A kidney diet doesn’t have to be boring, and Monica, a DaVita renal dietitian from Minnesota, proves this with her renal-friendly version of savory and delicious Chicken and Apple Curry. Monica swaps low phosphorus rice milk for dairy, and uses low-sodium chicken broth, making this curry dish an exotic delight suitable for a kidney diet.
Encouraging patient input is key to Monica’s winning approach to working in the renal field, and has a lot to do with the inspiration for her recipe.
“Each month, I place a ‘Meal of the Month’ handout in the lobby,” Monica says. “Patients and family members mention to me that they enjoy that.” One patient enjoyed Monica’s monthly meal ideas so much, she decided to get involved too, and brought in a recipe she’d seen in a local grocery store’s flyer. “She had tried it and liked it, so I modified it with the milk substitute and low-sodium broth,” Monica explains. “I also added the garlic and basil.” And, that’s how kidney-friendly Chicken Apple Curry came to be.
Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Monica went on to study dietetics at the College of St. Catherine in Minnesota, although she remains a steadfast fan of the Green Bay Packers football team to this day. “Go Packers!” she laughs.
Armed with a love of food and a healthy sense of curiosity early in life, Monica was clearly destined to work in dietetics. “I used to love to read food labels when I was younger,” she says. It should come as no surprise, then, that she started her career in diabetes education before moving on to renal. “I worked at a dialysis unit where they incorporated a diabetes education program, and that gave me the opportunity to merge both,” she states.
Teaching patients the ins and the outs of the kidney diet is one of the many ways in which Monica feels she makes a difference in her dialysis patients’ lives. “I help people to make diet changes so that overall they feel better,” she says. She adds that the most rewarding aspect of her job is “seeing the positive change in the way people feel when they have been working hard” to take control of their health.
Monica knows that learning to manage kidney disease can be challenging. “Eating is a big part of life,” she acknowledges. As such, she makes a point of treating her patients as individuals, and gives them the time they need to navigate changes to their diets. “I try to recognize the fact that the whole process can be overwhelming, and, in turn, I work with patients at their readiness-to-change level,” she says
Monica also encourages her patients to be proactive, and underlines the importance of taking an interest in one’s health at an early age. “It will save you a lot of time in the long run,” she observes.
While Monica is passionate about increasing renal education and awareness, she and her coworkers are no strangers to fun. During the holiday season, one of the dialysis center’s nurses, her husband and their dog often visit the unit dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer. “The dog would always have antlers on his head,” she says. “The patients and staff loved it, and we would always look forward to seeing them.”
An integral member of the team at the DaVita clinic in Minnesota for the past seven years, Monica has also become a huge fan of the region’s gorgeous lake district. She credits “the strong spirit” of the staff and patients as another reason she enjoys working at the clinic.
“I love the fact that the name DaVita means ‘he or she gives life,’” she adds. The origin of DaVita’s name and Core Values of Service Excellence, Continuous Improvement and Fun are reinforced by the way Monica regularly infuses new life into her own kidney-conscious recipes.
As for her Chicken and Apple Curry, it’s fragrant, filling and perfect for people following a kidney diet.