Feeling frazzled? You’ve got plenty of company. The past year has been one for the record books in terms of stress, and people everywhere have tried all kinds of things in the name of self-care. You may still be missing out on one of the most effective strategies, however, and it’s as surprising as it is simple: Eat breakfast.
A morning meal is so powerful that a February 2019 Public Health study found that people who regularly ate breakfast were 47 percent less likely to battle anxiety than those who skipped it. That’s because breakfast can provide nutrients that soothe and nourish the brain and fuel you up first thing in the a.m., so you can dodge whatever curve balls the rest of the day throws at you. After all, why wait to de-stress?
To start your day with a little more zen, whip up these easy, tasty, stress-busting recipes. Each recipe serves one, but feel free to double, triple, or quadruple as needed (leftovers can be just as good).
1. Roasted Sweet Potato With Almond Butter, Apples, and Cinnamon
“Sweet potatoes for breakfast? Heck yes!” says Liz Weiss, RDN, the host of the Eat, Drink, Live Longer podcast. “Sweet potatoes are cozy and comforting, plus they can be an important antidote to stress.” Why? Sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, which trigger the release of serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel calm, relaxed, and happy, according to Mayo Clinic. Just one medium 4 ounce (oz) baked sweet potato delivers 24 grams (g) of healthy carbs, per USDA data. If you’re short on time, you can poke some holes in the sweet potato and microwave it for about 5 minutes instead of roasting.
- In a 400°F oven, bake sweet potato for 1 hour. Cool enough to slice in half.
- Top with almond butter and apple.
- Sprinkle with ground cinnamon.
Nutrition per serving: 322 calories, 14g total fat (2g saturated fat), 9g protein, 47g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 19g sugar (3g added sugar), 77 milligrams (mg) sodium
2. Blueberry Overnight Oats
When you’re staring down a brutal day, sprinkle some blueberries into a batch of overnight oats, suggests Toby Amidor, RD, the author of The Family Immunity Cookbook. Blueberries are loaded with brain-friendly antioxidants called flavonoids. These powerful compounds protect the delicate membranes that surround brain cells from oxidative stress that can lead to anxiety and depression, according to a study published in December 2017 in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
- ½ cup old-fashioned oats
- ⅔ cup skim milk
- 2 tsp chia seeds
- 1 tsp 100 percent maple syrup
- ½ cup blueberries
- Combine oats, milk, chia seeds, and maple syrup in a wide-mouthed mason jar. Stir well.
- Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, remove jar from refrigerator, stir oats, and top with blueberries.
Nutrition per serving: 305 calories, 6g total fat (1g saturated fat), 11g protein, 53g carbohydrates, 8g fiber, 21g sugar (4g added sugar), 70 mg sodium
3. Spinach and Cheese Omelet
“A hot, gooey cheese omelet on a cold morning is nothing short of comforting,” says Weiss. “Plus, eggs are versatile, affordable, and they bring a hefty dose of nutrition to the morning table.” They’re a top source of choline, a nutrient that aids in the production of the mood-regulating brain chemical acetylcholine, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Yet as vital as choline is, few men and women consume the respective 550 and 425 mg they require each day, according to the NIH. One large egg supplies 169 mg worth, per USDA data.
- 1 large egg
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp reduced-fat cheddar cheese
- ½ cup chopped baby spinach
- 2 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
- In a small bowl, whisk egg with water, salt, and pepper.
- In an 8-inch nonstick skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Pour egg mixture into skillet. Cook until set around the edges, about 2 minutes.
- Top with cheddar cheese and spinach. Fold in half and cook until bottom is golden, about 1 minute. Flip and cook until cheese melts, another 1 to 2 minutes.
- Serve with whole-wheat toast.
Nutrition per serving: 373 calories, 13g total fat (3g saturated fat), 20g protein, 41g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 8g sugar (0g added sugar), 714 mg sodium
4. Whole-Wheat Salmon Avocado English Muffins
Omega-3 fats don’t just do good things for your heart. They can also help fend off anxiety, according to a study published in February 2021 in Nutrition Reviews. Why not start the day with some omega-3 rich smoked salmon? suggests Weiss. It requires zero cooking, and you can even store it in single-serve portions in the freezer for up to two months. Try it in Weiss’s souped-up spin on avocado toast.
- ⅓ avocado, mashed
- 1 whole-wheat English muffin, split and toasted
- 2 oz sliced, smoked salmon
- 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- Spread avocado on English muffin halves. Top with smoked salmon and pepper, if desired.
Nutrition per serving: 308 calories, 14g total fat (2g saturated fat), 18g protein, 32g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 6g sugar (0g added sugar), 626 mg sodium
5. Asparagus Feta Breakfast Pizza
A study in the May 2021 Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate slightly over a pound of produce daily had stress levels that were 10 percent lower than folks who downed half a pound (or less) of fruits and veggies a day. Experts aren’t sure why. But they suspect fruits and vegetables, like the asparagus in this pizza, are filled with a nutrient cocktail that may tame stress-inducing brain inflammation.
- 1 6-inch whole-wheat pita
- 1 cup asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 large egg
- 1½ tbsp feta cheese crumbles
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Place pita on a baking sheet.
- In a small bowl, toss asparagus with olive oil.
- Arrange asparagus around edges of pita, leaving an opening in the center. Crack egg into opening in the center of the pita. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, if desired.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until egg is set.
Nutrition per serving: 314 calories, 14g total fat (4g saturated fat), 17g protein, 33g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 4g sugar (1g added sugar), 662 mg sodium
6. Crunchy Banana Sunflower Toast
Magnesium takes part in more than 300 chemical reactions in your body, according to the National Institutes of Health. So, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that it promotes emotional well-being. It’s so helpful that a British Journal of Nutrition study from September 2018 found that women who consumed the most magnesium-rich foods were 39 percent less likely to experience anxiety than those with the poorest magnesium intake. If you’d like to add more of this relaxing mineral to your diet, sunflower seeds can help. One cup provides 455 mg, according to the USDA, more than the recommended daily value of 420 mg.
- 1 slice whole-wheat bread, toasted
- 1 tbsp sunflower seed butter
- 1 small banana, sliced
- 2 teaspoons toasted sunflower seeds
- Spread sunflower seed butter over toast.
- Top with sliced banana and sunflower seeds.
Nutrition per serving: 313 calories, 13g total fat (1g saturated fat), 9g protein, 46g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 17g sugar (1g added sugar), 190 mg sodium
7. Strawberry Kiwi Yogurt Parfaits
Brain cells rely on calcium to communicate with each other, according to the National Institutes of Health. What better way to get this mineral than calcium-rich dairy products like yogurt? Yogurt is so soothing that a BMC Psychiatry study from May 2020 found that people who ate the most yogurt were 46 percent less likely to battle anxiety than those who consumed the least. Get yours from Amidor’s favorite yogurt parfait.
- 4 strawberries, diced
- 1 kiwi, peeled and diced
- 1 tbsp orange juice
- 1 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp almonds, chopped
- In a small bowl, toss strawberries, kiwi, and orange juice.
- In a large parfait glass, layer half of yogurt and half of fruit mixture, followed by half of almonds.
- Repeat for a second layer.
Nutrition per serving: 335 calories,14 g total fat (4g saturated fat), 28g protein, 28g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 18g sugar (0g added sugar), 76 mg sodium