Stress-Relieving Foods: What Are Good Meals to Eat When You’re Stressed?

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There’s a famous adage: You are what you eat. However, you may not realize what you eat can help improve your mental health. Several stress-relieving foods contain nourishing vitamins and nutrients for a healthier brain. Together, these ingredients create delicious meals the whole family can enjoy.

Here’s a closer look at stress-fighting foods you should keep on hand and quick recipes you can refer to as a busy parent with places to be.

Stress-Relieving Foods to Stock Up On

If you’re asking yourself, “What are good meals to eat when stressed?” you’ll need to know what ingredients to buy first. Some of the healthiest brain foods actually derive from the Mediterranean diet. You’ll want to stock up on items rich in antioxidants, vitamin B, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Antioxidants — found in berries, avocados, pecans, olive oil, cruciferous vegetables and mushrooms — help alleviate inflammation. Likewise, omega-3-enriched foods reduce cortisol levels by 19% — also known as the stress hormone. 

According to nutrition experts, you should incorporate more of the following stress-relieving foods into your diet:

  • Omega-3-rich fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, oysters and shrimp
  • Lean poultry like turkey and chicken
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate, in moderation
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Lentils and legumes
  • Quinoa 
  • Greek yogurt
  • Pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews and chia seeds

Many nuts and seeds are excellent sources of magnesium and omega-3s and can decrease depressive symptoms. Additionally, phenylalanine in almonds boosts norepinephrine production in the brain to improve mood.

Fortunately, these ingredients are widely used in numerous recipes for improving anxiety. Create a shopping list and allow these foods to become staples in your refrigerator and pantry.

What Are Good Meals to Eat When Stressed?

Incorporating stress-relieving foods in your household’s meals can improve your mental health. Of course, creating healthy recipes everyone enjoys is the real challenge. Here are six meals you can whip up when pressed for time for a healthier, happier, stress-free outlook. 

1. Avocado Toast on Whole-Grain Bread

It doesn’t get much easier than avocado toast — and yet, this quick breakfast or lunch is full of vitamin B, vitamin D and amino acids for stress and anxiety relief. A medium avocado also contains 3 grams of protein to keep you feeling satiated and well-nourished.

Toast whole-grain, multi-grain, seeded or sprouted bread slices, then carefully slice or mash an avocado. A sprinkle of salt and pepper goes a long way for extra flavor.

You can eat avocado toast plain, or add different toppings like egg, fresh herbs, a slice of smoked salmon, spices and seasonings. Everything bagel seasoning mix is especially delicious on this dish.

2. Roasted Sweet Potato With Coriander and Chili

While white and sweet potatoes each have nutritional benefits, sweet potatoes are better for combating stress. Assemble a delicious plant-based meal in minutes by roasting sweet potatoes in the oven.

Sweet potatoes are a staple in Ayurveda diets, particularly — a traditional medicinal system from India following a centuries-old belief food is medicine for the body, mind and spirit. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and wash and cut sweet potatoes into cubes. Heat ghee in an oven-safe saucepan over medium heat, then stir in fresh ginger, coriander and chili powder. Cook the cubed potatoes for five minutes, covering the pan with a lid.

You’ll want to pour just enough water to coat the bottom of the pan — about 1/4 inch high. Then, transfer the sweet potatoes to the oven to cook for another 15 minutes. Feel free to include onions, other root vegetables or greens. You can even serve this dish over quinoa.

3. Roasted Salmon With Fresh Herbs 

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids for countering cortisol levels. Baking salmon is also one of the easiest cooking methods for a well-balanced dinner, taking only 15–20 minutes at 450 F for a two-pound piece of fish.

Slice a lemon thinly and place on a large sheet pan with a salmon fillet on top, skin-side down. Add a drizzle of olive oil, parsley sprigs, and salt and pepper to taste before cooking the salmon in the oven. When finished, top with freshly chopped dill, chives and extra parsley.

You can serve the salmon with other stress-relieving foods on the side, such as roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa or lentils.

4. Crockpot Lentil Soup

Busy parents have a lot on their plates — but crockpot meals make it possible to whip up dinner, even with a hectic schedule. A crockpot lentil soup like this one essentially cooks itself for five to six hours on high heat while you’re off running errands.

Pour all the vegetable ingredients into the crockpot — peeled and cubed butternut squash, sliced carrots, chopped potatoes, celery, onion, split peas and lentils. You’ll also need minced garlic, herbs de Provence, salt to taste, and vegetable or chicken broth. 

Before serving, blend about four cups of the soup with olive oil until it looks creamy. Then, stir the emulsion into the remaining soup with kale and parsley. Allow the soup to sit before spooning it into a bowl. A sprinkle of parmesan cheese and a crusty roll will round out this delicious cool-weather meal. 

Lentils contain vitamin B and iron, which promote healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome for the gut-brain connection. The more lentils you incorporate into your diet, the better chance of alleviating stress and anxiety.

5. Sheet-Pan Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Gnocchi

When you’re in a time crunch, there isn’t an easier meal than a Mediterranean diet sheet-pan recipe. This chicken with Brussels sprouts and gnocchi delivers some of the best stress-relieving foods for a healthier mindset with little mess to clean up afterward.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. In a large bowl, you’ll want to toss Brussels sprouts, gnocchi and sliced onion with olive oil, oregano, pepper, salt and garlic. Then, spread the mixture on a lined sheet pan. 

Coat chicken thighs or breasts with the same ingredients using the same bowl. You’ll want to nestle the chicken between the vegetables and gnocchi on the sheet pan. 

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then stir in cherry tomatoes. The dish will need to roast for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the Brussels sprouts are tender. At the very last minute, you’ll want to stir a small amount of red wine vinegar into the vegetables. 

Lean chicken is a healthy protein for stress relief. Its amino acids also aid hormone production — especially beneficial to women with anxiety due to polycystic ovary syndrome.

6. Garlic Shrimp With Quinoa

Shrimp has many vitamins and minerals for a healthy mind and is another source of omega-3 fatty acids. Meanwhile, quinoa has high amounts of magnesium. A magnesium deficiency could increase stress and muscle tension in the body.

Garlic shrimp and quinoa is a quick and delicious meal to boost your mood and reduce nervousness. Sprinkle raw shrimp with chili powder and salt, sauteeing them in olive oil for three minutes over medium-high heat — then transfer them to a plate.

In the same skillet, saute chopped onion and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent. Stir in uncooked quinoa, cayenne, chili powder and salt until coated. The quinoa must simmer in chicken broth for 15 minutes before it’s fluffy. 

A spritz of lemon juice, lemon zest and parsley are the finishing touches before topping the quinoa with the shrimp and serving.

Live Stress-Free With Healthy Eating

It’s no coincidence some of the best stress-relieving foods are actually good for you overall. Enhance your and your family’s mental and physical well-being with brain-boosting meals, sure to become new household favorites. 

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Beth, the Managing Editor at Body+Mind, is well-respected in the fitness and nutrition spaces. In her spare time, Beth enjoys going for runs and cooking.

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