DaVita renal dietitian Jennifer from California knows that food can be kidney-friendly and still be fabulous. A case in point: her unique recipe for A-maze-ing Bean Dip. This is a layered appetizer that’s simply packed with flavor. The base is made from white hominy, pinto beans and cream cheese flavored with garlic, cumin and chili powder. It’s then topped with a mixture of creamy light sour cream, onion and bell pepper spiced up with garlic, lime and cilantro. To put a smile on your face, just grab a pita chip and dig right into this flavorful appetizer.
For a homemade dinner that’s as good as any restaurant entrée, we recommend Jennifer’s Thai Pineapple Shrimp and Jasmine Rice. This is the kidney-fabulous recipe to turn to when you want to impress your family and guests with an aromatic, spicy Thai dish.
Thai food is known for its blend of different tastes, and this dish is no exception. It begins with everyone’s favorite: shrimp. In Jennifer’s recipe, cooked shrimp is taken to new heights with a trio of flavors – sour, sweet and salty – thanks to the addition of garlic, onion, pineapple, ham, peas, red peppers and fresh lime juice. This amazingly flavorful shrimp is then mixed with fragrant jasmine rice. Next, a creamy sauce made from coconut milk, butter, chicken broth, non-dairy creamer, white wine and cornstarch is flavored with mint, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and nutmeg, then poured over the shrimp and rice mixture. As the finishing touch, the dish is sprinkled with a mixture of seasonings: garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, cardamom and salt. The result is a delectable dinner that will have your family and guests applauding your efforts – and since it fits right into the kidney diet, it’s the ideal entree for guiltless enjoyment.
DaVita renal dietitian Jennifer grew up in the Bay Area of California, but has also lived in the Los Angeles area and in Athens, Georgia. She studied at California State University, Long Beach; the University of California, San Francisco; and the University of Georgia in Athens.
Jennifer decided to become a dietitian to help others live happy, healthy lives. “My desire was to help people live healthier lives by living a healthy lifestyle,” Jennifer explains. “I was drawn to healthy foods in my early teen years and was influenced by my grandfather who grew his own fruits and vegetables. My grandfather even grafted trees, and by using cross-pollination, he came up with a couple of new fruit tree varieties on his farm.”
An internship led Jennifer into the renal field. “While completing my internship at the University of California, San Francisco, I completed a rotation in renal dietetics. I always knew that I would love this area of dietetics, because it was a great balance between clinical and counseling,” Jennifer says. “Later, while completing my Master’s Degree at the University of Georgia in Athens, I learned about bone health while working in the Clinical and Sports Nutrition Laboratory. Within this lab, we scanned various research subjects using dual-energy, x-ray absorptiometry in order to determine their bone density. Part of my Master’s thesis involved bone growth and maturation. Overall, our lab focused upon bone growth and development. This led me to realize later that I had been prepared for renal dietetics.”
Today, Jennifer is a renal dietitian at the DaVita center in Los Banos in central California. “The most challenging aspect of my job is getting everyone on the same page,” remarks Jennifer. “Renal dietetics can be very dynamic. There is constant change in the renal field, and at DaVita, we also focus on constant improvement as a core value. This dynamic requires relentless follow-up using a variety of communication methods.”
Being a renal dietitian can be a challenge, but Jennifer enjoys her work. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is watching patients learn about their new renal diet and applying what I teach them,” she says. “When you see the outcomes change, you know you have added life to the years they have left.”
When asked what she enjoys most about working with her patients, Jennifer had this to say: “There are three things that I enjoy most about working with my patients: their appreciation, learning together and having fun together.”
The role of a renal dietitian in the life of a kidney patient is significant. “I make a difference in our patients’ lives by educating them and empowering patients to make changes,” Jennifer states. “My clinic is in a rural, underserved, agricultural area. There are many challenges besides diet that our patients face.”
In her work, Jennifer puts the emphasis on supportive teamwork. “I tell my patients that our relationship is like a partnership; I’m on their team. I provide feedback and education to them so that they can make better choices and hopefully live longer with fewer complications,” she explains. “Equipping them to do this is part of the process, whether I am providing recipes, a cooking demo or teaching them about their phosphorus binder medications.”
Jennifer believes that “the single most important thing patients can do to improve their health is to communicate with their health care team regularly and apply what they are taught by them.”
Variety is more than the spice of life for a kidney patient. “I am a firm believer that renal patients need options. When I provide renal-safe recipes and snack ideas to increase their options, they are more adherent to their diet,” Jennifer says. “When patients are required to take medication to control their phosphorus, they will always need a fresh way to understand and motivate them to adhere to their doctor’s orders.”
Jennifer has been with DaVita three and one half years and has found that “as a Fortune 500 company, DaVita is a good, old-fashioned American ‘village’ that cares about their teammates and strives to create new ways to care for their patients also.”
The company’s involvement in non-profits came as a surprise to Jennifer. “It has been exciting for me to learn about all of the non-profit organizations that DaVita has created as the provider and employer of choice,” she says.
In her time with DaVita, Jennifer has collected many memories, but one in particular stands out. “One of my first days working at DaVita, early in the morning, part of the team who had not met me yet wondered why I was in the office area, because they thought I was a patient,” Jennifer remembers. “When I first began at DaVita, I was in a wheelchair, so I looked quite out-of-place! They questioned me with great concern on their faces. We had a good laugh as I introduced myself.”
Jennifer loves living just 7 minutes from her workplace. And the DaVita center in Los Banos, California, where Jennifer works is special to Jennifer. “We are a rural community and many patients have special needs. We are just now moving into a new building and growing from 11 chairs to 24 chairs. My new office is beautiful, and our team has been doing some team-building together to be more cohesive at the new clinic. Our goal is to lead our region!” exclaims Jennifer.
Remember Jennifer’s recipes for A-maze-ing Bean Dip and Thai Pineapple Shrimp and Jasmine Rice the next time you want to wake up your eating plan while keeping it kidney-friendly. Both dishes are certain to bring rave reviews!