Looking for affordable and healthy mood-boosting snacks? See what 10 healthy and affordable prepackaged snacks are RD (and wallet) approved.
Let’s set the scene: it’s 3pm, you’re having a stressful day at work, and your belly starts grumbling. Yes, it’s snack time, but let’s elevate it because you need a little more pep in your step. What you eat can influence your health, and even your mood. Instead of hitting the vending machine (again), stock up on affordable, mood-boosting snacks that can help you feel so much better than mindlessly munching on a half-filled bag of greasy chips.
You may not realize that there are tons of nutritious AND delicious prepackaged snacks available on store shelves. Prepackaged snacks are considered “processed,” but that simply means they’re saving you time and energy. Not all pre-packaged “processed” foods are harmful for your health. As a registered dietitian, trust me that using shortcuts to a healthy snack can be a convenient way to support consistent, healthy habits.
Criteria for Choosing Mood-Boosting Snacks
What if instead of using food to cope with your emotions (like grabbing a chocolate chip cookie after a bad day of work), you used food to support how you want to feel?
When looking for a mood-boosting snack, make sure it fits these 4 key criteria. Your mood-boosting snacks should contain:
- A balance of nutrients. If you’re trying to think of an energizing, healthy snack idea, aim for a balance of carbs, protein and fats. Think about it… you won’t feel great – physically or mentally – if you experience a sugar crash 30 minutes after eating. Try to choose a snack that includes multiple food groups. Many packaged snacks are high in carbohydrates, so be sure to check the labels and/or pair them with protein and/or fats.
- At least one mood-boosting nutrient. There are several nutrients (see below for details) that have proven ties to help improve your mood. Try to include one (or more) of these key nutrients in your mood-boosting snack.
- Limited added sugar. Over-consuming added sugar has been linked to depressive symptoms and anxiety. It is thought that excessive sugar consumption can lead to a chemical imbalance in your brain. Check the Nutrition Facts label to limit added sugar.
- Focus on healthy fats. Many prepackaged snacks contain highly processed fats, which can be inflammatory in excess. When possible, look for healthier fats, like unsaturated fats found in olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Keep in mind that eating enough fat is also important to boost your mood, so don’t shy away from fats!
Key nutrients that help boost your mood
There are several key nutrients that have been proven to influence your good mood and can even be found in affordable snacks.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to lower levels of depression. Although some studies show mixed results, omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid (meaning your body cannot make them on its own) that does influence your brain and heart health too.
- Vitamin B6 is involved in many key functions throughout your body, including neurotransmitter production. It is thought to be deeply linked to mental health, although doctors don’t 100% know why. However, studies do show that high dose supplementation can reduce anxiety, so why not include vitamin B6-rich foods in your diet too?
- Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (AKA the building blocks for protein), meaning your body cannot produce it on its own. It’s also an essential nutrient to help boost your mood because it’s the precursor for serotonin. Without enough tryptophan your body will not be able to produce enough serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. As such, add protein-rich foods to help lift your mood.
- Probiotics help support a healthy gut microbiome, which is essential for a good mood because up to 90% of your body’s serotonin (your feel good neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut.
- Fiber is an often overlooked nutrient that can help indirectly support a good mood. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, meaning it’s only found in carbohydrate-rich foods. Fiber helps slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, avoiding any drastic blood sugar swings (or energy crashes). Stable blood sugar levels are key for a stable mood too.
- Antioxidants should come as no surprise to grace the list of nutrients that help boost your mood because they help minimize inflammation and scavenge free radical production. Some mood disorders are thought to involve inflammation, so consuming more antioxidants can help. Focus on a colorful array of produce to help boost your mood.
- Choline is an essential nutrient required to produce acetylcholine, an important brain chemical that influences mood and memory. Some initial research demonstrates that “dietary choline is inversely associated with the risk of depressive symptoms.”
The Top 10 Prepackaged Mood-Boosting Snacks from Target
While you’re picking up your HUM gummies at Target, stock up on these prepackaged snacks to give your mood a mid-day boost…
1. Greek Yogurt + Freeze Dried Strawberries
If you haven’t tried this combination, you’re going to love creamy Greek yogurt topped with crunchy freeze dried strawberries. This no sugar added snack can help boost your mood because one pack of freeze dried strawberries contains 2 grams of fiber and a hefty dose of antioxidants. Even more, yogurt is rich in glutamic acid, which is a precursor for the neurotransmitter GABA. Paired together, you have a balanced snack that will keep you full AND add some pep to your step.
Greek Yogurt ($1.49 each)
Freeze Dried Strawberries ($1.20/serving)
2. Popcorn + String Cheese
This blood sugar balancing combination can help keep your energy level stable, thanks to a combination of filling fiber, plus protein and fats. One serving of popcorn contains 4 grams of dietary fiber (over 10% of your daily fiber needs), which can help maintain good gut health and help balance your blood sugar, plus tryptophan, which is the essential amino acid that gets converted into serotonin.
String Cheese ($0.50/serving)
3. Thinly Dipped Dark Chocolate Almonds
Nuts are an affordable snack, plus they’re convenient, easy to grab and munch on the go. But when your sweet tooth hits, these dark chocolate almonds that are dusted with cocoa are perfect because they contain less added sugar than traditional chocolate-covered almonds.
Even more, almonds are rich in magnesium and healthy fats, which can help boost your mood. Magnesium is another precursor for serotonin.
Thinly Dipped Dark Chocolate Almonds ($0.77/serving)
4. Hard Boiled Eggs + Pickles
If you love savory snacks, this duo is for you! While it may be less expensive to make your own hard boiled eggs at home, if you’re in a pinch for a mood-boosting snack, this is a great option. Eggs are a mood lifter because the yolks are rich in choline, DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, and tryptophan. Eggs are also a balanced snack, containing protein and fats to keep you full between your meals.
Pickles are an underrated fermented food, rich in probiotics, to help support a healthy gut microbiome. Remember that a healthy gut is important to support your mood because most of your serotonin is produced in your gut.
Hard Boiled Eggs ($1.59 per container)
5. Guacamole & Baby Carrots
Avocados are a great source of nutrients, including B vitamins, like folate and vitamin B6, which are cofactors or precursors for many neurotransmitters produced in your brain, including serotonin and dopamine. Even more, avocados contain magnesium, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, which all contribute to a better mood.
Baby Carrots ($0.26/serving)
6. Hummus & Whole Grain Crackers
Chickpeas, which are the base of hummus, are rich in vitamin B6, protein and magnesium, which can help minimize anxiety and support a good mood. These individual hummus cups are convenient to grab on the go or keep in your work fridge as a backup. As a dip, hummus is best paired with pre-cut veggies or whole grain crackers for an energy-boosting snack that clocks in with 6 grams of both fiber and protein.
Whole Grain Crackers ($0.43/serving)
7. Kefir + Banana
If you’re not familiar with kefir, it’s a drinkable yogurt that’s rich in probiotics because it’s fermented. Paired with a slightly underripe banana, which contains gut-healthy prebiotics, this duo can further support good gut health. Together, this snack is loaded with tryptophan and vitamin B6, which is necessary to convert the tryptophan into serotonin in your healthy gut (thanks to the kefir). See how that all works together?
Banana ($0.25 each)
8. Cereal and Milk
If you’re searching for comfort food to boost your mood, is there a better combination than cereal and milk? However, pass on a sugary cereal and opt for a whole grain option instead for more fiber. Paired with milk, this mood-boosting snack is great because it’s fortified with vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels are linked to depressive symptoms.
If you’re looking for a dairy free alternative, still make sure it’s fortified with vitamin D for the mood-boosting benefits.
9. Dry Roasted Edamame
As a registered dietitian this may be the most popular snack I recommend to clients because it’s one of the least expensive pre-packaged snacks with the biggest nutrient bang. Clocking in with 13 grams of plant-based protein and 8 grams of filling fiber per serving, this shelf-stable healthy snack is great to keep in your car, bag, desk drawer, and pantry. Even more, edamame contains folate, vitamin B6, and magnesium to support your mood.
Dry Roasted Edamame ($0.37/serving)
10. Mush Overnight Oats
While you may think of oats as a breakfast food, don’t sleep on these individual overnight oat cups. Oats are rich in fiber, which helps stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels, plus rich in iron. While iron isn’t directly associated with boosting your mood, low iron levels are linked to mood disruptions.
If you’re not a fan of overnight oats you can also make a bowl of hot oatmeal using individual packets. Choose plain and add cinnamon to avoid excessive added sugar.
Every day you have the opportunity to nourish your body in alignment with how you want to feel. If your energy dips and you’re ravenous come dinnertime, adding a healthy afternoon snack can support your overall health and wellness, and even lift your mood. There are many convenient and energy-boosting snacks conveniently available that are also quite affordable. As a dietitian I suggest keeping a snack bag in your car or desk with some non-perishable options (like the dry roasted edamame) for when hunger strikes and you’re on the go!
Mush Overnight Oats ($1.75/serving)