By: Kellsey Reed RDN, LDN, PatientsLikeMe Contributor
Enjoying a meal at a restaurant with loved ones is a nice way to connect with others and enjoy a well-cooked meal. When it comes to going out to eat with chronic kidney disease, there can be a lot to keep in mind. Instead of avoiding it altogether, try being mindful of your choices when you have CKD.
Where to start with navigating a restaurant menu
The best place to start with navigating a restaurant menu with CKD is to plan ahead. This will help you to feel less stressed and more confident with your choices. But how can you do this? Try looking up the menu and/or nutrition information before you head to the restaurant so that you can have a game plan in place. Many restaurants will list their menu online, which makes it easy to look up! Most chain restaurants will also post nutrition information online too. If the restaurant doesn’t have the nutrition information available online, use these tips to pick the best option for you:
- Ask for sauces, condiments, dressings, and salsas on the side so you can better control how much you are using & therefore better control how much sodium you are getting.
- Try making a list of options that are more plant-forward and lower in sodium so that you have a list of choices to choose from.
- Opt for entrees that are grilled, roasted, baked, air-fried, or sauteed rather than deep-fried. This will help you consume more heart-healthy fats.
- Choose water as your beverage of choice so that you are staying hydrated throughout your meal.
- Don’t be afraid to customize your meals or ask for modifications. You never know until you try!
- Choose a more plant-forward dish packed with veggies and whole grains. This will help keep your kidneys happy and healthy.
- Ask for veggies on the side of your entree; if it doesn’t come with them. This is an easy way to get in more veggies and fiber.
We all know that sodium is synonymous with restaurant food. Unfortunately, most of the sodium Americans consume on a regular basis is from ultra-processed foods and restaurant foods! To help minimize your sodium intake, try asking for foods unseasoned or unsalted. You can also ask for all of the accompanying sauces, condiments, salsas, and dressings on the side so that you can dip your food into it. This can help you better control how much sodium you are eating.
Many restaurants can pack a lot of protein into their dishes! For those with CKD stages 1-5, you may not need that much protein in your diet. If you are on dialysis, you may benefit from that amount of protein. It’s always best to talk with your doctor and/or dietitian about how much protein you need each day on your kidney-friendly diet. If you need less protein each day, try choosing more plant-forward options which are typically lower in protein. Here are some lower and higher protein options at restaurants:
Higher protein options:
- Grilled chicken
- Blackened salmon
- Pork chops
- Beyond or impossible burger
Lower protein options:
- Veggie burger
- Cauliflower “steak”
Potassium is found in veggies, fruits, grains, and protein-rich foods. You can find potassium almost everywhere! If you need a potassium restriction on your kidney-friendly diet, try choosing lower-potassium fruits and veggies:
- Instead of a spinach salad → choose an arugula salad
- Instead of banana pancakes → choose blueberry pancakes
- Instead of french fries or potatoes → try a sweet potato or sweet potato fries
- Instead of a tomato-based pasta sauce → try an olive oil and garlic-based sauce
Other things to keep in mind
When going out to eat with CKD, it can be helpful to try and build a balanced plate. This can help balance your blood sugars better and help to keep you full and satisfied. To build a more balanced plate at a restaurant, try choosing some protein, carbs, fats, and veggies. Here are some examples of balanced meals you may find at a restaurant:
- Blackened salmon with brown rice and a veggie stir fry
- Grilled chicken over salad with a whole grain roll and olive oil/balsamic dressing
- Scrambled eggs with veggies, fruit cup, and avocado
- Taco salad with beans, rice, and fajita veggies
- Plain hamburger with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions and a side salad
Kidney-friendly options at popular restaurants
- Mexican cuisine – Veggie fajitas with corn tortillas, guacamole, and lettuce/tomato
- Italian cuisine – Pasta primavera + side salad
- Chinese cuisine – Sweet and sour chicken + steamed brown rice + steamed broccoli
- Japanese cuisine – Cucumber avocado sushi roll + side salad + edamame