Mental Health: Easy mood-boosting meals to make when you’re feeling down

Baked salmon with creamy spinach and mushroom sauce on a dark background, top view. Florentine Salmon

Salmon, pea pasta and spinach are great options (Picture: Getty)

When you’re feeling down and anxious, dinner is the last thing on your mind – but we still need to strengthen ourselves.

Eating can be key to our mental health, and it’s possible that certain foods actually help us feel happier, says registered nutritionist Natasha Evans.

“We rely on the food we eat to provide us with the nutrients we need to fuel our bodies,” she explains.

“Research has shown that mental health issues such as low mood, anxiety and depression can be correlated with low levels of nutrients such as magnesium, iron, zinc and vitamins B6, B12 and D.”

Serotonin, a chemical found in the brain, is known to affect our mood and is a must for overall health and well-being.

Lauren Lovatt, founder of Plant Academy and author of the Mind Food cookbook on recipes to improve mental health, explains that serotonin doesn’t come directly from food.

However, eating foods that contain an amino acid known as tryptophan can help the body produce more serotonin. Therefore, a lack of tryptophan can cause serotonin levels to drop.

Since 90% of the serotonin in our bodies is in the gut, Lauren says some of the best ways to support our gut health is to eat high-fiber foods (like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes) and fermented foods (like kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt) that feed gut bacteria.

In order to produce more serotonin, we need to protect our gut, and probiotics are really good for that.

But a number of foods are essential for tryptophan to be effective.

In addition, the body also needs to consume carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, bread) which provide the energy needed to transport the tryptophan to the brain to form serotonin.

Why does it matter?

Mental health has deteriorated since the pandemic began and our diet may not be helping, as highly processed foods make up nearly 60% of our energy intake, according to Natasha.

Ultra-processed foods also typically lack nutrients and are high in pro-inflammatory fats and refined sugars.

These foods, such as processed carbohydrates, baked goods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners, can negatively impact mental well-being and should also be kept to a minimum whenever possible.

But we should still allow ourselves to eat our favorite foods, says Natasha, adding, “Food isn’t just for nourishment—it’s for enjoyment, connection, and making memories.”

Here are some meals you can prepare that are easy, quick, nutritious, and may even help increase your serotonin levels.

Vegetable Frittata Recipe:

Egg frittata, potatoes, bacon, peppers, parsley, green peas

Add potatoes, green peas, onions, cheese – or whatever you fancy (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Natascha suggests a vegetable frittata.

Eggs are great for increasing tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin) and veggies support gut health.

Spinach can also help boost serotonin naturally and is a great source of iron.


serves one

  • 1 tsp butter
  • Vegetables of your choice
  • cup of spinach
  • 2-3 eggs


  • Preheat your grill.
  • Cut up your vegetables.
  • Melt your butter in a pan and add the vegetables and cook until tender.
  • Beat your eggs together in a bowl.
  • Turn off the heat and add your eggs to the pan with your veggies. Mix and then press down on the veggies until coated with egg, forming an even layer.
  • Place the entire pan on the grill for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Nut porridge recipe:

Bowl of porridge closeup

Start your day with a boost (Image: Getty Images/Image Source)

For breakfast, Lauren suggests oatmeal with walnut milk. Alternatively, you can add whole/crushed walnuts to your porridge with another milk.

Walnuts are rich in antioxidants and promote a healthy gut.


serves one

  • 50 grams of rolled oats
  • 350 ml milk (walnut or any other) or water or a mixture of both
  • walnuts


  • Put 50 g oat flakes in a saucepan and add 350 ml milk or water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  • OR Combine oatmeal, milk, or water in a large microwave-safe bowl, then microwave on high heat for 5 minutes. Remove halfway through and stir. Let stand 2 minutes before eating.
  • Serve the porridge and add walnuts and other extras.

Spinach with Pea Noodles Recipe:

Pasta with spinach in tomato sauce

Pea noodles are becoming increasingly popular (Image: Getty Images)

Pea pasta is another suggestion from Lauren. It can be bought in supermarkets and is super easy to cook.

“Just cook it in a simple tomato sauce for three minutes and it’s done. It’s quick, easy, high in fiber and nutritious,” says Lauren.


serves one

  • 1 tsp oil
  • pea noodles
  • Tomato sauce (canned tomatoes, ready-made sauce)
  • A cup of spinach
  • Vegetables of your choice


  • Boil water in a pan.
  • Once cooked, add the pasta and cook for the recommended time on the package.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat the vegetables in another pan.
  • Pour the sauce over the vegetables.
  • Then add a handful of spinach.
  • When the noodles are done, drain.
  • Add the sauce to the noodles and mix.

Easy Beans on Toast Recipe:

Toast bread with baked beans.

Home cooking at its finest (Credits: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Beans on Toast is a classic comfort dish that’s super easy to make.

Lauren explains that beans are an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, and fiber.

You probably already know how to make beans on toast, but in case you don’t have a clue, the easy recipe is below.


serves one

  • bread
  • A can of baked beans


  • Put the bread in the toaster.
  • Warm the beans on the stove for 3 – 4 minutes, stirring regularly.
  • Cover the toast with the cooked beans

Salmon bowl recipe:

Have you ever been told that eating salmon is good for your brain?

Well, salmon is high in tryptophan. It is also high in omega 3, vitamin B, is a good source of potassium, is high in selenium and also contains antioxidants.

It might be an old TikTok trend, but Emily Mariko’s leftover salmon and rice combined with soy sauce, kimchi (great for gut health), and mayo might be the ultimate mood booster.


serves one

  • Cooked salmon – leftover salmon or canned salmon would work
  • 1 cup of rice
  • An ice cube
  • soy sauce
  • Sriracha mayonnaise – optional
  • An avocado
  • Roasted Seaweed
  • kimchi


  • Break up the salmon with a fork.
  • Pour the rice over it.
  • Place the ice cube in the rice and cover the dishes with parchment paper
  • Heat in the microwave for a few minutes.
  • Take out the ice cube.
  • Add desired amount of soy sauce, mayo, sriracha, and mince and mix.
  • Add the roasted seaweed and kimchi to eat on the side.

While diet is important to support your mental health, managing stress, optimizing sleep, and getting regular exercise are just as important, Natalie explains.

“A holistic approach is required in conjunction with medical support,” she says.

“But remember that diet isn’t just a matter of personal choices — the food industry, advertising, budgets and education all play a role. But start small, and those incremental changes will add up.”

Even if you feel like you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, it’s important to talk to your GP as well.

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Sarah Y. Kim

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