“I’m a working mum with two teenage boys who are permanently hungry and also, quite bored at the moment! I’m looking for new ideas to keep them occupied so would like to pack up a picnic for us to enjoy. However, I’m stuck for new ideas. Most importantly, my 16-year-old is struggling with mental health issues – are there any foods that I could include that would benefit him?”
Suzie Sawyer, clinical nutritionist, answers.
Life is very tricky right now and is especially difficult for someone in your circumstances. However, going on a picnic is great for mental wellbeing, plus it will give your boys (and you) a change of scenery and the benefits of being outside in the fresh air.
The importance of serotonin
Mental health issues can sometimes be caused by a lack of serotonin, our happy hormone. Interestingly, serotonin is predominantly made in the gut so having the right balance of good gut bacteria, which can get upset by sugar, alcohol, and other chemicals found in the daily diet, is essential. Serotonin is also produced from the amino acid tryptophan which can be found in chicken, bananas, eggs, milk, tuna, turkey and yoghurt – all great picnic ingredients!
Why not cook up some chicken drumsticks and thighs and coat with a breadcrumb mix. Use dried breadcrumbs, paprika, eggs plus salt and pepper seasoning. Fully coat the chicken and cook in the oven uncovered. This dish can be cooked the night before (and eaten for dinner if you wish) but is great as a picnic dish. Alternatively, you can use chicken breasts, which can be chopped when cold and served with some dips. If you cook the breasts with some paprika, a little brown sugar and mustard, they work really well with sliced watermelon – a really feel-good summery meal.
Potatoes are great for filling hungry tummies and are high in immune-boosting vitamin C. Why not make a colourful potato salad using some red onion, cucumber and radish?
The benefits of Omega 3 fats
One of the best brain foods around is salmon. That’s because it’s loaded with omega-3 fats – essential for brain health and a lack of which can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. While not always a favourite food among teenagers, smoked salmon on some wholegrain rolls or bagels with cream cheese and a squeeze of lemon juice is another idea. You can also hard boil some eggs, scoop out the yolks and mix with a little mayonnaise and black pepper and put back into the white. The combination of flavours is delicious as well as energising and filling.
I hope that’s given you some ‘food for thought’. All these dishes can be made the night before and will help your son’s mental wellbeing. Moving forwards, it’s important to try to include as much colour into his diet as possible and protein at every meal to keep his blood sugar levels and in turn his mood balanced.