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Tips to help you make your holiday menu kidney-friendly

Kidney Kitchen® contributor, Linda Blaylock, shares tips to help you maintain your kidney-friendly food and fluid plan during the holidays.
black family thanksgiving

Those holidays sneak up on us quickly, don't they? And for many, that means lots of time with family and friends … and lots of days centered around food. If you are following a kidney-friendly food and fluid plan, you might feel like you will not be able to enjoy your holiday favorites.

Fortunately, there are some tips you can follow so you can still partake in festive foods without worrying about hurting your kidneys. Not to mention, the American Kidney Fund (AKF) has fantastic recipes you can try for your specific food and fluid needs on Kidney Kitchen®. And did you know that Kidney Kitchen has a Fall Favorites collection, including a recipe for festive cranberry stuffing and one for pumpkin apple cakes?

Whether you are testing out a new Kidney Kitchen recipe or adapting one of your own, below are some helpful tips to make your holiday meal kidney-friendly.

Every family thinks their version of Thanksgiving dinner is the best, so why not start by adapting your favorite family dishes? Be sure to make swaps for foods lower in potassium where you can and limit added salt (or sodium).

If adapting your family favorites is a struggle, try creating new dishes that incorporate the same flavors from the ones you love without the ingredients that are giving you trouble. For example, instead of having sweet potatoes covered in gooey melted marshmallows, try making roasted fall vegetables, which have sweet potatoes in the mix.

If you cannot imagine skipping that gooey, marshmallow-covered sweet potato side dish, make a version that allows you to control how much you are eating. Slice the sweet potatoes into individual rounds instead of one family-sized portion. Season and roast them, then top each individual round with a single marshmallow. Pop the rounds back in the oven to brown and you have a controlled portion of one of your favorite foods, allowing you to track your nutrient intake and prevent overindulging more easily.

If you do not want to make individual potato rounds, go ahead and make the potatoes as you usually would, but instead divide them into smaller portions, placing a 1-ounce scoop in a small dish, before topping the potatoes with some mini marshmallows or a tablespoon of marshmallow fluff and then browning them in the oven.

Cream-based dishes are often favorites no one wants to give up. For my husband and me, green bean casserole is a must. If you are the same, try using a low- or no-sodium canned soup for your casserole. Or try creating your own cream-based sauces with butter, flour, heavy cream, water and seasonings instead of the canned soups. (Tip: use 1/4 cup of heavy cream with 3/4 cup of water as a sub for milk. This reduces the phosphorus.) You can also try Kidney Kitchen's version of green bean casserole.

For cheesy, creamy hashbrown side dishes, try subbing half the potatoes with another lower-potassium vegetable, like yucca. Use up to a ½ ounce of cheese per serving and use the finely shredded cheese as it will cover a larger area. Or if your family prefers mac 'n cheese as a side dish, be sure to try this low potassium, phosphorus and sodium version.

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without the main event, though: turkey! You can go ahead and still brine the turkey. If you are trying to limit your overall salt intake, cut the salt down to a max of 8 tablespoons for a 12-pound bird and reduce the length of time in the brine. Then, give it a good rinse and pat it completely dry. Make sure to check labels as some turkeys may already have added sodium based on processing methods. Ultimately, the best way to keep your sodium intake in check is to keep your portion size in control. For turkey or meat, the recommendation is 3oz, which is about the size of your palm.   

Remember to be mindful during these food-focused holidays. While it may be tempting to indulge, do not go crazy with large helpings. Here are some helpful ways to control your portions:

  • use a smaller plate
  • drink water
  • eat your meal slowly
  • take a small portion of each food item so you limit overall portion and have a more balanced meal

Now, enjoy the holidays!


Linda Blaylock

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