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This content is taken from the Deakin University & Food & Mood Centre 's online course, Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition. Join the course to learn more.
club hiking for a body positivity campaign. They have stopped for lunch and are sitting against a wall.
Sharing tips with friends can help you with budgeting and trying new recipes.

Practical steps

There a many ways to seek and plan for opportunities to make small but effective changes to diet behaviour.

Let’s summarise a few practical steps for optimising diet for better mental health. The main strategies to prevent and treat mental health issues with diet are to:

  • Follow traditional dietary patterns, such as the mediterranean, norwegian, or japanese
  • Increase fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts, and seeds
  • Limit intake of ultra-processed fast foods with high amounts of added sugars, unhealthy fats and salt
  • Eat wholesome nutritious foods for every meal and snack
  • Start small, with sustainable changes.

Practical tips around food

Simple, achievable changes are the best way to ensure long-term sustainable changes. You might like to consider the following examples:

  • Meals and snacks options that require minimal preparation and cooking:
    • Canned fish and legumes, frozen vegetables, pre-cut salads, and pre-cooked grains
  • Affordability, accessibility and storage:
    • Frozen veggies, pre-prepared and portioned meals, ready-made meals
  • Take away is ok:
    • Sandwiches, salad rolls and wraps, veggie-based soups, salads, sushi or rice-paper rolls (limit salty and sweet foods and fried foods).

Eating well on a budget

As discussed in The costs of dietary treatment, eating well does not have to be expensive. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

  • Cook at home
  • Organise your fridge and pantry (stock up on frozen and canned veggies, oils, grains, legumes, and beans)
    • Buy an extra non-perishable item, such as canned or dried beans and legumes or small bag of rice, every time you do grocery shopping to stock up
    • Whenever cooking at home, make at least one extra portion to freeze for the future
  • Plan your meals
    • Spend 30-40 minutes each week planning meals and making a grocery list
    • Aim to buy only the items on your grocery list while shopping
  • Buy fresh produce in season and look for specials
    • Commonly, major supermarkets layout foods so that the outer perimeter has the majority of fresh produce
    • Products placed on the upper and lower shelf are usually cheaper than those at the eye level
  • Organise shopping and cooking groups
    • Shopping and cooking with friends or relatives could help share expenses, provide support and skills, and exchange knowledge.

Supporting someone to improve diet

Providing an empathetic and supportive environment that encourages personal growth is fundamental to helping someone to make dietary changes:

  • Tailor your message to the immediate needs of the individual and his/her strength
  • Aim to increase motivation, knowledge and skills
  • Identify the main barriers
  • Be positive and celebrate improvements
  • Don’t give up.

Your task

Prepare a 3-point practical plan for dietary change and explain your chosen activities.

Share your plan with peers on our Padlet wall.

In the comments, share what you learnt from this activity with others.

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This article is from the free online course:

Food and Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

Deakin University