Holiday Party Food: What to Cook, What to Eat and What to Limit 

By DaVita dietitian Shaun K. Riebl, MS, RD, LD/N

“The holidays can be so tough now that I have kidney disease. I have to watch everyone else eat the foods I love, like mashed potatoes, pie, and even macaroni and cheese. Maybe I should steer clear of the parties this year.”

Does this inner dialogue sound familiar to you? The holidays are fast approaching, but kidney disease shouldn’t stop you from enjoying some of your favorite foods. Helpful tips, a little planning and some kidney-friendly recipes can make the season less stressful. Whether you are hosting a holiday get-together, going to your neighbor’s house, or attending an office party, you can take steps to satisfying your taste buds without compromising your health.

What to cook and share at holiday parties 

Scenario: You’re hosting a party that allows you to plan the entire menu. This means you can control the ingredients so dishes are kidney-friendly. If you attend a party, offer to bring a dish. Below are some that are delicious, good for people on a kidney diet, and sure to bring holiday cheer to all:




Desserts and beverages

Protein-rich food such as turkey, chicken, fish, lean beef and fresh pork are a good choice for meeting the nutrition needs of someone on dialysis. If you have early stage kidney disease, be sure to watch your portion size (remember that one serving of lean meat is 3 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards). The cranberry in the stuffing and chutney provides antioxidants and increases good cholesterol (HDL). Vegetables containing vitamin C (like cabbage and cauliflower) give you colon-protecting fiber and anti-inflammatory protection.

Regular mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese are restricted for people on a kidney diet because of the high potassium, phosphorus and sodium content. The modified versions listed above are better choices. Leaching potatoes is a cooking method that helps lower potassium.

The side dishes listed in the chart are tasty enough for everyone to enjoy. The same applies to desserts and beverages. has more than 600 recipes to satisfy any craving.

What to eat at holiday parties 

Scenario: You didn’t have time to cook something for your neighbor’s New Year’s Eve party, but you still want to ring in January 1 at their place, where you know there will be lots of food to snack on. So what can a person on a kidney diet eat at the party? Listed are items that are okay to eat in moderation at a holiday party.


  • Bread sticks
  • Carrot sticks
  • Celery with dip or cream cheese
  • Clams
  • Cocktail meatballs
  • Shrimp
  • Unsalted, boiled or deviled eggs
  • Unsalted crackers, pretzels or tortilla chips with sour cream dip


  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Lean pork
  • Roast beef
  • Roasted chicken
  • Roasted turkey


  • Corn bread or dinner rolls with margarine or olive oil
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Homemade gravy (no salt added)
  • Homemade stuffing/dressing (no salt added)
  • Leached potatoes (1/2 cup)
  • Noodles
  • White rice
  • White or rye bread


  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens or collard greens
  • Okra
  • Yellow squash
  • Zucchini


  • Apple or cherry pie
  • Jell-O® (sugar-free for people with diabetes)
  • Peach cobbler
  • Pound or carrot cake

What to limit at holiday parties 

Scenario: Today is your office’s annual holiday party. You thought you put it on your calendar, but it must’ve slipped your mind. Since you’re here, peruse the food table. Below are foods you may want to limit or avoid.


  • Cheese
  • Cheese-filled pastries
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts


  • Processed meats (bologna, hot dogs, sausages)
  • Smoked ham and turkey


  • Baked beans
  • Canned or packaged gravy
  • Creamy sauces
  • Traditional macaroni and cheese
  • Non-leached potatoes
  • Stuffing from a package

Desserts and beverages

  • Baked goods or candy with nuts
  • Chocolate cakes, candies and pies
  • Eggnog
  • Hot chocolate from a packet
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Sweet potato pie

Make a game plan before the party

Before attending a party, it’s good to have a game plan so you can have fun, eat good food and still have your kidney health in mind. Here are some general things to consider when at holiday parties:

  • Bring your phosphate binders so you take them with your meal.
  • Portion sizes matter — a half cup versus one cup of certain foods can make a big difference in blood levels of potassium, calcium, sodium and phosphorus.
  • Substitute low- or reduced-sodium products whenever possible; use herbs in place of salt.
  • Substitute olive or canola oil for butter as a heart-healthy alternative in some recipes.
  • Try reduced-fat whipped cream on desserts.
  • Cake and fruit pies such as apple or cherry, peach cobbler and crumb cake are typically lower in potassium; skip the fruit cake.
  • Gelatin and gravy count as fluid.