9 budget foods to help mental health

Picture of the Good Plates logo and fabulous lamp

Come on in for a meal to boost mental health

Ever considered how food affects how you’re feeling?

(And not just the joy/guilt spiral of sinking a massive ice cream, or the virtue from snacking on lettuce…)

Check out my list of budget food to help mental health, after I was invited along to #TheGoodPlates, a pop up restaurant from leisure group David Lloyd Clubs. 

The whole experience was designed to promote positive mental wellbeing, from the food to the decor, lighting, music and communal tables. I was fascinated. I don’t bang on about ‘woo’ stuff, but I was keen to find out which ingredients help boost mental health and prevent problems.

Don’t worry – this isn’t a post plugging the latest expensive food fads, shoving chia seeds down your throat and insisting on spirulina smoothies.  

I’m sure most of us are well aware that eating a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and veg, is healthier than chowing entirely on cheese and chocolate. We’re probably all vaguely aware that oily fish is good for the brain, even if that’s not because you were force fed cod liver oil tablets as a child (cheers Mum). 

Of course diet alone can’t solve mental health issues, but it’s long been known that our brains rely on nutrients to work properly, including Omega 3 fats, amino acids, zinc, magnesium, iron, B Vitamins and Vitamin D. (More info from Mind here and here)

So going to The Good Plates seemed like a great chance to discover tasty dishes that help our physical and mental health. The menu of six sharing plates was designed by chef and mental health ambassador Andrew Clarke and nutritional therapist Ian Marber.

Even better, before each new dish Andrew explained what was included and why. We were also given recipe cards explaining how the food helps. 

The Good Plates was only open for a few nights, but here’s what I learnt so you can put it into practice. Otherwise, dishes inspired by Andrew’s recipes will be available in David Lloyd clubrooms in January.

Picture of the beautiful interior at The Good Plates

Warm and welcoming environment

Menu at The Good Plates

Here’s the menu, if you’re looking for inspiration: 

  • Grilled cauliflower, almond miso, black beluga lentils and curry butter
  • Roast salmon, herb labneh, poached cucumber, beach herbs and salmon roe
  • Halibut tranche, seaweed butter, winter tomatoes and white beans
  • Wild mushroom and kale toban, sprouting broccoli, sunflower seed puree, poached egg and black truffle
  • Chargrilled venison, spent coffee, blueberries, roast salsify, trumpeter mushrooms and mint
  • Wood roasted monkfish, chickpeas and walnut gremolata

Ever the money blogger, I was keen to identify great ingredients that don’t cost a bomb.

A while back, I was highly entertained by a programme called ‘The Truth About Health Eating‘, presented by Fiona Philips. It put some of the super-hyped super foods to the test.

Kale, quinoa, Goji berries, coconut oil and Chia seeds didn’t perform any better than cheaper alternatives of cabbage, pearl barley, strawberries, rapeseed oil and linseed – but the fancy versions costs seven times as much. 

The meals at The Good Plates did include some more luxury ingredients, topped off with black truffle, samphire and salmon roe. Sadly, here at home we won’t be eating venison every night. But the dishes did include loads of ingredients that deliver health benefits for less.

Picture of Good Plates dish with fish and beans

Brain boosting combo of halibut and cannellini beans

9 budget ingredients to boost mental well being

Check out this list of budget food to help mental health:

Cannellini beans

  • Include zinc, which is incorporated in the hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to mood and memory


  • For folate, which supports amino acid synthesis, used to make neurotransmitters that relay thoughts and feelings


  • Contains iodine, which supports thyroid function, and supports the neurotransmitters 

Oily fish like salmon and halibut

  • Packed with with the omega 3 fats and also vitamins B12, B1, B3 and B6, which help manufacture neurotransmitters


  • Good source of B vitamins needed for serotonin and dopamine, plus iron and magnesium to promote energy levels


  • Add nutrients including B2 and B6, which are involved in the manufacture of serotonin, and folate


  • Include the fatty acids, Omega 3 and Vitamin D that help boost mental wellbeing


  • Packed with high levels of folate, which supports amino acid synthesis, used to make neurotransmitters


  • Contain the healthy fats that support brain cell membranes, plus the amino acids that help create neurotransmitters. Walnuts aren’t super cheap, but you only need a few to make a big difference to a meal.

Previous post: 80+ ways to save money on your food shopping

Picture of a dish including food to boost your mental health

Venison and blueberries tasted surprisingly good

Making ingredients into meals

The meals at the Good Plates definitely included some stuff I’d never tried before, alongside more familiar favourites. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Give stuff a chance…
    • My past experience with cauliflower has not been good, unless doused with enough cheese to sink a ship. So I was surprised how much I enjoyed the steamed, then grilled, cauliflower when served with light curry spices, lentils and a yogurt sauce. It genuinely tasted good. 
  • …but accept you’re not going to like it all
    • I loved all the meals on the menu, apart from the mushroom and kale toban dish. Black truffle was just wasted on me (weird smell!!) and soft poached eggs were a step too far.
  • Max out on protein and fibre, hold the carbs
    • Pasta, potatoes and rice were noticeably absent from the menu. The nearest was the root veg salsify, served with the venison, as an alternative to steak ‘n’ chips. The logic for filling up on lean protein, plants and pulses is that it helps keep your blood sugar levels constant, instead of riding a rollercoaster of energy dips.
  • Herbs make a massive difference
    • I’ve made labneh before, a kind of yogurt cheese, but mixing it with chopped fresh herbs (eg parsley, dill, chives, tarragon) really lifted it to another level. I need to get growing herbs again, beyond the single pot of chives on our kitchen window sill!
  • Ditto textures
    • Crunchy grenolata, based on chopped walnuts, parsley, garlic and lemon zest, tasted amazing with white fish and smooth chickpea puree.
  • Avoid pill popping
    • For most of us, it’s possible to get all the vitamins and minerals we need from a balanced diet, without forking out for supplements.


Now – over to you. Would you use budget food to help mental health? Any favourites among the ingredients or meals above?


Disclosure: I was given the meal at The Good Plates, but all views are my own.

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