A Moms’ Guide for Back-to-School, Part Two: How Food Affects Your Mood


A Moms’ Guide for Back-to-School, Part Two: How Food Affects Your Mood

September 21, 2020

It’s no secret that this is a different back-to-school experience for everyone. Regardless of whether the kids are going back to their schools or learning remotely at home, this has been a challenging September for all parents, everywhere.

“Am I making the right decision?”

“Will they be safe?”

“How is their mental well being?”

“Will they miss their friends?”

“Can they still see their grandparents?”

These are just a handful of the many questions parents across the city have been asking themselves as the kids head back this month.

It’s yet another complex layer in the shifting COVID-19 landscape that parents have been working through since March. And it’s been difficult—especially for moms. The stats on women leaving the work force to care for children, new moms and pregnant women suffering from significant spikes in anxiety and depression; it’s obvious that moms have been hit hard.

We spoke with three local experts—one in maternal mental health, one in nutrition and fitness, and another in relationship coaching—to gather a few tips for moms on how we can help reduce stress and manage back-to-school anxiety.

Next up, Courtney Ranieri, Naturopathic Doctor, shares five diet hacks to manage stress and boost your mood.

(To read the first post in this series, on how stress can impact your relationship with your partner, click here).

Dr. Courtney:

“There is a growing body of evidence showing how a healthy diet can affect our mood and stress levels. Focusing on a nutritious diet can help to counterbalance the impact of stress by balancing blood sugar, stabilizing mood and boosting energy.

1) Support your microbiome

Did you know 90% of serotonin (our feel-good neurotransmitter) is made in the gut? Some have even dubbed our gut the ‘second brain’. Our gut is home to a collection of beneficial bacteria (called the microbiome) that helps to do everything from breaking down foods to activating hormones to regulating our immune systems. A report by McMaster University found that intestinal bacteria played a role in both anxiety and depression.

Quick tips to support your microbiome:

Include probiotic-rich foods in your diet.

Up your intake of fermented foods like yogurt (or coconut yogurt for vegans!), kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut.

Be sure to get enough fibre. Healthy bacteria in your gut feed off of fibre in foods.

Some people may also benefit from a probiotic supplement. Check in with your practitioner to find the right probiotic for you. There are certain strains of bacteria that have been studied to help with IBS, mood, skin health etc – choosing one that is specific to your goals is key!

2) Choose complex carbs

Complex carbohydrates help to give your brain and body a consistent flow of fuel. Complex carbs contain a lot of healthy fibre which helps slow its breakdown into glucose compared to low-fibre (or simple) carbohydrates. Complex carbs also help to stimulate the production of serotonin to improve mood.

Complex carbs include: whole grains, quinoa, rice, sweet potato, squashes, barley, amaranth, beans and vegetables.

Try to limit your simple carbohydrates like white breads, pastries, baked goods, candy and sugary cereals.

3) Pump up your macronutrients

Two macronutrients in particular – protein and healthy fats – contain high levels of amino acids and fatty acids. These nutrients are necessary to make feel-good serotonin. They also help to keep energy high and manage appetite.

Protein sources include: chicken, turkey, eggs, lean red meat, fish, tofu, tempeh, protein powders, beans and lentils.

Healthy fats include: avocado, salmon, chia, flax, olive oil, hemp seeds, avocado oil, nuts, seeds and nut butter.

Quick tips to up healthy fat and protein intake:

  • Add protein powder and nut butter to your smoothie;
  • Top rice cakes with nut butter or mashed avocado;
  • Top off your salad with a boiled egg and almonds;
  • Keep nuts and seeds on hand for quick snacks.

4) Cut down on anxiety-triggering foods

Caffeine – Caffeine can trigger or worsen anxiety and nervousness in some people. High levels also decrease the production of serotonin in the body and brain.

Alcohol – Although you may reach for a glass of wine to calm your nerves, alcohol can worsen sleep which can trigger anxiety.

Added sugars – Added sugars have a way of sneaking into our diets! Seemingly healthy foods like yogurt, fruit juices and granola can contain lots of added sugars. Read your labels.

5) Try to meal plan and eat every 3-5 hours

Skipping meals or eating irregularly can lead to a blood sugar rollercoaster. Eating gives us a burst of energy by putting sugar into the bloodstream. After all the sugar has been absorbed by cells, blood-sugar levels drop off. If the ups and down are too drastic it can leave you feeling even more stressed, anxious, cranky, tired and ’hangry’. We can combat this by:

  • Eating regular, well-balanced meals and snacks;
  • A combination of healthy fats, protein and fibre help to round this out (see above for ideas).

The rule of thumb is to try to have a small meal or snack every 3-5 hours to keep blood sugar stable.

Meal planning can be helpful as well if you find yourself reaching for not-so-healthy snacks more often then not.


Keep these on hand for a quick protein, complex carb and healthy fat balanced snack between meals or as a healthy treat. Makes ~10.

1/2 cup natural almond, cashew, or peanut butter (can try sunflower butter if you’re nut-free)
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup protein powder or ground flaxseeds
1/4 cup whole oats
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon

1) Combine the nut butter and maple syrup in a food processor. Process until smooth.
2) Add in the rest of the ingredients and pulse until combined, scraping down sides if necessary.
3) Roll into 1-2 tbsp size balls and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Store in fridge for 5 days or freeze.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice.  Always check in with your health care provider before starting or making any changes to your lifestyle, diet or medications.

Dr. Courtney Ranieri is a Naturopathic Doctor in the Toronto area who is passionate about helping her patients optimize their health. She has a clinical interest in nutrition, hormonal health, digestion and fertility. Check out www.drcourtneyranierind.com for more information. www.drcourtneyranierind.com

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