5 Lunches On-the-Go for a Kidney Diet

By DaVita Dietitian, Sara Colman, RD, CSR, CDE

Work, school, errands, exercise and other activities—life is busy. 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 treatments.

By following a meal plan provided by your dietitian and the tips in this article, lunch will be easy and fit into your dialysis or pre-dialysis diet.

1. Sack lunches

Packing a lunch is an ideal way to keep sodium, potassium and phosphorus in control. Remember:

  • If possible, make meat sandwiches from low-sodium, fresh-cooked meats such as chicken, turkey breast, roast beef, pork or fish in 2 to 3 ounce portions.
  • Egg salad or fried egg sandwiches are good low-sodium, high-protein choices.
  • When selecting canned tuna or chicken, pick the no-salt-added brands or rinse salted products for 3 minutes to reduce sodium content.
  • Limit deli meats, which can be high in sodium. Make sandwiches and pack your sack lunch the evening before.
  • Complete your sack lunch with a fresh apple, plum, peach, grapes, pineapple or strawberries; unsalted pretzels or popcorn; and vanilla, lemon or spice cookies, a cupcake or slice of cake.
  • Pack your phosphorus binders.

2. Leftovers

Leftovers 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.

For meal ideas that can make good leftover lunches, check the recipe section of DaVita.com.

3. Fast foods

If you choose to eat fast food, choose wisely. Make kidney-friendly adjustments to the foods you order. Extra sodium, phosphorus and potassium are often hidden in fast foods. To help you avoid ordering specials or tempting items that are not part of your diet, get a Dining Out Guide from DaVita Diet HelperTM, the easy-to-use online diet management tool. The guide contains tips on what to order at various types of restaurants, including Mexican, Chinese and sandwich shops.

4. Frozen meals

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. Follow these guidelines when making your selections and check with your renal dietitian for additional guidance.

  • Look for meals with less than 700 milligrams sodium.
  • Choose frozen meals that provide a meat, poultry or fish entrée, rice or noodles, vegetable and dessert, if desired.
  • Avoid meals with high-phosphorus ingredients such as beans, cheese and cheese sauces.
  • Most frozen meals contain 1/2 cup or less of vegetables. Good choices are green beans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peppers and small amounts of corn and peas. To keep potassium lower, avoid those with tomato and potato products.

5. Nutrition bars and drinks

Sometimes it's easier to grab a protein bar or nutrition drink when eating on the run. Here's what to know when this happens:

  • Calories vary from 110 to 300 calories. Protein ranges from 10 to 24 grams per bar.
  • Carbohydrates range from 13 to 50 grams per bar.
  • Sodium usually ranges from 100 to 280 mg per bar. Lower sodium is better.
  • Phosphorus can range from 100 to 350 mg phosphorus per bar (10 to 35 percent of the daily recommended value). Lower amounts are best—and phosphorus binders should be taken when eating a protein bar.
  • Calcium can range from 100 to 500 mg per bar.

Some of the drinks often recommended by renal dietitians include Nepro, Re/Gen, Re/Gen Sugarfree, Nutrarenal and Novasource Renal. Check with your dietitian for advice on the best bar or nutrition drink for you.

What about drinks?

If you are on limited fluids, divide your daily allowance between meals, snacks and medication times. Choose from these beverages that are acceptable for a kidney diet:

  • When going out, order the smallest beverage—lots of ice, no refills, no cola.
  • Juices such as apple, cranberry, grape, pineapple, peach nectar, raspberry or strawberry.
  • Light-colored sodas such as 7-Up, Sprite, ginger ale, lemon-lime, root beer, club, cream, grape, orange or strawberry.
  • Other good beverage choices: Kool-Aid, Capri-Sun, punch, homemade lemonade or limeade, tea, herbal tea, coffee, water, sparkling water or fruit-flavored water.

If you need extra help navigating the kidney diet, sign up for the DaVita Diet HelperTM, the easy-to-use online diet management tool.