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Lunches On-the-Go for the Dialysis Diet

Written by DaVita® dietitian, Sara Colman, RD, CSR, CDE

Work, school, errands, working out 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 dialysis 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 kidney-friendly pre-dialysis diet.

Sack lunches

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

  • Fresh is always best. 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 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.


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

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. Make this your usual list to help avoid ordering specials or tempting items that are not part of your diet.

Burger fast food places

  • Hamburger on a bun with lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, mustard or 1 packet ketchup; no cheese or special sauce
  • Grilled or broiled chicken sandwich with mustard or mayonnaise, lettuce, onion; no cheese or breading
  • Side salad, limit the dressing
  • Onion rings instead of French fries — limit the ketchup and the portion size
  • Order the smallest size beverage with extra ice and take small sips

Chicken or fish take-out

  • Go for grilled or roasted without the high-sodium breading (or remove breading).
  • Best sides include: coleslaw, pasta salad, roll, green beans, half ear corn on the cob.
  • Avoid the potatoes and biscuit to keep potassium and phosphorus lower.

Mexican fast food

  • Beef, chicken, pork or shrimp fajita
  • Beef, chicken or fish taco on flour tortilla; no cheese
  • Chicken or beef burrito with rice, sour cream, a little salsa or hot sauce (leave off the beans and cheese)
  • Chicken or beef taquitos with sour cream instead of guacamole
  • Rice instead of beans
  • Limit salsa or hot sauce to 1 tablespoon or 1 packet

Sub sandwich shop

  • Stick to the 6-inch sub on a white or whole wheat roll.
  • Turkey, chicken, roast beef, ham and egg salad are better choices.
  • Good toppings include: lettuce, onion, cucumber, thin slice of tomato, bell pepper, vinegar, oil, pepper, mayonnaise, small amount of mustard.
  • Omit the cheese to keep phosphorus and sodium down.
  • Omit sauces, olives and pickles to lower sodium.
  • For sides, try a small salad, low-salt tortilla chips or cookie without nuts or chocolate.
  • Order the smallest beverage — lots of ice, no refills, no cola.

Chinese take-out

  • Order stir-fry shrimp, chicken, pork or beef with lower potassium veggies such as bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, eggplant, green beans, mushrooms, onions and water chestnuts.
  • Egg rolls or fried wontons or small salad with vinegar-based dressing are best for appetizers.
  • Skip the salty soups to save on fluid and sodium.
  • Request no MSG and ask for sauces on the side.
  • Use limited amount of low-sodium soy sauce.
  • Order steamed white rice instead of fried rice.

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. Here are some guidelines to follow when making your selections. As always, 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. Best 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.

Nutrition bars and drinks

Sometimes it’s easier to grab a protein bar or nutrition drink when eating on the run. Remember:

  • 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.
  • Average cost of most bars is around $2.

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:

  • Juices:  apple, cranberry, grape, pineapple, peach nectar, raspberry or strawberry
  • Sodas (regular or diet):  7-Up, Sprite, ginger ale, lemon-lime, root beer, club, cream, grape, orange or strawberry
  • Other beverages:  Kool-Aid, Capri-Sun, punch, homemade lemonade or limeade, tea, herbal tea, coffee, water, sparkling water or fruit-flavored water

Food safety

Germs and bugs can grow in food when temperatures aren’t cool enough. Use an insulated bag with an ice pack or bottle of frozen water to keep foods cold. Wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer before eating.

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

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