Helping you live a better life on dialysis

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Meal Planning

planning for dialysis and renal diet meals
Keep track of your sodium, even when you’re not at home, with our handy list of lower sodium food options.

Eating well can help to keep you healthy. Not eating well will cause you to become weak as you break down your muscles for protein, and become malnourished. While receiving dialysis treatments, your dietitian will work with you to help you make a meal plan that meets your health needs and includes as many as possible of your favorite foods. The exact details will depend on whether you are still making some urine and on the results of your blood tests. Among the nutritional considerations you may need to track as a kidney disease patient, is your intake of sodium, potassium, protein, and phosphorus, as well as the number of calories and amount of fluids.

Of course, planning meals isn't the only thing to think about. Someone has to cook! The busier we all are, the more we tend to rely on fast foods or convenience foods. Trouble is, most of these foods have a lot of sodium, phosphorus, and potassium. (They're costly, too.) Discover easy-to-make dialysis-friendly foods in our Recipe Center that both you and your family will enjoy.

Dialysis And Planning Your Diet

Here are a few ideas to make it easier for you to plan healthy meals at home. Which ones do you think might work for you?

  • Keep a list of meals that are quick to fix (like omelets), so you can eat something healthy in a hurry, with little effort.
  • Adapt favorite recipes so you can eat foods you like.
  • Cook ahead for the week and put meal-sized portions in the freezer. You can heat them up quickly all week.
  • Read food labels and find some convenience foods that will fit into your healthy meal plans.
  • Mix and match foods from the lists you get from your dietitian.
  • Look up a few favorite foods in a food values book to see how you can add them into a healthy meal plan.
  • Look up the foods you want to eat and make charts so you can have custom menus that work for you.

Making up meal plans won't always be a lot of work. Each plan you put together helps you learn, and after a while, it does get easier. As one patient said:

“After 17 years of hemodialysis, I know the diet inside and out, and for me, it was essential to learn how to fit those favorite foods into my diet. I feel it was safer and easier to do this than to cut them out entirely and feel deprived, maybe going on a binge and eating too much of the ‘real thing. I learned how to calculate the food composition of what I was eating over the entire day (even without my handy-dandy computer program). This let me have foods I loved which were high in potassium or sodium by creating recipes that used less of the high items, and changing what I ate the rest of the day to fit in my special treat. This way, I was able to feel less restricted and less different from those I was eating with.”

You can test your knowledge about good nutrition and kidney disease with the Kidney Quiz.  

What If I'm A Vegetarian?

Most vegetable sources of protein, like beans, soy, and grains, also have very high levels of potassium and/or phosphorus. The biggest challenge of being a vegetarian on dialysis is getting enough high quality protein to avoid malnutrition and muscle wasting - without getting harmful levels of potassium and phosphorus. It can be done, though you will need to work closely with your dietitian.

How easy this is depends on whether you will eat any sources of animal protein (eggs, chicken, fish, dairy). Track your lab tests to see if you are succeeding, and talk to your dietitian about how to make your vegetarian meal plan work for you.


Content from Kidney School, a program of the Medical Education Institute, Inc.