NEWS

Your ‘Depression Meals’ Can Be Low-effort—and Healthy

Lentil soup.

Verywell / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • On social media apps like TikTok, people are sharing their go-to depression meals when they have little mental and physical energy for cooking.
  • There are easy, low-effort tips you can try to make your meals more nutritious.
  • Above all, experts say it's important to give yourself grace.

Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, the #DepressionMealCheck hashtag has been trending on TikTok. People on the social media app are sharing meals that they lean on when they are experiencing depression and have little mental and physical energy to put toward cooking.

While these meals take very little time to prepare, many can also be relatively low in nutrients.

Compared with a global estimated prevalence of depression of 3.44% in 2017, it is estimated that the prevalence of depression became 25% (7 times higher) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When managing your depression, easy snacks like crackers with butter and jam or chips can be appealing to reach for. But there are some small changes you can make to pack nutrients into your day in a low-effort way.

Nutrition and Depression Are Linked

Depression and nutrition can go hand-in-hand. In fact, what you eat can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression. 

“When experiencing mental health issues like depression, it can be difficult to find the energy and motivation to prepare healthy sustenance,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of Nutrition Starring You and author of “The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook,” tells Verywell. “However, eating nourishing meals is important to support energy levels and even potentially improve mood.” 

Depression can both increase or decrease a person’s appetite depending on the individual. Skipping meals and a strong desire for sweet foods are common for those experiencing depression as well. All of these factors can make eating a balanced meal with nutritious foods challenging.

And while comfort foods can have a place in any diet, neglecting nutrient-dense foods can result in nutrient gaps, which can ultimately exacerbate your symptoms.

Specific nutrients that may help alleviate depression symptoms include:

  • The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine.
  • The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA 
  • Selenium, iron, and iodine

Low glycemic index (GI) food options like many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and pasta are more likely to provide a positive effect on brain chemistry, mood, and energy level than high GI foods, like candies and cookies. 

Dietitian-Approved Suggestions for Nutritious “Depression Meals”

People who are managing depression often find themselves skipping meals, eating sweet comfort foods, and avoiding nutritious foods like vegetables and fish.

While in the short term, it may help people feel better, over the long run, it can cause more harm than good. 

“The best meals include a combination of protein, high fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats to help keep you satisfied and keep your blood sugar levels stable,” Harris-Pincus shares.

Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and author of “A Balanced Approach to PCOS,” explains that people should focus on comfort foods that contain protein, fat, and fiber when they are finding items to eat when managing their mental health.

This can include foods like: 

  • A cheese quesadilla with salsa and guacamole
  • Grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup
  • A chocolate smoothie made with milk, protein powder, blueberries, and cacao

“Canned beans are one of my go-to choices to make simple meals happen fast,” Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CPT, nutrition expert at Shaw Simple Swaps, tells Verywell. “From tossing them in a tortilla with some bagged shredded lettuce and cabbage to mashing them on top of avocado toast to amp up the protein and fiber, their versatility and convenience make them a pantry staple.”

Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, Dallas-based dietitian & creator of Mama Knows Nutrition, tells Verywell that reaching for a bowl of cereal with cold milk allows you to have a nutritious meal in under a minute. She suggests adding sliced almonds and/or hemp seeds to boost the protein and healthy fats.

An effortless stir-fry is a go-to simple meal for Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, creator of Melissa Mitri Nutrition, LLC. To make this, “heat up instant brown rice, add cooked frozen stir-fry veggies and either edamame, a cut-up veggie burger, or frozen shrimp for protein,” Mitri tells Verywell.

And finally, snack plates can be a nutritious meal. Elise Compston, RD, LD, registered dietitian and founder of Compston’s Kitchen, tells Verywell that people can make a balanced snack plate by opting for “about half a plate of fruits and/or veggies, some protein (cheese, meat, nuts/seeds), and healthy fats (nuts, hummus, guac), and something fun.”

What This Means For You

If you or a loved one are experiencing depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. Free, confidential services are available 24/7. SAMHSA can help connect you with support groups and treatment options.

Give Yourself Grace

If you’re managing depression and end up reaching for a bowl of popcorn for dinner instead of a balanced meal, don’t be hard on yourself.

Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, LDN, USAT level I triathlon coach and RRCA certified running coach, tells Verywell that people should “give themselves some grace” if they eat a comforting meal that isn't packed with vitamins and minerals.

“[If you] decide to eat ice cream for dinner, there’s no need to feel guilty or ashamed,” Carroll says. “Continue working with your mental health provider, and consider consulting with a registered dietitian to get individualized help with meal ideas. Or, if you don’t want to cook at all, look for better-for-you microwavable meals, or pre-packaged meal delivery services that require little prep (for example, Real Eats).”

Having good-for-you and convenient foods on hand can help you make quick meals that are nutritious and satisfying. Canned beans, nut butter, pasta, and fresh fruits and vegetables can help give comfort foods a boost in the nutrition department.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bueno-Notivol J, Gracia-García P, Olaya B, Lasheras I, López-Antón R, Santabárbara J. Prevalence of depression during the COVID-19 outbreak: A meta-analysis of community-based studiesInt J Clin Health Psychol. 2021;21(1):100196. doi:10.1016/j.ijchp.2020.07.007

  2. Firth J, Marx W, Dash S, et al. The effects of dietary improvement on symptoms of depression and anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychosom Med. 2019;81(3):265-280. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000673

  3. Simmons WK, Burrows K, Avery JA, et al. Appetite changes reveal depression subgroups with distinct endocrine, metabolic, and immune statesMol Psychiatry. 2020;25(7):1457-1468. doi:10.1038/s41380-018-0093-6

  4. Alvarez-Mon MA, Ortega MA, García-Montero C, et al. Exploring the role of nutraceuticals in major depressive disorder (MDD): rationale, state of the art and future prospects. Pharmaceuticals. 2021;14(8):821. doi:10.3390/ph14080821