9 tips for a budget- and kidney-friendly diet

SURVIVAL TIP: A kidney-friendly diet incorporates many aspects of a standard nutritious diet and can be tailored for dialysis patients with a few changes.

Making Egg SaladAre you overwhelmed when you look at the eating plan your dietician recommended? Omit this. Reduce that. Eat lots of protein and drink water. I was overwhelmed, too, but a few tips helped me adapt.

Make simple changes
First, look at what you normally eat and see what simple changes you can make. I love sandwiches, so I switched from wheat to white bread. And I began making egg salad and chicken salad instead of eating deli meats. (Tuna salad is even healthier.) The benefit of these two changes is that white bread is less expensive than wheat or grain bread, and eggs are less expensive and more nutritious than deli meats. Eggs also last a while in the refrigerator. Chicken is a healthy source of lean protein and chicken salad can include fresh produce such as celery and grapes. A few nuts give crunch without adding too much phosphorus.

Puffed rice cereal is permitted on the renal diet and can be eaten for breakfast or used to make snacks. Eat only the snacks your diet permits and be creative. Substitute ingredients you know are good for your renal diet for those you should avoid. Crispy rice cereal is an inexpensive multi-tasking food like eggs!

Plan for a specific shopping day
As we discussed in the “Can you eat well on a budget?” post, selecting a specific day of the week to shop helps you get in the habit of scheduling your activity and meals. If you can wash, cut, separate and store your groceries the same day you shop or the day after, you will find compliant eating easier.

Grocery Shopping, AsparagusOne way to eat the healthiest produce on a budget is to eat fruits and vegetables that are in season. Be aware of what foods should be avoided, particularly because of potassium and phosphorus, but try new foods. (You can look up the nutrition facts on the internet in the store on your smart phone or carry a list of produce to avoid. Your dietician should be able to provide you with one or more resources.) Buy only one of a new item. If the store offers sampling, try whatever you can before buying in case you don’t like it. Grocery shopping is an experience for the senses! Incorporate new tastes and look for recipes, even if you make salads with a few fruits or vegetables you haven’t eaten before. (Try the food before committing a meal to it, though!)

Buy meats on sale in larger quantities and freeze each meat into single portions (or enough for one family meal). Buy more than you would for a single week, but don’t purchase so much that you lose it to freezer burn.

Frozen items are often less expensive. Look for sales and buy only what you and your family can eat in a few months. Pay attention to ingredients before buying. Look for additives such as sodium and phosphorus-containing preservatives before buying frozen foods. Examples of phosphorus are are sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium hexametaphosphate, and trisodium triphosphate. Always read nutrition labels when they are available.

Preparing ApplesWhen shopping, consider portion sizes. You might buy smaller apples instead of large apples that you must portion and eat some later. Tangerines are better for you than oranges, and they are smaller. Apples and other items come precut and packaged in single servings, but these are considerably more expensive than the whole items you can easily cut up. In fact, preparing and storing the foods in serving sizes yourself makes compliant eating easier.

Avoid the middle sections of the grocery store where you find the prepared and boxed foods you should avoid. Most canned foods contain high sodium or sugar. Crackers have salt, and cookies contain preservatives. If you have a craving for something in these middle aisles, buy the smallest size so that you don’t overindulge. Remember that you don’t have to visit these aisles on every visit.

Prepare foods for quick meals
Prepare as much food as you can the day you shop. Cut up produce and meats into single portions and refrigerate or freeze them. Freeze meats into portions. I read a joke about a lady who estimated she spent $80 per year on bananas she didn’t eat. Of course, most dialysis patients should avoid bananas, but bananas are an example of food that looks good so we buy it on impulse. Then we don’t eat it.

You don’t have to shop, come home, and begin storing portions. Take breaks, sit if you must. Get other family members involved. You eat for your optimum health. Let your family learn the important skill of helping others. You will teach kids not only to help out and be responsible but also about healthy eating and shopping on a budget. When I was a child, my parents and grandparents enlisted my help to search the sales papers, calculate costs and savings and how to bag to protect the foods. (Eggs on the bottom. Bread on the top. And that is all for that bag! Don’t pack heavy bags for ladies to carry.) As we shopped, we considered nutrition, cost and menus. You do your children a favor when teaching these life lessons.

DID YOU KNOW: If you don’t want to write on your containers, apply a piece of clear tape to your container and write the contents and date on the tape with a permanent marker. You can remove the tape when you empty the bowl.

When you refrigerate and freeze foods you bought and prepared, write the date on your container. Even if you buy small items, you usually find you have more than one meal’s portion. Be safe when storing foods. They have a short shelf life.

CauliflowerMake a couple of meals from one item. For instance, eat raw cauliflower today and cook it tomorrow as part of your meal.

If you eat only small portions or have a small family, swap and share with friends, family and other patients. Join a co-op or a community garden. As long as you are physically able, this is not only a healthy, less expensive option, but also a way to get out in the mornings and build a community of friends with healthy interests.

If you are unable to shop or afford your food, speak to your social worker and consider contacting food banks.

Graciously accept gifts of food, even food you can’t eat it or should have the item only in moderation. You can share.

Learn from one another
Eating well is a challenge for most people. When you add budgeting constraints and health requirements, the challenge increases. But we can learn from each other. Please share your success stories and challenges in the comments below.

If you or someone you care about is facing dialysis, share your experiences and concerns. This is a forum for learning and inspiration where we can ask questions and be honest with others in the same situation. What are your experiences and challenges with dialysis?


If you would like Beth, the Dialysis Gal, to speak to your group, reach out via e-mail or the comments.


About dialysisgal

When I joined the 450,000 Americans on dialysis, I wondered what "normal" would be. Would people stare at my access and ask what was wrong? In this blog, I hope to save other patients and their families from the difficulties I have faced. I want to share my experiences, what I learned, had to ask and was shocked to find. I am not a medical professional, but I hope we can have a conversation to help you better understand what you or someone you love with chronic kidney disease (CKD) might expect while living with dialysis.
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