Blog post

Quick tips for dining out at fast-casual or fast-food restaurants

Here are some tips to help you navigate fast-casual or fast-food dining while sticking to your kidney-friendly food and fluid plan
Bowl of vegetables, sour cream and sprinkled cheese

A lot of people living with kidney disease tell me they struggle with dining out and it is really no surprise. Restaurant meals – especially at fast-casual or fast-food restaurants – can be high in sodium and over-processed foods that are filled with preservatives. Not only does this mean that eating out can be tough on your wallet, it also means it can be tough on your kidneys.

Still, dining out is a part of our culture and you certainly can do it. However, you should try to limit the frequency of eating at fast-casual or fast-food restaurants, making it a special activity rather than a routine one.

Sometimes you may find yourself in a position where the only dining options are fast-food restaurants, like when you are traveling. If you must rely on fast foods, try to make the best choices possible from the selections available. There are some fast-food or fast-casual gems out there and you can sometimes find at least one item on the menu that you can have.

Here are some tips to help you navigate fast-casual or fast-food dining while sticking to your kidney-friendly food and fluid plan:

  • Do your research beforehand. If the restaurant posts nutritional information for their menu items, read that information ahead of time and have a plan in place. Carry a note card (or jot it down on your phone's notes app) that lists restaurants that have menu options that fit your meal plan and the best options on their menu.
  • Fast-food or fast-casual restaurants tend to have a lot of processed foods – which means they are high in sodium. Look for menu choices that are grilled or baked, have fruits and vegetables (with low to moderate potassium), and limit heavy sauces, dressing, or creams.
  • Ask for no salt and no sauces or dressings – or ask for them on the side. If you are eating a sandwich or hamburger, ask for no bun or substitute the bun for a lettuce wrap, if possible, or ask for no cheese.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes. Restaurants tend to serve portions that are larger than a serving size, so try eating a portion of the food and bringing the rest home. If you are ordering online, it can be helpful to have one person order a meal to split with you or you may want to order a kid's entrée, side items or a la carte items to keep the portion sizes down.
  • Be wary of "healthy" or vegan restaurants. Often, the sodium levels in their food are high or their meals are extremely high in potassium. Also, don't be fooled by the "healthy" options offered on the menus. If you can, look at the sodium in those salads. They can be as bad or worse than the burgers or main items. To help, when you order a salad, choose lighter dressing options like a vinaigrette rather than a creamy ranch.
  • The more whole food-based and unprocessed, the better. If you are on the go, look for things like hard boiled eggs, fruits and vegetables or salad bars.
  • Don't forget that you need to be mindful of your fluid intake. When eating out, cola beverages should be avoided as they contain phosphorus. Consider choosing water or sparkling water instead or order a smaller sized drink.
  • Friends and family are usually willing to work with your needs, so if you are out with friends and decide to get food, request a place that has something you can eat. If possible, do a group order and have it delivered or picked up, so you can add your own salad dressings or use your own low sodium products at home.

It can be easier to manage your portions and follow a kidney friendly plan when you prepare food at home. But, there are still ways to make kidney friendly choices when you eat out. Check out our guide, Dine out with confidence, for more helpful tips.

Managing your kidney disease can be challenging and radically impact your life. However, do not let it stop you from doing activities you enjoy, like eating out from time to time!


Linda Blaylock

Linda Blaylock is the owner of CKD Culinary Consulting, creator of The How to Eat for CKD Method, chef, certified nutritionist and Kidney Health Coach.