Food for Mood 2: How to make a healthy grain bowl

In our second Food for Mood cookalong we learnt to make a simple recipe to include more wholegrains into our diet. In-tact whole grains, rather than flour-based and processed grains which dominate the western diet, are brimming with prebiotics that support a healthy microbiome which supports our mood and mental health.

Did you know that our gut microbes also produce some of our happy-hormone serotonin and our calming communicator GABA? Our gut (well, our lower intestines to be more specific) is made up of trillions of microbes that can help or hinder us by the species that dominate and how we feed them. The fibre and prebiotics in in-tact wholegrains feed healthier microbial strains which in-turn feed us with the hormones and neurotransmitters we need for a calmer mood and focused motivation. In-tact wholegrains are not the only feeders we can give our guts, a range of colourful beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit can also do the job – alongside healthy proteins and fats to balance.

Wholegrain salad bowls

YOUR Choice: Quinoa or Bulgar Wheat: We’ll be making both!
You could also try: farro, barley, buckwheat, brown or black or red rice, wild rice. Experiment with a new variety each month and batch cook!

  • 40-50g quinoa OR 40-50g cracked bulgur wheat – will provide you with two meals – you could make more

Choice of toppings


1 small tin of sardines or mackerel or salmon or anchovies in water or olive oil + fresh parsley. These contain the preformed omega 3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Anti-inflammatory fats that support our gut, brain and immune health.


1 boiled egg or small pot of cottage cheese or 25g of feta cheese + chives. Healthy protein and nutrient dense, use in small portions.


1 tin of mixed beans in water – or any bean of your choice + parsley or chives. Protein dense with more prebiotics for our healthy microbes. Plus key vitamins and minerals and blood-glucose balancing.

Shopping list

  • 1 bag of quinoa or cracked bulgar wheat (your choice: quinoa is gluten free if you are celiac) – this will last you for several meals! If you cook more than you need, you could use as your porridge base the next day with your favourite milk topped with fruit and nuts!
  • 1 bag of baby spinach or mixed salad leaves of your choice (will last 2-3 meals)
  • 1 carrot (will last two meals)
  • ½ cucumber (will last two meals)
  • A bunch of spring onions (these will last a few meals: you can chop and add to any salad or dish)
  • Mixed seeds (can be any you like: or just pumpkin, sesame or sunflower – Sainsburys do a mix mix of sunflower, pumpkin, goji berry and cranberries if you like a bit of sweetness)
  • Vegetable stock cubes or powder (Bouillon is a good brand)
  • 1 small orange
  • 1 lemon or lime
  • 1 small bottle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small bottle of apple cider vinegar (can use a lemon juice if too expensive)
  • 1 pot of cumin powder or seeds
  • Paprika (optional)
  • Chilli flakes (optional)
  • Fresh herbs (optional)
  • 1 pot of honey or maple syrup (or a sweetener you have in stock already)
  • Salt and pepper


Quinoa & Bulgur wheat

  1. Make your stock – you want enough to cover the amount of grain you’re cooking so this will vary.
  2. Soak the quinoa for 20 minutes if you can or rinse thoroughly OR rinse the bulgur wheat in a sieve under the tap for a couple of minutes
  3. Put quinoa or bulgur wheat in a saucepan and pour in pre-made stock with boiling water – about half a thumb above the top of the grain (you can add salt, pepper and dried herbs if no vegetable stock available)
  4. Bring to boil, then put on a simmer
  5. Cover pot and cook: Quinoa 15-20 minutes, Bulgur 12-15 minutes. Taste quinoa after 12 minutes and bulgur after 8 minutes: you want a nutty and soft, easy to chew texture.
  6. If all the water hasn’t evaporated by the time the grain is ready, drain in sieve and keep grain in sieve over a pot until all the water has drained off. You don’t want soggy grains!
  7. Once fully drained, put in mixing bowl.
  8. If you have batched cooked the grains, at this point you can portion up and put in your freezer for up to 3 months or keep in a bowl in your fridge for 2-3 days.
  9. To reheat grain from fresh or frozen, put in saucepan and pour in boiling water from kettle, to just cover the bottom of your saucepan and cook until piping hot – a few minutes. You may need to add a splash of extra water as you go.
  10. It is now ready for the assembly stage.


  1. Chop a small section of cucumber into squares
  2. Grate ½ carrot
  3. Take your spinach or baby leaves and finely chop – you can also add tomatoes if you like
  4. Slice spring onion thinly
  5. Chop fresh herbs if using

Dressing options

  • Olive oil dressing for grain and salad: put all the ingredients in a mug or jar and whisk with a fork
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • ½ freshly squeezed orange
  • ½ teaspoon of mustard if you have it
  • ½ teaspoon of honey or maple syrup

Tahini dressing for beans (can drizzle over salad too)

  • 2 large tablespoons of tahini
  • ½ lemon juiced
  • Paprika or dried garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of honey or maple syrup
  • Enough hot water to thin


  1. Put all the ingredients except the hot water in a bowl. Mix with a fork. Slowly add small amounts of hot water, then re-whisk to find the consistency you like.

Garnish for tinned fish

  • Lemon zest (grate lemon on small grater)
  • Chopped spring onions
  • ¼ squeezed lemon
  • Black pepper
  1. Mix garnish in with fish – depending on size of tin you may use all of half and use the rest for tomorrow’s meal.


  1. Mix beans with the tahini dressing plus any other fresh herbs you like. Mash some of them so they create a partial dip-like texture.
  2. You can use half a tin today and the rest tomorrow

Assemble the dish

  1. Grains: mix in a tablespoon of the seeds, some chopped fresh or a sprinkling of dried herbs, chopped spring onion, cumin powder and any other spices you like with a tablespoon of the salad dressing and salt and pepper to taste. Then put a few tablespoons onto your plate or into your bowl.
  2. Salad: place your salad into colourful sections and drizzle with some of the olive oil dressing.
  3. Topping (or side portion!): place the fish OR egg OR cheese AND/OR beans on or next to the grain
  4. Drizzle the remaining salad dressing or tahini dressing over the dish. Sprinkle a few more seeds and spring onions over the top and serve.

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