Tarragon Vinaigrette by Sara from California

Busy people know that cooking meals from scratch is almost impossible these days. But there is a way to add fresh, healthful flavor to your meal without all the sodium of store-bought foods using this Tarragon Vinaigrette recipe. Easily prepared in just moments, DaVita dietitian Sara from California offers this kidney-friendly recipe that comes from Cadillac Ranch restaurant.

Vinaigrette is a simple sauce that includes vinegar and oil. Although it makes an ideal salad dressing, versatile vinaigrette can also be used to flavor fish, shellfish, chicken, eggplant, grilled vegetables, rice and more. This homemade recipe has far less sodium than bottled or packaged dressings, so you can eat food that’s good for a kidney diet and still enjoy restaurant-quality flavor.

Sara’s love of food and creating in the kitchen led her to a career as a dietitian. “My grandmother and mother started teaching me to cook when I was 10 years old, and I discovered a natural knack for it,” Sara explains. “I also love working with people. When looking for a career after high school, I wanted to include food but did not want to work in a restaurant. I read a magazine article about the dietitian profession and thought it would be a perfect fit – and I’ve never wished for a different profession.”

Sara attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she obtained a bachelor’s of science in Dietetics, then went on to work for a community hospital. A phone call from a renal dietitian at the local dialysis center offered part-time work, which opened the door to a career in renal dietetics for Sara.

As a child, Sara’s dad was in the Navy, and the family moved around a lot, living in Tennessee, Hawaii and Florida. When she was in the seventh grade, her family settled in her mother’s hometown in Tennessee. “It was great not moving anymore,” Sara remembers, but those early experiences of seeing many places had instilled in her the longing to see more of the world. After finishing college, Sara vacationed in California, liked it and decided to make it her home.

Asked about her on-the-job challenges, Sara says that staying organized, keeping up with projects and staying current in nephrology nutrition are the toughest aspects. But the rewards easily outweigh the challenges. She explains that job satisfaction comes from “knowing I have made a difference for people with diabetes and kidney disease by providing resources to help them deal with their diets and live with a chronic disease.”

Proper diet is essential to maintaining the health of a dialysis patient, and a renal dietitian is a vital source of information about diet. Sara is one dietitian whose knowledge has helped her own patients – and many others.

 “Being a resource is my calling in this profession,” she states. “I worked in four different dialysis centers in the past, and I always tried to help people learn practical ways to fit all the things required into their everyday lives.” Today, Sara’s expertise is being shared with many other kidney patients around the globe, thanks to a cookbook she co-authored with Dorothy Gordon, an R.N. and the wife of one of Sara’s patients. The cookbook, Cooking for David: A Culinary Dialysis Cookbook, was initially an effort to provide Dorothy’s husband, David, with kidney-friendly meals he would enjoy. The collection of recipes was shared with other patients, and eventually it was turned into the 160-recipe cookbook, now distributed worldwide.

In 2004, Sara’s career headed in a slightly different direction when she left the dialysis center and moved into a position as Nutrition Project Specialist at DaVita. She now works closely with the DaVita dietitian and DaVita.com teams to help develop, and provide resources for the DaVita website.

Guiding patients is still at the heart of Sara’s job. “I love helping people make changes so their diets work to make them feel better and make them healthier,” Sara reports. “Even though I’m not in the dialysis center anymore, I still talk to people through email and on the phone. Helping them make sense of the complicated kidney diet is very rewarding to me.”

Sara’s approach to working with patients is caring yet practical. “When I was a child, the preacher at our church would say ‘How is this going to help you Monday morning?’ I like to use that same approach when helping patients,” she explains. “Is the information I provide going to make a difference when they get home today and tomorrow?”

Her pragmatic side has served her well in her work. “One of my bulletin board activities at the dialysis center was to go through the weekly grocery ads and circle the best food choices and X out the worst ones,” Sara remembers. “I also enjoy taking a patient’s favorite recipe and helping modify it to lower sodium, potassium and phosphorus levels so they can still enjoy foods they like.”

In fact, analyzing recipes is still a big part of what Sara does. “In my current position, I analyze all the recipes submitted by DaVita dietitians for the DaVita.com recipe section. It’s fun and challenging to recreate or adjust recipes to fit kidney diet guidelines,” Sara relates.

When asked what she thinks patients can do to improve their health, Sara says they can focus on “nourishing their bodies by taking time to prepare home meals, limiting pre-packaged and processed foods as much as possible and focusing on the positive things about their kidney diets. This makes such a huge difference in sodium and phosphorus intake and can help kidney patients stay healthier.”

Sara’s tenure with DaVita predates its name change in 2000, since she came aboard in 1991. When asked what she likes about DaVita, Sara explains, “I work with the most awesome, talented, dedicated dietitians in the world. We work on projects together and develop resources for dietitians, as well as for patients. I also love the ‘village’ concept and culture of DaVita.”

As the company has grown, Sara’s grown right along with it. “DaVita has provided many opportunities for me to excel professionally and personally,” she explains. “In addition to the opportunity to work with patients and other health professionals, I’ve been involved in nutrition and kidney disease research, I’ve developed writing skills, I’ve trained new renal dietitians, I’ve created and taught kidney cooking classes and given community presentations – many of these things are related to opportunities at DaVita.”

Sara says she’s learned as much from her patients as she’s taught them. “The most heart-felt thing I’ve learned comes from working with dialysis patients – everyone has been given a second chance to live, because without dialysis or transplant, they would not be here any longer,” she states. Many patients have taught me that the human spirit is so strong, and the will to live is very powerful.”

Being a renal dietitian is not all serious business, though; there are lighter moments too. Sara tells a story of a patient who received a kidney transplant, with one surprising result. “He never liked peanut butter before, but after the transplant, he craved it,” Sara says. “We joked that his donor must have loved it too.”

One of the perks of Sara’s job with DaVita is that she can work from her California home. “I love working at home, because I no longer have to spend so much time on the road,” Sara reveals. “At one time, I drove an hour to and from work. Now, I commute downstairs in my sweats, and the only obstacle is my cat, Jac.”

If you’re looking for an easy yet fresh and healthful way to spark up a meal, you might find Sara’s recipe for Tarragon Vinaigrette just right. It’s delicious, nutritious and an ideal way to perk up much more than simply salad.

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