold, cooked fish right before you eat. The hot soup will heat the fish.
4. Turn ceviche into a full meal.
You may think that ceviche as something you only get in a restaurant, but actually, it’s one of the most foolproof ways to prepare fish—no cooking required. It’s also easy to turn the classic fish appetizer into a envy-inducing lunch.
Use a mild white fish like barramundi, flounder, or snapper for your ceviche as its mild flavor will marinate seamlessly with a tart, acidic dressing. Start with partially frozen (or very cold) fish as it will make cutting it into cubes easier. Separately, pack the dressing and any other ingredients. As the fish sits in your office refrigerator, it will thaw completely. Toss the fish, dressing, and any other vegetables together 15 minutes before you plan to eat so that the fish has time to marinate and the acid from the dressing turns it opaque, essentially cooking it. This Barramundi Ceviche with Corn and Tomatoes is perfect for summer, while this Classic Ceviche made with Avocado, Herbs, and Lime is great year round.
You can also include some complex carbs that will keep your energy up through the afternoon. Scoop up the ceviche with plantain or whole grain tortilla chips, add a side of roasted sweet potato wedges, or serve the ceviche atop cooked rice or quinoa.
5. Keep tinned fish on-hand at all times.
These days, tinned fish is so much more than just dry tuna packed in brine. You can find flavorful tinned fish like mackerel and sardines at specialty stores and supermarkets, often packed in high-quality olive oil, which helps keep it moist. A word of warning: some have a more potent smell, but others are really mild, so it’s worth trying a few at home to figure out which are the most work-appropriate.
Because tinned fish doesn’t need to be refrigerated, you can keep a few tins at your desk. It’s an easy salad-topper for days when planning ahead isn’t an option. You can also use tinned fish for lunches that feel a little bit more planned. Pair a can of sardines with hard-boiled eggs, pickled veggies, and crusty bread for a picnic-inspired lunch, Or, mix canned salmon with a little bit of mayo, then use grainy crackers and cucumber slices to scoop it up.
As a rule of thumb whenever you eat fish: Go for quality and sustainability.
When it comes to seafood, not all is created equal. And like many things food-related, the end result is only as good as its individual ingredients: Your meal will only be as good as the fish that you buy. When shopping for fish, sustainability is key as is quality. Whether you’re buying tinned fish, frozen fish, or fresh, get to know these four terms to make sure to get what you want.
Find out the benefits of eating fish in Your Brain on Omega-3s. For more fish-cooking inspo, check out 5 Easy Show-stopping Sauces for Fish and 5 Simple Compound Butter Recipes that Are Perfect for Fish.