Restaurant eating is a part of many people’s lives. But between oversized portions, excess salt, and not-always-nutritious ingredients, it’s not always easy to eat healthfully at restaurants. People with chronic kidney disease (CKD) have the added challenge of choosing meals that are kidney-friendly. But it can be done! Here’s how you can set yourself up for success when dining out.
Before You Go
- Do your homework. Review the menu online to help make better decisions when it’s time to order. Many restaurants even show nutrition and ingredient information so you can know exactly what you’re ordering. Remember that restaurant food is often higher in sodium. You may want to cut back on foods high in sodium earlier in the day to allow for a meal out.
- Think ahead. Imagine the meal that suits both your nutrition limitations and desires best, and seek it out. A colorful salad with veggies and beans, grilled fish with sautéed zucchini, or tofu-veggie stir-fry with a small side of rice can all be good options. When you see the menu, you can find a meal that best matches what you’re looking for. Keep in mind that portions are key when it comes to managing kidney disease.
- Eat normally. Staying balanced throughout the day is a smart strategy, even when you’re preparing for a bigger-than-normal meal out. Do not skip meals — that just sets you up to be overly hungry when you sit down at the restaurant.
- Have a snack. It may seem surprising, but a small snack like a piece of fruit or fresh veggie sticks an hour before the meal can keep your energy stable. This way you are more likely to make healthier choices when you order. If you are monitoring your potassium and phosphorus levels, be mindful of your choices.
- Bring what you need. If your doctor prescribed phosphate binders, be sure to bring them with you when dining out. If you have diabetes, bring your meter and any prescribed mealtime medications such as insulin to help manage your blood sugar.
At the Restaurant
- Avoid calorie traps. Drinks, starters, bread, and dessert can all add up! Plan ahead for the option you truly desire. Choose one, and enjoy it. Keep the rest off of the table.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. Be sure to talk with your doctor about whether or not alcohol is safe for you. If you are able to consume, be aware of the empty calories. High potassium fruit mixers can be a problem for people who need to limit potassium. Don’t forget that alcohol can cause less-than-ideal judgment. If you drink alcohol, limit the amount — aim for no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women, per day.
- Be portion smart. One restaurant order can be two or three times bigger than the amount in a healthy serving. For your protein, ask if you could order half the portion, or pack up half to bring home as leftovers. Kidney-friendly protein choices include meat, poultry, fish, tempeh, tofu, lentils, and eggs. Avoid dishes that include processed meats like bacon, sausage, or ham. Ask how your protein is being seasoned. Many seasonings include salt, and can easily be left off.
- Order creatively. There are no rules when it comes to ordering. Don’t be afraid to request the amount of food that is right for you! Share an entrée with another person, or make your meal a salad and an appetizer.
- Go off-menu. Many foods can be prepared using lower-calorie, lower-sodium cooking methods.
- Ask for salad dressing and sauces on the side.
- Look for items on the menu that are baked, grilled, broiled, roasted, or steamed. Avoid breaded or deep-fried items. And if you don’t see an option, try to get that fried chicken salad with grilled chicken instead. It never hurts to ask!
- Order à la carte so you can choose exactly what you want.
- Balance your plate. Aim for half your plate to be filled with fruits and veggies*; ¼ of your plate with a fist-size portion of carb sources like rice, pasta, or rolls; and ¼ of your plate with lean proteins like fish, lean beef, chicken, tempeh, tofu, lentils, beans or eggs.
*If you have diabetes, watch your portion sizes of fruit and starchy veggies that are higher in carbs.
- Break between bites. Enjoy your food! Savor the flavors without overeating. Put down your fork or spoon after each mouthful. Chew thoroughly, have a sip of water, and avoid reloading your utensil until you have swallowed your current bite.
- Slow down. Follow the pace of the slowest eater at the table. There’s no race to finish!
- Leave some on the plate. Go into the meal with the mindset that you will be served
more food than you need. Plan to leave some behind or take some with you.
It’s okay to enjoy a meal out from time to time. By planning ahead and being prepared to make healthy decisions, you’ll be able to dine out and still stick to your wellness goals!