Quinoa Salad with Orange and Pistachio

Photo: Andrew Purcell

The Better-Than-a-Bowl-of-Pasta Carb
There may be a scientific reason why we crave starchy foods when we're feeling low; one hypothesis suggests carbohydrates can help your brain produce serotonin, which regulates moods. Even more interesting: While a square of lasagna may put an immediate smile on your face, complex carbs, such as quinoa, take longer to digest, making them a "time-release" happy pill. Try this bright and filling dish, which combines quinoa with broccoli, red bell pepper and pistachios. It also includes orange segments and orange juice (research shows that eating fruit can make you feel calmer, happier and more energetic, too).

Get the recipe: Quinoa Salad with Orange and Pistachio
Guiltless Salmon Burger

Photo: Gentl & Hyers

The Pick-Me-Up That You Actually Pick Up
Although eating meals with your hands is common in many cultures, we don't do it unless we're eating a sandwich or a burger. But eschewing a fork or knife can have some great benefits, giving us a warm and calm feeling.

If you really want to up the mellow vibe, consider a salmon burger, since the fish's omega-3 fatty acids could lift your mood (and they'll also aid brain function and cardiovascular health). This homemade version gets a flavor boost from mustard, Asian sesame oil, soy sauce and chives, and stays moist thanks to a spoonful of mayonnaise.

Get the recipe: Guiltless Salmon Burger
Pea Shoot, Grilled Asparagus and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Tomato Tarragon Vinaigrette

Photo: Brebca/iStock/360/Thinkstock

The Salad Packed with Feel-Good Foods
A salad doesn't exactly scream "comfort food," yet the right kind of vegetables can be just as soothing as a gooey helping of mac 'n' cheese. Ones such as spinach and asparagus are off-the-charts in folate, a B vitamin that researchers have found helps depressed patients improve their mood. This vibrant salad starts with a base of greens (you can use any kind, but baby spinach delivers the highest amount of folate) dressed in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette; then you lay stalks of grilled (or grill-panned) asparagus on top. The warm asparagus gently wilts the leafy greens and you get a wonderful combination of hot and cold, tender and crisp—which happens to go wonderfully with mac 'n' cheese.

Get the recipe: Pea Shoot, Grilled Asparagus and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Tomato Tarragon Vinaigrette
Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Photo: Travellinglight/iStock/360/Thinkstock

The Chocolate Pudding Backed by Research
You probably don't need science to tell you that a bowl of cold and creamy chocolate pudding has a good shot of quelling a bummed-out mood. And this dessert definitely delivers: It's rich and thick, with a kick from instant coffee or espresso powder; and healthy, too, since it's made with avocados (their taste blends right in). Just for the record, though, chocolate's wonder powers probably come from a multitude of sources. Some experts think it's the serotonin-boosting carbs; others say it has chemicals that boost dopamine; still others say it's the pleasure from satisfying your craving that cheers you up. Whatever the reason, a batch of this pudding will make you feel much better than your average cookie would.

Get the recipe: Chocolate Avocado Pudding

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