If you’re feeling stumped on what to meal prep for lunch, these meal prep cucumber kimchi chickpea lunch boxes will add flavor, texture, and variety to your routine! They feature my kimchi smashed chickpea salad along with spicy marinated cucumbers, rice crackers, and greens. You can enjoy the combination of ingredients in a bowl or pack them up in your favorite lunch box or bento box for a portable meal.
For me, vegan meal prep isn’t unique to January, or back-to-school season, or any other time of year that’s associated with getting organized.
Meal prep is my way of remaining consistent with making and eating homemade food through life’s seasons.
I go through ups and downs with cooking, but thanks to meal prep, I manage to stick with it even when I’m unmotivated. Meal prep is such an important part of my routine that I dedicated an entire cookbook to it!
The Vegan Week
Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.
Whether you have three, two, or even just one hour of time to spare, The Vegan Week will show you how to batch cook varied, colorful, and comforting dishes over the weekend.
No matter how much of a constant my meal prep is, however, I like any periodic or seasonal reason to feel re-energized and motivated with it.
The start of a new year is as good a reason as any. That’s why I’m happy to be sharing these fun, nutritious meal prep cucumber kimchi chickpea lunch boxes with you today.
Finding love for a homemade lunch
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I think that lunch is a tricky meal for many of us.
Most of my clients describe lunch as the hardest meal to be consistent with. It’s actually a meal that many of them dread.
Some of my clients are busy professionals who don’t want to slow down midday for food. Others would be happy to eat, but resent having to stop and plan or think about what to eat.
As a result, lunch often gets skipped in favor of grab-and-go snacks.
But there’s a cost that comes with failing to stop for midday nourishment. The primary deficit is nutritional: the forfeited energy and nourishment (protein, micronutrients) that a solid lunch can provide.
There are other downsides. Skipping any meal, but especially lunch, can contribute to all-day grazing, eating past the point of comfort at dinnertime, or feeling fixated on sweets before bed.
In all cases, the body is compensating for nutrition that it wasn’t provided earlier.
This is why, in spite of the inconvenience of a midday pause, I think that lunch is important.
If lunch is going to be prioritized, it might as well be delicious, right?
One easy solution for eating an enjoyable weekday lunch without too much midday effort is to rely on vegan meal prep lunches that can be made over the weekend, or at the start of the week.
Meal prepping lunch for M-F is a great way to reduce decision fatigue, feel organized, and ensure that lunch happens no matter how busy life becomes.
The versatility of chickpea salads
Once upon a time, smashed chickpea salads mixed with mayo were sort of a novelty.
Reminiscent of traditional tuna or chicken salad, these salads were popular among some plant-based eaters, but they weren’t widespread.
Nowadays, I see chickpea “tuna” recipes all the time, not only in cookbooks or online, but also in sandwich shops and eateries.
How wonderful! Chickpeas are mighty little nutritional powerhouses, packed with protein, folate, and iron, as well as dietary fiber.
Their creamy texture makes them super versatile and useful for a wide range of recipes, too—today’s chickpea lunch boxes included.
I’ve made many “classic” versions of smashed chickpea salad that were based off of the tuna and chicken salads that I remember from delis when I was growing up.
Over time, however, I’ve also come to appreciate smashed chickpea salads with different flavor accents, such as curry powder, harissa paste, or sun-dried tomatoes.
I’ve experimented with using white beans for smashed salads, too, including my garlic tahini smashed white bean salad.
One of my very favorite chickpea salads to date is my kimchi smashed chickpea salad.
Kimchi smashed chickpea salad
Kimchi smashed chickpea salad is the main component in today’s chickpea lunch boxes. It’s spicy and creamy, and it’s also the plant protein source in the recipe.
It’s very easy to make the salad: you simply mash up chickpeas in a mixing bowl (I like to use a handheld potato masher for the job), then fold in the following:
- vegan kimchi (mild or spicy, according to your preferences)
- vegan mayonnaise (store-bought or my homemade vegan mayo with cashews)
- rice vinegar
- sriracha or chili crunch
In nearly an instant, you’ll have a very flavorful mixture that can be eaten on toast, in a wrap, on top of a bed of warm rice, or in these make-ahead chickpea lunch boxes.
How to make meal prep cucumber kimchi chickpea lunch boxes
Of course, the chickpea salad isn’t the only component here. The lunch boxes also feature greens, a cold, marinated cucumber salad, and crackers.
Here’s how all of the parts come together.
Step 1 (ahead of time): Marinate the cucumbers
Spicy, marinated cucumbers, prepared with chili crisp, sesame oil, garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce, lend freshness and crunch to the chickpea lunch boxes.
To make them, you’ll start by salting sliced cucumbers.
Next, you’ll pour off any water that the cucumbers have emitted while soaking, pat them dry, and transfer them to a storage container with an airtight lid.
Whisk together a marinade, then pour it over the cucumber slices. Transfer them to the fridge and let them marinate for 2-4 hours.
Step 2: Make the kimchi smashed cucumber salad
Next, you’ll prepare the kimchi smashed cucumber salad. All of the details are in this post, and it’s a very simple process.
Step 3: Assemble bowls or lunch boxes
At this point, you’ll have two options. You could simply pile all of the components—kimchi chickpea salad, marinated cucumbers, some greens, and crackers—into a bowl or onto a plate.
If you like, you can also put some lunch boxes together.
I like to start by layering my chickpea salad over some fresh, crunchy greens. Add a quarter each of the spicy cucumbers and rice crackers to other components.
Step 4: Enjoy or store
Assembled lunch boxes can be stored for up to two days in airtight containers in the fridge.
If you’d like to store everything longer, for up to four days, then I recommend keeping the components separate—in other words, don’t pile the chickpea salad over the greens. This will help to keep the greens crispy.
When it comes time to eat, I love to scoop some of the smashed chickpea salad onto my crackers and top with the spicy, cold cucumbers!
A few words about some of the ingredients in the chickpea lunch boxes:
You can really use any crackers that you love here. I really like to use a seeded cracker, such as Mary’s Gone Crackers or Crunchmaster, or regular or black sesame crackers. Plain rice crackers also work very well.
Flax seed crackers, such as Ella’s Flats or Flackers, are fun addition.
In place of crackers, you could use pretzel chips, pita wedges, toast points, or crispbread.
No chickpeas at home? No problem. A white bean, such as navy beans, cannellini beans, or great Northern beans, will also work well.
My favorite greens to use in these bowls are mizuna and tatsoi. Both can be a little tricky to find, however, so there are other options if those aren’t available.
I like to use either dark greens or quite crispy greens, both of which will keep well and resist turning soggy.
I’ve tried—and liked—all of the following:
- crispy green leaf
- baby spinach
- baby kale
- thinly sliced collard green ribbons
- chopped romaine
- thinly sliced Tuscan kale ribbons or chopped curly kale
You can even used a chopped, steamed green vegetable, such as broccoli florets, green beans, snow peas, or sugar snap peas.
Many chili crisp brands are inherently vegan and labeled as such. My favorite right now is the Sichuan chili crisp from Fly By Jing. Momofuku’s chili crunch is really good, too.
If you don’t have chili crunch and can’t get your hands on it easily, I offer a substitute in the recipe card.
What type of lunch box do you recommend?
As someone who writes often about vegan meal prep, this is one of my most FAQs!
Here’s a list of go-to containers:
- Mepal duo lunch box
- Mepal medium bento box
- Pyrex 3.4 quart bento box and 2.1 quart bento box
- W&P Porter Bowl
- Lunchbots Trio Container
- Stasher snack bags and sandwich bags
Ultimately, I recommend choosing the option that’s best for your space capacity (storage containers can be bulky and take up a lot of room) and your budget—the more versatile, the better.
I use my Pyrex bento boxes (for compact meals like this one) and my W&P porter bowl (for big salads or bowls) most often.
More vegan meal prep inspiration
If you’re hoping to do more vegan meal prep this year, and you’d like just a little more information than what I’ve shared today, here are a few other posts that might be helpful:
- A beginner’s guide to vegan meal prep
- Vegan meal prep breakfast ideas
- Vegan meal prep lunch ideas
- Vegan meal prep dinner ideas
Also, some specific meals that lend themselves well to meal prep for lunch:
- Quinoa beet bowls
- Meal prep teriyaki tofu noodle bowls
- Autumn vegetable tofu bake
- Chickpea burrito bowls
- Lemon pepper tempeh vegetable pasta bowls
- Rice and bean collard wraps
- Hearty vegan mushroom bulgur bean chili
- Creamy coconut curried green lentils
- Sheet pan butternut squash salad with kale
- Lentil tahini wraps
And to that list, you can add this colorful, crunchy, spicy, creamy chickpea lunch box.
- 1 medium sized or 3 mini seedless cucumbers, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch / 6mm slices (if using a regular sized seedless cucumber that is wide in diameter, you can half it lengthwise before slicing crosswise)
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
- 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cane or coconut sugar
- 2 teaspoons garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
- 2-3 teaspoons vegan chili crisp (substitute 1 teaspoon chili oil + a few dashes crushed red pepper flakes + a pinch of toasted sesame seeds)
- 4 cups loosely packed baby greens, such as mizuna, tatsoi, baby kale, crisp leaf, or baby spinach
- 1 batch kimchi smashed chickpea salad
- 4 servings (about 40-50 crackers) black sesame, sesame rice, plain rice, or seeded crackers
Place the cucumber slices into a bowl and salt them generously. Allow the slices to sit for 10 minutes. The cucumbers will release water. Drain this water from the bowl. Then, use tea or paper towels to pat the cucumber slices very dry. Transfer the cucumbers to an airtight storage container with a lid.
Whisk the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, and chili crisp together until the sugar dissolves. Pour this mixture over the cucumbers. Cover the container and shake it gently to distribute the sauce. Allow the cucumbers to marinate for 2-4 hours.
To prepare the lunch bowls/boxes, distribute the greens between four divided storage containers or bowls. Top each mound of greens with a quarter of the smashed chickpea salad (alternatively, store the greens and chickpea salad separately if your lunch box has as many as four compartments). Add a quarter of the spicy cucumbers and rice crackers to each lunch box or bowl. Store for up to 48 hours in the fridge, covered, or serve right away.
A friend and I were chatting today about the ups and downs of getting back into a regular routine after any period of disruption: this could be travel, the holiday season, a life transition, or an illness.
Suddenly, the everyday feels strange.
Enjoyable routines can make such a difference in those moments of readjustment. I hope these tasty vegan lunch boxes will help you to feel supported as the new year takes off.