Written by DaVita dietitian, Sara Colman, RD, CSR, CDE
Sitting down at the kitchen table for a home-prepared lunch is rare these days. Work, school, errands, working out and other activities cut into our days, leaving less time for meals prepared at home. Living with chronic kidney disease (CKD) involves additional time commitments due to lab tests, hospital procedures and appointments. People on dialysis also spend extra time going to dialysis treatments. The challenge of balancing all you do and fitting in a healthy lunch is still possible. Even if you don’t have a chance to sit down for a relaxing, home-cooked lunch, you can have a healthy, on-the-go one with a little planning.
Take a few minutes to think about your schedule and make a plan to fit in healthy, renal-friendly lunches. You can plan sack lunches, leftovers, frozen meals, fast foods, nutrition bars or nutrition drinks. If you plan ahead, you’ll have the items on hand to pack your on-the-go lunch. Knowing about your dialysis or kidney-friendly pre-dialysis diet is the first step in planning your lunch on-the-go options. By following the guidelines provided by your dietitian and the tips in this article, lunch will be easy and will fit into your dialysis or kidney-friendly pre-dialysis diet.
Do you have a meal plan? This is a guideline that provides lists of foods included on your pre-dialysis or dialysis diet. It tells how many servings of different foods you need in a day to provide the calories, protein and nutrients you need. Ask your dietitian for an individualized meal plan with a food guide, if you do not have one. Also ask for additional meal planning resources such as menus, grocery shopping guides and eating out suggestions.
Once you know the foods that are healthiest for you to eat, you can alternate among sack lunches, leftovers, fast foods, frozen meals and nutrition bars and drinks to create the most appealing and easy lunches.
Packing a lunch is the best way to keep sodium, potassium and phosphorus in control — because you control what goes into the sack. There are many exciting sandwich or salad combinations to choose from. Here are a few tips for putting together super sack lunches:
There are many ways to add variety to your sandwiches.
For breads, choose one of these: bagels, cracked wheat, dinner rolls (white), flour tortillas, French bread, hamburger buns, Italian bread, light rye, pita bread, rice cakes, sourdough or white bread.
For spreads, choose one or more of these: cranberry sauce, cream cheese, flavored mustard, horseradish, hot sauce, jam, jelly, ketchup (limit to one tablespoon), mayonnaise, salad dressing (low sodium), sour cream or yellow mustard.
For toppings, choose one or two of these: alfalfa sprouts, basil leaves, bean sprouts, bell peppers, cilantro, cucumber, lettuce, low-sodium pickle, onions, roasted red peppers, tomato slice (1) or water chestnuts.
For additional flavor, choose one or two of these: black pepper, curry powder, flavored oil, Mrs. Dash® Herb Seasoning, olive oil, red pepper flakes, sweet pickle relish, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce.
To complete your sack lunch, choose from the following:
Leftovers from meals the day before may be the answer to a quick lunch. Plan to prepare extra portions, and package foods in containers that can go from freezer or refrigerator to microwave. Reheat leftover casserole or stew or a combination of meat, rice and vegetables. If a microwave is unavailable, pack leftovers that can be enjoyed cold, like chicken breast or leg, slices of turkey or roast beef, lamb chops, hardboiled or deviled eggs, coleslaw, pasta, or tossed salad.
Remember to include fruit or dessert — homemade cookies, muffins, cake or other leftover goodies. Invest in an insulated lunch tote. Pack an ice pack or a frozen bottle of water to keep food cold. You may discover that packing leftovers decreases food waste, saves lunch money and gives you an opportunity to enjoy healthier home-prepared foods.
For great meal ideas that can make good leftover lunches, check the Recipe Section of DaVita.com. There are over 350 kidney-friendly recipes with more added every week. All recipes were submitted by DaVita dietitians for those with chronic kidney disease who are pre-dialysis, dialysis or diabetic dialysis.
Fast food restaurants are another option for lunch on the go, if you learn to choose wisely. Make kidney-friendly adjustments to the foods you order. Extra sodium, phosphorus and potassium are often hidden in fast foods. Identify your favorite best choices from the fast food places you visit. Make this your usual list to help avoid ordering specials or tempting items that are not part of your diet.
1 packet ketchup; no cheese or special sauce
TV dinners are traditionally known for having high-sodium content. Today many frozen food manufacturers cater to health-conscious consumers concerned about fat, sodium and good nutrition. Many of the reduced sodium, healthy cuisine frozen meals are acceptable for a dialysis diet.
Healthy Choice®, Lean Cuisine® and Weight Watchers® are some brands that have entrées low enough in sodium for a dialysis diet. Here are some guidelines to follow when making your selections. As always, check with your renal dietitian for additional guidance.
Most frozen meals heat in the microwave in 3 to 7 minutes. Less time may be required if your meal has started to thaw. Pack a fork and napkin in preparation for your frozen lunch on the go.
Sometimes it’s easier to grab a protein bar or nutrition drink when eating on the run. Protein bars provide more nutrition than quick-grab foods like candy bars, chips, cookies or donuts. Thanks to the recent high-protein/low-carbohydrate trend, market shelves are stocked with high-protein energy bars — many that are acceptable for a pre-dialysis or dialysis diet. A few things to be aware of when selecting a protein bar to fit your needs:
Many nutrition drinks are available at local grocery or drug stores. Types vary from low-calorie diet meal replacements (such as Slim-Fast®), high-protein drinks marketed to body builders and medical-nutrition drinks for health improvement. Like protein bars, these supplements vary in calories, protein, sodium, potassium, phosphorus and calcium content. Special nutrition drinks formulated for kidney patients usually have reduced amounts of sodium, potassium and phosphorus compared to drinks developed for people on a regular diet plan.
Some of the drinks often recommended by renal dietitians include Nepro®, Re/Gen®, Re/Gen sugarfree®, Nutrarenal® and Novasource Renal®. Special diabetic formulas, such as Boost Diabetic® and Glucerna® are lower in carbohydrates, but may have high levels of potassium and phosphorus compared to renal formulas. Often, medical nutrition supplements are recommended during periods when patients aren’t eating enough nutrients, but they can also be an option for a quick meal replacement. Check with your dietitian for advice on the best bar or nutrition drink for you, if this is your choice for a lunch on the go.
Remember to consider the beverages you drink. If you are on limited fluids, be sure to divide your daily allowance between meals, snacks and medication times. Select the smallest container or one with a screw-top lid to help keep the amount of fluids you drink in check.
Beverages lower in sodium, potassium and phosphorus are the best choices for people with kidney disease and those on dialysis. Read the ingredient label and nutrition facts on all canned, bottled and packaged beverages. Avoid drinks containing phosphorus or calcium additives. More often phosphate additives and extra calcium are showing up in drinks that were previously phosphorus and calcium free, so make sure to check nutrient content and ingredient lists.
Choose from these beverages that are acceptable for a kidney diet:
Remember food safety when carrying on-the-go meals. Germs and bugs can grow in food when temperatures are not cool enough. Use an insulated bag with an ice pack or bottle of frozen water to keep foods cold. Wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer before eating. Enjoy your lunch.
This site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from a physician.
Please check with a physician if you need a diagnosis and/or for treatments as well as information regarding your specific condition. If you are experiencing urgent medical conditions, call 9-1-1