10 meals to boost immune systems during stressful times

Story and photos by Katherine Larson
In times of stress, it’s good to feed your body. Not with just anything, though. The right food can help boost your immune system and so enable you better to resist whatever the stressful world might throw at you.

What helps? Go for deep rich color. Aromatic spices and herbs. Garlic, onions, citrus. Broccoli, spinach, chard. Chicken. Oily fish (think sardines, lake trout, salmon). Tomatoes (including canned), red bell peppers. Sweet potatoes. Almonds. Probiotics (think plain unsweetened yogurt, miso, kombucha). Avoid sugar—for anyone over 12 months old, local raw honey is the way to go.

About that honey: why does it have to be both local and raw? Raw honey hasn’t been heated or pasteurized, so it’s packed with natural vitamins, enzymes, powerful antioxidants, and other important nutrients. Local honey is made from local pollen, which strengthens immune systems and reduces symptoms of seasonal allergies. Local raw honey is even a natural antiseptic! And, of course, buying local supports our community.

Here are 10 easy recipes to get started.


1. Yogurt and berries. Put a big scoop of plain yogurt into a bowl with some thawed blueberries, a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, and a swirl of local raw honey. Enjoy with whole-grain toast on the side if you like.

2. Herb omelet. Break a couple of eggs into a bowl and whip them with a fork. Melt butter in skillet over medium-low heat. Frizzle some fresh herbs—sage tastes great here—in the butter, then add the beaten egg. (If you don’t have fresh herbs, dried ones are good too. Just don’t use as much; say, a teaspoon of dried sage instead of ten or twelve leaves of fresh.) Cook for two minutes; flip and cook for one minute; eat. Whole-grain toast with local raw honey on the side.

Stale bread sits in its flavorful bath, waiting to be turned into french toast tomorrow morning.

3. French toast. The night before, beat up a couple of eggs. Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus about 1/4 teaspoon each of cardamom and/or ground ginger and/or allspice. Add 1/4 cup plain yogurt and 3/4 cup milk and stir vigorously to combine. Put slices of stale bread in a baking dish and pour the mixture over it. Let everything sit in the fridge until morning. In the morning, melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Put slices of soaked bread in skillet and cook for two or three minutes; flip and cook for one or two minutes. Serve with local raw honey.


4. AB&H. Slather almond butter and local raw honey on whole-grain bread to make an extra-healthy sandwich; serve with a sliced orange.

5. Chicken noodle soup. Open one or more cans of chicken noodle soup (or make your own, of course) and put in a pot. Mince up a clove of garlic, half an onion, and a bit of fresh ginger; add to pot. If you have fresh rosemary, mince up a little and add that; if your herbs are all dried, use thyme and/or basil and/or oregano instead. Heat to boiling; serve when the onions are cooked enough for your taste.

Sardines on toast are remarkably delicious.

6. Sardines on toast. Slather mustard on a slice of whole-grain bread. Put a very thin slice of red onion or some minced green onions on the mustard. Take some canned sardines, pat them dry with a paper towel, and put them on the onion. Top with cheese. Put the whole concoction on a cookie sheet or pie pan and stick it under the broiler until the cheese is melted. If you have some leftover broccoli lying around, toss it with a little vinaigrette for a nice accompanying salad.


7. Spaghetti with sauce. Chop up an onion, a lot of garlic, and the stems of a big bunch of rainbow chard. Put them in a pot with a little olive oil and cook for five minutes while you chop up the chard leaves. Add a lot of herbs to the pot, fresh or dry: thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary; some cinnamon; dried crushed red pepper flakes; salt and pepper. Then add a can or two of tomatoes, the chard leaves, and perhaps a couple of minced anchovies. Let it all simmer together for about half an hour. Meanwhile, put a big pot of heavily salted water on to boil. The package of pasta will tell you how long to cook it; follow those directions, then drain the pasta and pop it into the simmering sauce. Toss and serve.

8. Chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan for easiest clean-up; if you don’t have parchment paper, use oil instead. Sprinkle salt and pepper on pieces of skin-on, bone-in chicken—thighs or drumsticks are particularly good here. Scrub sweet potatoes (no need to peel) and cut them into half-inch slices. Cut stalks of broccoli in quarters lengthwise. Spread chicken, sweet potatoes, and broccoli out on the sheet pan, drizzle olive oil over it all, and sprinkle with thyme and some dried crushed red pepper flakes. Put the pan in the oven and bake. After 30 minutes, flip the potato slices and check the broccoli; if it’s getting too brown, take it out and let the the potatoes and chicken finish cooking for another 20 to 30 minutes. (Serve any leftover broccoli for lunch, tossed in vinaigrette to make a salad.)

This quick and colorful stir-fry includes red bell peppers, ginger, garlic, onions, green onions, and leftover sweet potato from the chicken-broccoli-sweet potato dinner.

9. Fish and peppers. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan for easiest clean-up, or use oil instead. Thinly slice a red bell pepper, an onion, and some garlic and put them in a bowl with a good slosh of olive oil plus 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice. Stir. Scatter the vegetables on the pan and put in oven for 15 minutes. While peppers and onions are roasting, spread one or two teaspoons of South River sweet white miso on the non-skin side of a fillet of lake trout or salmon. (Other brands of miso are much saltier; use less.) After those 15 minutes are past, take pan out of the oven, stir vegetables around, and add the fish, skin-side down, to the parchment paper. Bake for ten more minutes and serve. Rice on the side.

10. Salmon salad. On a warmer day when you want a room-temperature meal, open a can of chickpeas or white beans, pour them out into a strainer, rinse and shake dry. Open a can of red salmon and drain (but don’t rinse) it. Put the salmon in a bowl and mash it with a fork. Leave the skin and bones in there! Add the rinsed beans or chickpeas. Chop up a stalk of celery and mince up a clove of garlic, then add them. Mix a little plain yogurt with olive oil and add that. Stir it all together; let the flavors come together in the fridge until dinnertime, or serve right now. A green salad with lots of fresh herbs is nice on the side.

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