There’s a reason you’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat” a million times –– because it’s true! The things you put into your body can have a direct impact on the way you feel. So, if at the end of a long day, you want to feel relaxed and ready to drift off to sleep, you might want to rethink what you’re eating by incorporating healthy comfort foods for dinner.
According to Nutritionist Lynell Ross, “stress brings more people to the emergency room than any other medical issue.” Finding all natural ways to manage it, such as eating healthy comfort foods for dinner, can go a long way in making your mind and body feel better day after day.
Ready to relieve stress the delicious way? Here are a few healthy comfort foods for dinner our experts recommend for unwinding at the end of a long day:
The term comfort food is typically associated with unhealthy and nostalgic foods. They are usually high in fat, sugar, and calories and low in nutrients. We may turn to these foods at the end of a hard day. However, there are nutrient dense comfort foods available.
The most effective way to enjoy a comfort food without sacrificing your health goals is to find plant-based alternatives. For instance, a cauliflower pizza with vegan cheese and toppings can be as enjoyable as a traditional pizza. The warmth, texture, and flavor can be similarly accomplished without the need for loads of saturated fat from cheese and meats.
A baked apple pie can be made with almond flour and egg or butter substitutes, like apple sauce and mashed bananas. Healthy comfort foods for dinner don’t have to lead to feelings of guilt or poor health choices."
Lisa Richards, Nutritionist, The Candida Diet
One food I tend to eat when I want to relax is pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of magnesium with just one ounce containing 37% of your recommended daily intake. Magnesium activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for helping calm us down. It aids in the regulation of relaxing neurotransmitters and hormones, such as GABA and melatonin, which are also well known for relaxation. Pumpkin seeds are extremely versatile as you can eat them straight as a crispy snack or as a topper for salads, tacos, or stews. You can also flavor them in a million different ways. Keep little snack packs around for when you need an extra boost of relaxation.
Theresa Mazza, MPH, CHES, DT, Tea Time with Tree
Oatmeal Topped with Nut Butter and Fruit
Relaxation is more important than ever these days, and the right foods may be able to help you kick back and take a load off. One of my favorite relaxing meals that can be eaten any time of the day is oatmeal topped with nut butter and fruit. This meal is delicious, comforting, and full of ingredients that may boost relaxation and reduce stress.
Oats contain both carbohydrates and tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is needed to make serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone that helps regulate your mood and may help reduce anxiety, a common culprit of feeling stressed and needing a relaxing night in.
And when you add nut butter, like peanut butter or almond butter, you get a nice serving of magnesium, a mineral that has been linked to lower blood pressure and reduced stress levels. Top the oats and nut butter off with some antioxidant-rich berries that fight stress, and you have a recipe for relaxation.
Brittany Lubeck, MS, RD, Nutritional Consultant, Oh So Spotless
Wild-caught salmon is one of the best choices for healthy comfort foods for dinner. It contains healthy omega 3 fatty acids and amino acids that support mood, mental health, and neurotransmitter synthesis, which can also help you sleep.
It's also easy to digest, meaning you won't be kept up all night trying to break down something hearty, such as grains, beans, or legumes. Try pairing your salmon with asparagus for a healthy low-carb meal to help promote relaxation and sleep at night.
Heather Hanks, MS, Medical Advisor and Nutritionist, USA Rx
The best healthy comfort foods for dinner should be light (you don't want to be kept awake digesting a heavy meal) and a combination of protein and carbohydrates. Protein contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps promote sleep. The carbohydrates are needed to produce insulin, which helps the tryptophan get through the blood brain barrier, so it can help promote sleep.
Greek yogurt offers the best of both worlds – a wonderful balance of protein and carbs that comes in lots of flavors and promotes gut health.
Chris Henigan, MS, RD, LDN, Simple Start Nutrition
Foods Containing L-Tryptophan
Foods that contain the essential amino acid L-tryptophan are known to improve mood, as L-Tryptophan is the building block used by the body to make serotonin. Good sources of L-tryptophan include spinach, watercress, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, chickpeas, bananas, and turkey. However, foods containing L-tryptophan do not work alone; they should be eaten along with a carbohydrate. One easy snack idea is hummus with whole grain bread or crackers.
Sandi Schwartz, Author and Journalist, Eco Happiness Project
When you don’t have time to cook up healthy comfort foods for dinner, you can always supplement with a nutritional boost, like our DE-STRESS. This vibrantly verdant blend of kiwi and pineapple juice contains passionflower extract and Reishi Mushroom Powder – two herbal remedies known to treat stress.
Unwind at the end of a long day by fueling yourself with healthy comfort foods for dinner and KOR!