Kidney Diet Tips

Cooking Tips for Dialysis Patient Caregivers

Let’s face it, caring for a loved one with a chronic disease is challenging. There is a variety of medications to keep in order. Doctors appointments seem to be never-ending. At times, providing basic care for things the patient is not able to do independently is necessary. Loved ones with end stage renal disease (ESRD) need to be taken to and from dialysis treatments. Then there’s cooking to provide nutritious meals for loved ones.

Kidney Diet Challenges

Most often, medical nutrition therapy (MNT) is needed after a chronic disease is diagnosed. This makes what and how to cook food an even bigger challenge. MNT refers to the assessment of the nutritional status of a patient with an illness, diet-related condition, or injury. The goal is to benefit and improve the patient’s health status. MNT often limits or restricts certain foods or food groups with the need to increase others. Patients with ESRD create the most challenging task. What is it? Cooking meals that follow the many dietary restrictions while still tasting good and being well accepted. The majority of patients with ESRD need to be cautious of potassium and phosphorus in food. They also must eat adequate amounts of protein, and limit sodium to prevent weight gains related to fluid. So then what can you cook for them?

Here are some useful tips to help ease caregiver frustrations.

Utilize Your Resources

Every dialysis center has a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). RDN’s are the experts in the field of nutrition and MNT. Developing a good relationship with the RDN will ensure you are aware of lab values that may or may not lead to dietary changes. For example, if your loved one has low potassium in their blood, they do not need to limit dietary intake of potassium. Ask as many questions as you can think of. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a stupid question. RDNs have access to a variety of resources that are sure to be helpful. has hundreds of recipes for people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and ESRD. The RDN can help set up a myDaVita account with you. Then once you create an account, more diet tools with recipes and cooking tips are available.


Take a look at what’s available in the myDaVita online meal planner and tracker:

  • My Meal Plan – helps plan meals and track your nutrients. You can track single foods and recipes from
  • Eating Out Guides – when you are eating out, this helps you chose the healthiest choice and are separated out by cuisine.
  • Food Analyzer – the information is pulled from the USDA database, to help you track foods, look at ingredients and understand nutrient content of foods and portion size.
  • Saved Recipes – you have ability to save your favorite recipes, without the need to search for them later.

Plus, with a myDaVita account, you have access to download free kidney-friendly cookbooks with cooking tips and diet guides.

Variety is the Spice of Life

While some people tend to be creatures of habit, not everyone wants to eat the same foods over and over. Using similar ingredients like vegetables, herbs or cuts of meat while changing up the flavor profile helps with variety. Once you know your loved one likes a certain food, experiment with all the different ways that food can be prepared. For example, eggs are an excellent source of protein with many ways to cook them. Plus they can be eaten at any meal of as a snack. Again, search for new recipes and ways to change things up.

For ideas on healthy foods to include in your kidney diet cooking, read “Top 15 Healthy Foods for People with Kidney Disease“.

Big Flavors Come from Natural Sources

Create flavors from cooking with natural sources, not from salt and additives that can increase fluid weight gains. Herb seasoning blends are excellent options to add flavor without the salt. Here are more salt-free options:

  • Fresh garlic is a great choice. Caution – minced or diced garlic sold in jars often has added phosphates
  • Fresh or dried herbs – basil, bay leaves, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme
  • Natural spices – caraway seeds, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, curry, garlic powder, nutmeg, paprika, onion powder

Focus on Protein

Meals consisting of enough protein are essential for the increased nutritional needs of the ESRD population. Always making sure to highlight a protein food at each meal and snack will help ensure protein intake is sufficient. Good proteins for the renal diet may include:

  • Beef, bison, chicken, turkey and fish
  • Eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and other dairy products f their diet allows
  • Nuts and seeds, beans and legumes in place of animal protieins or in moderation
  • Vegetarian proteins such as tofu; consult the RDN for other plant-based proteins

Read the Labels

And finally, become familiar with reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists. Know what’s in the food you purchase, cook and eat. Buy food items with as little processing as possible. Generally the more processing an item has, the more additives it contains which are not healthy for those with ESRD. It is not required to list the amount of phosphorus or potassium a food contains so pay close attention to the ingredient list. Review the list for “phos” additives and items that include calcium, sodium or potassium in the name. Know where to locate the amount of sodium to ensure you are making the best choices. Choose foods with 140 mg of sodium or less per serving. Also be aware that reduced or low-sodium options have added potassium to improve the flavor.

Did I mention that an RDN can help you with all this?


Additional Kidney Diet Resources

Visit and explore these diet and nutrition resources:

DaVita Food Analyzer

DaVita Dining Out Guides

Today’s Kidney Diet Cookbooks

DaVita Kidney-Friendly Recipes

Diet and Nutrition Articles                                                       

Diet and Nutrition Videos

Kidney Smart® Virtual Classes

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Consult your physician and dietitian regarding your specific diagnosis, treatment, diet and health questions.

Annie Jacobson, RDN, LN

Annie Jacobson, RDN, LN

Annie Jacobson, RDN, LN has been a registered dietitian for 10 years with the last year spent in the renal specialty. She previously worked in long-term care, gaining a specialty certification in Gerontological nutrition. Annie loves talking to anyone and everyone about nutrition, but only if they ask first. Her passions are family, fitness and nutrition. She recently joined a CrossFit gym and admits she is a little addicted!