Nine easy, nutritious snacks and meals for when you’re stressed and tired

Adam Keenan
Health Adviser and sports enthusiast
21 November 2018

Below are some of the easy meals that we reach for when tired and stressed. At the end of a long, busy, and sometimes stressful day, we just want something quick and comforting to eat and then to chill out on the sofa. But the choices we make aren’t always the healthiest when in this frame of mind. Once in a while it’s fine to have something convenient, but with a few small tweaks you can add more flavour, vitamins and nutrients to them.

With that in mind, I was challenged to suggest healthier alternatives that are just as easy and convenient. Or, if you do stick with the easy option, how can you make your go-to meals extra nutritious?

See my suggestions below.

1. The go-to meal: Tortellini and a shop-bought tomato sauce with grated cheese

Plate of spaghetti and tomatoes 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Use wholewheat fresh pasta instead of tortellini (the filled pastas are often high in fat and made with white pasta). Fresh pasta will cook just as quickly as the tortellini does.
  • Add spinach (use fresh or get frozen spinach to throw in at the end for a vitamin K boost).
  • Use tinned or fresh tomatoes or passata rather than a sauce from a jar (sauces from jars often contain a lot of sugars and salt). If you do have a sauce from a jar look for the green labels on the package (see our info about food labels).
  • Throw in some dried or fresh herbs like basil or oregano for instant fresh flavour.
  • Use low-fat cheese sprinkled on top.
  • Add a few olives for flavour (if you add olives you won’t need to add any extra salt).
  • Finish with a twist of cracked black pepper.

2. The go-to meal: Chicken Kiev

Cooked chicken and broccoli 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Instead of a kiev, go for a roasted chicken breast (removing the skin). You can add a range of spices to the chicken breast before it goes in the oven. For example, simply adding some fresh garlic and a drizzle of rapeseed oil makes it a healthier option.
  • Have it with frozen mixed veg (peas, carrots and sweetcorn for example will add colour and vitamins to your plate).
  • Or have it with a leafy green salad and add in your favourite salad items, the more colourful and varied the better.

3. The go-to meal: Sausage and chips

Plate of butternut squash chips 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Instead of frozen chips, have sweet potato or butternut squash chips (you can get these in packets in the fresh veg section of big supermarkets). Sweet potato and squash are healthier than oven chips because of the nutrient values. For example, sweet potato can have up to 27 per cent more protein than a normal potato.
  • Try a vegetarian sausage instead of a meat sausage. Vegetarian sausages normally contain less overall fat than their meat counterparts. Check the labels though as some veggie sausages can be a bit salty.
  • Fill up on vegetables, be it frozen or fresh. This is a great way to bulk out a meal by including more fibre with fewer calories.

4. The go-to meal: Frozen pizza

Thin crust pizza 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Don’t eat the whole pizza! Have half with a salad on the side.
  • Choose a pizza that is thin crust for fewer calories than one with a thick or stuffed crust.
  • Chop up some veg – mushrooms, peppers and/or tinned sweet corn are tasty on your pizza too.
  • You could also add spinach to your pizza topping and a lean source of protein, such as pieces of chicken.

5. The go-to meal: Canned tomato soup and buttery toast

Bowl of tomato soup 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Make your own tomato soup with just three ingredients: tomatoes, onion and a bit of butter. It takes a bit of effort but it is a little bit more convenient than following a long recipe, and you can throw it all in one saucepan. Simmer the ingredients until thickened, add some water if needed and blend.
  • If you stick with a can, to add nutrients, you could toss in a handful of salad greens, or toasted seeds.
  • Have it with wholegrain toast and low-fat spread.
  • Crumble in some feta cheese and walnuts. Walnuts are rich in good fats (mono/poly unsaturated fats) which is a bonus to your meal.

6. The go-to snack: Chocolate

Chocolate and raspberries 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • If it’s something sweet you’re after – try fruit instead. Eat pre-packaged, sliced fruit – like melon and watermelon. Or have some grapes or berries.
  • Make some homemade banana ice cream to keep in your freezer for when you want a sweet treat.
  • If you just can’t resist your favourite chocolate brand – don’t go for a sharing bag – if you’re not planning to share! You’re better off with a single chocolate bar that’s for one person – once it’s gone it’s gone and you won’t be tempted – or able - to keep eating.

7. The go-to meal: Cheese on toast

Cheese on toast 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Choose wholemeal bread. The type of bread may depend on your dietary needs, such as if you need to have gluten free. But if you don’t have any dietary needs then opt for wholemeal or rye bread. Both of these contain more fibre.
  • The type of cheese can be down to choice; normally I would suggest the lighter or reduced-fat options (some may grill better than others though). Try grating the cheese as well, as this gives you are larger volume for a smaller amount.
  • Once made, you can add any other vegetables you would like. I like adding mushrooms or tomatoes, as they will increase the amount of nutrients in the dish.

8. The go-to snack: Toast with peanut butter and honey

Peanut butter on toast 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Have wholegrain toast for fibre.
  • Peanut butter – there’s no nutritional difference really between smooth or crunchy – it’s just down to your personal preference!
  • Add some apple slices or banana to increase the vitamin content of the snack.
  • Don’t use butter or spread if you want a lower calorie snack. Because of the peanut butter’s texture, you probably won’t notice the difference.

9. The go-to snack: Bowl of cereal

Porridge with fruit 

How to make it healthier or more nutritious:

  • Avoid the sugary choices, anything that contains chocolate. These will be high in sugar and will not keep you full for long.
  • Instead go for the lower GI options, such as wheat biscuits or porridge. GI stands for glycaemic index and is a measurement of how quickly a carbohydrate is digested. It’s thought that foods that break down slower in your body are better options to go for.
  • Porridge is ideal for adding ingredients to. You can have it either sweet or savoury.
  • Adding berries, bananas or a nut butter increases the nutrient value of the dish. Or adding an egg on top will increase the protein content. I know it sounds a little bit odd but I have seen people do it!
  • There are also fortified versions (these are foods with ‘added’ vitamins such as b12, folate or vitamin D) in cereal. So if you do choose to get a certain brand, go for the fortified version, as this will increase the overall vitamin content.

Good cupboard staples

  • Cous cous – just pour over boiling water with a bit of stock and it’s ready in a few minutes.
  • Wholewheat noodle nests – put in boiling water and they are ready in just a few minutes.
  • Microwaveable rice (wholegrain) – most packs are ready in two minutes.
  • Canned fish – easy to put into sandwiches and pasta bakes. Go for an oily fish like salmon or mackerel to get the fatty acids you need in a healthy diet. Or go for a can of tuna, but make sure it is in spring water to minimise the calories.
  • Chickpeas (tinned in water) – make sure you get the ones in water and not brine as these are salted. You can have canned chickpeas uncooked in a salad, or add them to a one pot curry or stew.
  • Tinned tomatoes – pasta sauce, stews, ratatouille, curry – tinned tomatoes can be used for so many meals.
  • Coconut milk – add to curry paste or tinned tomatoes to make a delicious curry.
  • Vegetable bouillon – adds quick flavour to all dishes. Add to stir fries, cous cous for flavour, or use as a veggie broth in stews. Bouillon can be high in salt so don’t use any extra, because you won’t need it).
  • Nuts and seeds – good for a snack or to sprinkle over salads and soups.
  • Ready to eat fruit – apple, grapes, berries for a sweet treat and part of your five a day with no prep or fuss.

Fridge and freezer staples

  • Frozen veg – super convenient to add to any dish and may contain more vitamins than veg that is a day or so old.
  • Frozen berries – easy to blend into a smoothie.
  • Eggs – these contain plenty of protein, they are versatile and have a great amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which is good for healthy muscles and bones.
  • Bag of spinach – contains a high amount of iron which will help move oxygen around your body and reduces tiredness. Spinach is good for your immune system too.
  • Bell peppers – very versatile and taste great. You can eat them like an apple for a snack.
  • Yogurt (Greek style/low fat) – will give you plenty of calcium and is another source of protein.
  • Sources of protein (either lean meats – chicken/turkey or veggie options) – different types of protein are suited to different types of cooking. and all have different tastes They also all help to repair muscles.
  • Quark (a form of cheese that can be used in sauces) is a slow digesting protein (keeps you fuller for longer), and perfect as a pre-bed snack or a sauce base.
  • Milk (including almond/soya/skimmed) - contains calcium, and some milk options arefortified with vitamin D.

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Adam Keenan
Adam Keenan
Health Adviser and sports enthusiast