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Savor the Season: Tips and Recipes for People on Dialysis

December 12, 2023, 9:40am EST

Two people enjoying winter food

As the winter holidays approach, maintaining a healthy diet that fits your specific needs while on dialysis can become more challenging. The National Kidney Foundation is here to provide tips and recipes to help you stay on track while enjoying the season.

Focusing on the foods you can have

Being around friends and family who don't need to adjust what they eat can make keeping a healthy diet harder at times. Focusing on the foods you can enjoy more of rather than those you should avoid might make it easier.

"That list includes a variety of vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, collard greens, green beans, and salad greens. The center of the meal, meat or poultry, is high in protein. High-protein foods can be beneficial for people on dialysis," says Joyce, a renal dietitian. "Appetizers and sides like celery with cream cheese, homemade stuffing, and cranberry sauce are good. Desserts like apple and cherry pie can also stay on the menu."

After that, you can consider which foods to limit or avoid.

"When it comes to meat, I encourage people to read the label to ensure they are truly kidney-friendly," advises Joyce. "I provide a list of 'red flag terms' to help them avoid high phosphorus and sodium. Making dishes from scratch can help control sodium."

Some red flag terms include;

  • PHOS
  • Enhanced
  • Injected
  • Marinated
  • Brined
  • Based

Not following a  diet that’s specific to your needs can have consequences. If you plan to indulge during the holidays, it's crucial to learn how to do it safely.

"Dietary indiscretions can cause high blood potassium (hyperkalemia) and fluid overload," said Joyce. "One strategy is to adjust breakfast to accommodate for indulgences later in the day. I recommend a high protein breakfast that is low in sodium, phosphorus, and potassium–for example, two eggs with toast and an espresso."

Get more tips for healthy holiday eating.

Staying safe from foodborne illness

Maintaining proper food safety practices is especially critical for people who are immunocompromised–a feat often more challenging during holiday gatherings. These tips should help you avoid foodborne illness. 

Here's what to keep in mind:

  1. Clean: Always start with clean surfaces and hands. Ensure that you wash produce properly. Avoid washing meat. This common mistake can lead to the increased spread of bacteria.
  2. Separate: Use different cutting boards for produce and raw meat to prevent cross-contamination. It's also crucial to keep the meat and produce separated during your shopping and storage routines.
  3. Cook: Thoroughly cook your foods, and when reheating leftovers, ensure they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit after being taken out of the refrigerator.
  4. Chill: Promptly refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of cooking or removing them from the heat. When thawing meat, it's best to do so in the refrigerator rather than on the counter.

"I also encourage patients to jump to the front of the line when eating at family gatherings. This helps prevent going into contact with germs on spoons and utensils," said registered dietician Jessa Ingleton.

Learn more about food safety

Four winter recipes 

With food safety covered, let's turn to the fun partexploring guilt-free recipes.

1. Ginger Roasted Chicken with an Asian Slaw

Ginger Roasted Chicken with an Asian Slaw

Get set for a delicious treat. Just mix up spices like Chinese five-spice, ginger, and garlic, slather it over the chicken, and let it bake to perfection. Add a crunchy and colorful Asian Slaw with a sweet and tangy dressing–it's a yummy combo that'll make your taste buds happy!

Serving size: ¾ cup 

For the Chicken

  • ⅛ tsp Chinese five-spice salt-free
  • ½ tsp Thai or Oriental salt-free seasoning
  • ½ tsp lemon pepper salt-free seasoning
  • 3 tbsp ginger, minced
  • ¾ tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • ¼ tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 8oz. skinless chicken breast, cut in half

For the Asian Slaw

  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 large Red Delicious Apples
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard
  • 1 large spring onions or scallions
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp salt-free oriental seasoning
  • 2 cups, shredded cabbage, red
  • 2 cups, shredded cabbage, green
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp unseasoned rice wine vinegar


  1. Mix Chinese five spice, Thai or oriental seasoning, lemon pepper, ginger, garlic, and rice vinegar into a paste.
  2. Place chicken breasts in an oil baking dish.
  3. Spread the ginger, garlic, and spice paste over the top of the chicken breasts and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until the chicken is cooked completely without becoming dry.
  4. Drizzle sesame oil over the top of the chicken before serving.

Slaw and Dressing

  1. Mix dry mustard, 2 grams (about 1 tsp) of oriental seasoning, lemon juice, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, honey, vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, and Dijon mustard together.
  2. Microwave for 20 to 30 seconds to warm the dressing.
  3. Mix cabbage, apples (cored and diced), and green onions (sliced) in a bowl.
  4. Pour warm dressing over the cabbage mixture, toss to coat with dressing, cover, and refrigerate for several hours.
  5. To serve chicken, place on top of salad.

Get the full recipe and nutritional information.

2. Indian Coconut Curry Chicken with Chopped Apples*

Indian Coconut Curry Chicken with Chopped Apples

This savory and sweet curry features tender chicken thighs and rich coconut milk. It's infused with aromatic spices like curry, cinnamon, and turmeric. Served over a bed of fragrant basmati rice, this dish will leave your mouth watering for more.

*If you're limiting potassium and phosphorus in your diet but want to use this recipe, please be aware that it's high in potassium and phosphorus, and that you should consider how it fits into your total daily intake of these nutrients. Paying attention to portion size is important in not exceeding your potassium limit for the day.

Serving size: ½ cup


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut in half
  • One large Golden Delicious Apples
  • 13.5 oz vanilla almond milk
  • ½ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • 1½ tsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp lemon peel
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1½ tsp chili powder
  • ¼ cup mango chutney
  • ½ tsp turmeric, ground
  • 5 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, fresh
  • 1½ tbsp raw ginger root
  • 1 tbsp coconut extract


  1. Heat olive oil in a large, deep, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and cook until both sides are lightly browned. Remove chicken and keep warm.
  2. Add onions, red pepper, and garlic to the same skillet. Cook and stir until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add ginger root, curry powder, chili powder, turmeric and cinnamon. Cook and stir for one more minute.
  4. Add coconut milk substitute, chutney, and lemon zest. Mix well.
  5. Stir in chicken pieces and apples. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
  6. Add cilantro. Simmer, uncovered for five more minutes.
  7. Serve hot over a bed of basmati rice.

Get the full recipe and nutritional information.

3. Vegetable Fried Rice

Fried rice

This delectable recipe contains colorful vegetables, including carrots, bell peppers, peas, and corn–tossed in a flavorful blend of ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. With the addition of a perfectly scrambled egg and a garnish of fresh cilantro and scallions, it's a quick and satisfying dish suitable for various dietary needs.

Serving size: ½ cup


  • 1 tbsp raw ginger root, minced
  • Four medium spring onions or scallions
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • ⅓ cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • One large whole egg
  • ¼ cup peas, frozen
  • ¼ cup cilantro, fresh
  • ⅓ cup sweet yellow corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 4 cups white rice
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce, light


  1. Prepare rice according to package directions to make 4 cups. When cooked, heat oil in a large saute pan or wok.
  2. Add diced carrots, minced garlic, minced ginger, onion, and red pepper flakes. Cook for approximately 1 minute.
  3. Add bell pepper, corn, and peas. Cook for about 1 minute.
  4. Add rice, pepper, and soy sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add scrambled eggs and cook eggs thoroughly.
  6. Toss in sliced scallions and cilantro.
  7. Reserve some scallions and cilantro for garnish.

Get the full recipe and nutritional information.

4. Chicken Tortilla Casserole

Chicken Tortilla Casserole

This wholesome recipe is a healthier twist on a classic dish. Baked to perfection and topped with melty reduced-fat Mexican cheese, it's a creamy casserole that's both delicious and mindful of dietary considerations.

Serving size: 1 cup


  • 13-ounce condensed cream of chicken soup, reduced-fat, reduced-sodium
  • 8 ounce plain soy yogurt
  • 1½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • One large cooked chicken breast
  • Eight tortillas, small 4" corn tortillas, no salt added
  • ⅓ small red bell pepper
  • ⅓ small yellow bell pepper
  • ⅓ small orange bell pepper
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, fresh
  • 1 cup sweet yellow corn
  • 13-ounce canned red tomatoes with green chile
  • ½ cup Mexican cheese blend, reduced-fat
  • ¼ cup rice milk unsweetened


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Chop peppers. Tear tortillas into small pieces. Shred chicken. Chop cilantro.
  3. In a large bowl, mix soup, tomatoes, non-dairy yogurt, rice milk, chili powder, cumin, chicken, tortillas, bell peppers, and corn.
  4. Put the mixture into a baking dish.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
  6. Uncover and sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole.
  7. Bake uncovered 5-10 minutes longer until the cheese is melted.
  8. Let stand for 5 minutes, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

Get the full recipe and nutritional information.

Find the perfect recipe

View our kidney superfoods or get more kidney-friendly recipes.

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