Meal planning and prep is one of my favorite tools to use each week, not only for clients, but for myself! I practice what I preach and regularly make this a part of my routine so that I set myself up for success during the week.
Some people thrive on living spontaneously — not me. I need structure, and I like knowing my meals are all set so I can focus on other things that need my attention,
We’ve talked before about how meal planning may seem counterintuitive to, well, being intuitive around food.
But it actually helps you better connect to your intuition because it makes sure your needs are met throughout the day and calms the nagging voice of always wanting more (which typically happens when you’re restricting yourself). You can practice mindfulness at your meals and ensure you’re eating enough so that you’re not hyperfocused on food all day long. Read this post for more.
Meal Planning for Stress and Anxiety
Sometimes the needs that want to be met go beyond physical. I’m talking about mental health, in which nutrition can play a big role. We can get strategic about the foods we add to our regular meals to make a difference in how we feel.
I’ve created a mini recipe book for you using foods that are scientifically proven to manage stress and anxiety—something a lot of us already needed even before the current situation. You can download that here. Below I’m sharing how I created it.
- Magnesium: You may have heard this recommended as a supplement to take before bed because of its calming qualities — it’s the “anti-stress mineral!” It calms the nervous system by regulating your neurotransmitters1, and unfortunately, stress depletes this nutrient. But you don’t necessarily have to take a supplement. We can re-up our magnesium regularly and feel that calming effect throughout the day by using foods like nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens.
- Vitamin B6: This nutrient has been associated with panic attacks when levels are low in the body2. When we get enough of it, it has one of the most dramatic mood-elevating effects of all the B vitamins because it heightens serotonin production3. Just like magnesium, the body uses more Vitamin B6 to cope with stress, so we can incorporate it into our diet to keep our stress response regulated. Including B6-rich foods like nutritional yeast, turkey, eggs, bananas, spinach, legumes, and nuts can help support your mental health.
- Iron: Low iron is also associated with increased anxiety and panic attacks2. Those who have their menstrual cycle are more likely to have low iron4 and anxiety5, so add those risk factors together and well, grab your stress ball and clench up. Again, getting enough in our regular diet can reduce the chances of needing to do that, and foods like liver (I know, sorry, but if you can stomach it, it’s a great source of iron!), salmon, lentils, spinach, tofu, and pumpkin seeds can assist.
- Fiber: Blood sugar imbalance has been associated with anxiety6, and fiber is one way that we can ensure it’s regulated throughout the day. This is one of the reasons I mention that it’s a key component of a balanced meal. It slows the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, allowing you to have steadier energy and a more even-keeled mood from one meal to the next.As you digest the fiber in the gut, short-chain fatty acids are produced by your gut bacteria as byproducts of that digestion, and SCFAs have been shown to help with stress management, lowering both the emotional and physical stress response7.
High-fiber foods are going to be those that are minimally or not-at-all processed like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A variety of these things in your diet will get you all of the above nutrients and many more, so you don’t have to worry too much about choosing the exact right foods.
I used these key nutrients as a guideline for choosing recipes to help manage stress and anxiety.
Recipes for Stress and Anxiety
Some of the recipes that are already on my website will be particularly helpful for calming your mind.
- Rainbow Vegan Sushi
- Thai Turkey Burgers
- Avolini Wrap
- Blueberry Coconut Greens Salad
- Golden Chia Pudding
It’s important to note that of course, these foods are not a cure, and some folks may need further intervention to manage their stress and anxiety (and that’s okay). I always like to start with the diet first and see how far I can get from there.
The recipe book I created has 15 more recipes that can help calm stress and anxiety. See a list of all the recipes and download it here.
- Ruppersberg J et al. ‘The mechanism of magnesium block of NMDA receptors.” Seminars in Neuroscience. 1994;6(2): 87-96. Link.
- Mikawa, Y at al. “Low serum concentrations of vitamin B6 and iron are related to panic attack and hyperventilation attack.” Acta Med Okayama. 2013;67(2):99-104. doi: 10.18926/AMO/49668. Link.
- Higdon, J. “Vitamin B6.” Linus Pauling Institute. Oregon State University. June 2014. Link.
- Coad, J and Conlon, C. “Iron deficiency in women: assessment, causes and consequences.” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Nov;14(6):625-34. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834be6fd. Link.
- “Women and Anxiety.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Link.
- Naidoo, U. “Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety.” Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. August 29, 2019. Link.
- Van de Wuor, M et al. “Short‐chain fatty acids: microbial metabolites that alleviate stress‐induced brain–gut axis alterations.” The Journal of Physiology. First published:31 July 2018. Link.