The Food-Mood Connection: Your Teen’s Food Choices Could Be Making Them Cranky & Anxious

There's a powerful connection between what’s on your teen's plate and how it impacts their emotional well-being

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: The Food-Mood Connection: Your Teen’s Food Choices Could Be Making Them Cranky & Anxious

By Danielle Landesmann

Has your teen been moody lately (or perhaps more moody than usual)? Have they been irritable, short-tempered, or anxious? You might want to take a look at what they’re eating…

We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat,” and while it might sound cliche’, it holds so much truth – especially when you’re a teenager whose body is going through massive changes and growth. 

The Food-Mood Connection: Your Teen’s Food Choices Could Be Making Them Cranky & Anxious


The food our teens put into their bodies doesn’t just affect their appearance on the outside, it plays a crucial role in how they feel on the inside. In fact, the link between your teen’s diet and their emotional well-being is far from coincidental – it’s rooted in science. 

So, before your teen grabs that bag of Cheetos, Oreo cookies, or that Mountain Dew (which, by the way, has a whopping 46 grams of sugar!), it might be helpful for both you AND your teen to understand the connection between nutrition and mood. It can be a BIG game-changer, parents!

The Gut-Brain Connection: The Key to Your Teen’s Moods

Beyond the confines of our stomachs lies a world teeming with microorganisms known as the gut microbiota. These tiny allies play an important role in breaking down food, producing essential nutrients, and even crafting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine – the messengers between our gut and brain.

When your teen nourishes their gut microbes with healthy food rich in fiber, including fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, it helps create a positive environment for their brain. On the flip side, filling their gut with processed junk foods – think sugary snacks and greasy fries – leads to anxious signals that your teen’s brain picks up on, causing mood swings. 

Your Teen’s Mental Health: It’s Important to Nurture Both Mind and Body

Can we all agree that being a teenager isn’t easy? Our teens are navigating school and homework, a fast-paced schedule of sports, clubs, a part-time job, volunteering, pressure to craft the perfect college resume, friendships, and peer pressure –  all while trying to discover who they are in an unpredictable world.

Not to mention those pesky teenage hormones – it’s a lot to handle!

But guess what? Proper nutrition can help your teen stay strong physically AND mentally so they can handle their demanding life better. Essentially, the food your teen grabs when they’re dashing out the door in the morning or on their way to practice holds the power to fuel their emotional resilience.

Nutrition CAN Soothe Your Teen’s Anxiety and Boost Their Mood

A study published in the “Journal of Affective Disorders” found that teenagers who regularly consume a diet high in processed foods are more likely to develop anxiety and depression symptoms. On the other hand, a diet rich in whole foods, fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains is linked to lower anxiety and depressive symptoms among teens.

Interestingly, another study also showed a significant link between Vitamin D deficiency and the likelihood of ADHD. 

On the Go: Quick & Healthy Eats for Your Teen

Now that we know your teen’s food choices could be making them cranky, anxious, and (more) moody (all teens experience some mood swings), here are a few healthy on-the-go food ideas!

Breakfast Boost

  • Try overnight oats with almond butter and berries for a hearty start.
  • Pop a piece of toast in the toaster, and top with avocado and a scrambled egg.
  • Whip up a quick omelet filled with veggies – quick and easy!
  • Looking for more ideas? Check out these protein-packed breakfast ideas your teen might love!

Power Snacks

  • A handful of mixed nuts and a piece of fruit provide balanced energy.
  • Apples and peanut butter.
  • Hardboiled eggs.
  • Cut a handful of celery sticks into thirds, top with cream cheese, and sprinkle with everything bagel seasoning. 
  • Looking for more ideas? Check out these healthy, teen-approved snack ideas

Lunches That’ll Get Them Through the Day

  • Veggie Wrap: Load up a whole grain wrap with hummus, sliced veggies, and lean turkey for a satisfying lunch.
  • Egg salad, tuna salad, or chicken salad on bread, a croissant, or whole grain crackers with fruit  – easy and delicious.
  • Pack pasta salad with veggies and dip and fruit – healthy and easy. 
  • For more lunch ideas, check out these ideas!

Drinks & Smoothies That Pack a Powerful Punch

  • Nutrient-Packed Smoothie: Blend spinach, a banana, Greek yogurt, and a scoop of protein powder for a quick shake.
  • Pass on the sugary drinks and add 100% natural juice to seltzer water – a new trend called “Jeltzer Water!
  • Low-fat milk with Carnation Instant Breakfast.
  • For a BUNCH of great smoothie recipes, check out this post!

Want Your Teen to Eat Healthy? It Starts with YOU!

As parents, we can be a powerful and positive influence when it comes to our teen’s eating habits. Remember, your kids are watching what you eat!

Walk the Walk: Lead by example. Make sure you’re stocking the pantry and fridge with healthy foods. The more they see you making healthy choices, the more they’ll be inclined to do the same. 

Get Your Teen Involved in the Shopping and Cooking: Ask your kids to make out the grocery list (and guide them in making the right choices) and then let them come along and get excited about making new healthy recipes. Teenagers are always thinking about food!

Educate – Don’t Dictate: Teenagers won’t always listen to our lectures, but they ARE open to learning if we present it in the right way. Hence, keep the lecturing to a minimum. Instead, teach them about nutrition here and there and educate them about why they should steer clear of junk food, and sugary drinks and snacks. 

Make It Fun: Experiment with new recipes to make healthy eating more exciting. Give them something to look forward to!

The connection between nutrition and mood isn’t just about what your teen eats. It’s a bridge that connects their physical and mental well-being. Get them on a path to life-long well-being – one delicious bite at a time!

About Danielle Landsmann:

Danielle is a certified Transformational Nutrition Coach who lives on Long Island, NY. She’s a wife and mom of a tween and a teen, has spent over two decades working with families as a Speech-Language Pathologist, and is passionate about educating and guiding young people and their families to live healthier, happier, and more connected lives. Danielle has a specialization in mental wellness and loves coffee, reading, and her Goldendoodle Finn. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

If you enjoyed reading, “The Food-Mood Connection: Your Teen’s Food Choices Could Be Making Them Cranky & Anxious,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy!

25+ Healthy Teen-Approved Snack Ideas

50 Healthy Summer Snacks for Teens that Aren’t Boring

9 Powerhouse Vitamins Your Teen Needs to Stay Healthy and Energized


Dash, S., Clarke, G., Berk, M., & Jacka, F. N. (2015). The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 28(1), 1-6.

Cryan, J.F., & Dinan, T.G. “Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behavior.”

American Psychological Association. “Nutrition and Mental Health.”

Jacka, F.N., Kremer, P.J., Leslie, E. R., Berk, M., Patton, G.C, & Williams, J. W. (2010). Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Healthy Neighbourhoods study. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44(5), 435-442.

Mayer, E. A. (2011). Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12(8), 453-466.

O’Neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S.L., Williams, L.J., Pasco, J. A., …& Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), e31-e42.

Ginty, A. T., Conklin, S. M., Short, A. K., & Manuck, S. B. (2015). High-fat diets and anxiety in youth: Exploring the gut-brain axis. Psychosomatic Medicine, 77(9), 963-972.

National Institute of Mental Health. (nd). Anxiety Disorders.

Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain on Food. Retrieved from

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