The coming holidays present both a joyous time and a health challenge for people on dialysis.

Being around friends and family is good for the soul. It’s a welcome reminder that there is a wonderful world still spinning beyond the demanding schedule of dialysis treatments and appointments. Balancing health and nutrition goals may seem challenging with holiday meals and parties, but it’s important to stay healthy on dialysis.

Food serves so many purposes in our lives. It is so much more than just nourishment. Food represents culture, tradition, and celebration. It may symbolize community and family. For people on dialysis, maintaining these additional roles of food may help them to feel more normal and enjoy life. Registered dietitians can help patients, their families, and caregivers learn to enjoy favorite celebratory foods while staying healthy.

That stuffing is a favorite and Aunt Amy’s casserole is a thing to behold. A toast to good health seems in order.

Stop. Those ‘secret’ ingredients and irresistible yet unhealthy dishes are all recipes for trouble.

Hosts and family members can help by letting dialysis patients know what to expect on the menu. A little research and a little planning will lessen the chance that the holiday festivities will end with a health setback.

Here – for both patients and their holiday hosts — are six ideas to help people on dialysis safely enjoy holiday celebrations:

  • 1 . Serving sizes are important. A serving of protein, for example, is about the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. That’s a good-sized serving of beef, chicken or fish. A cup of fruit is about the size of a baseball. A serving of rice is about the size of a computer mouse.
  • 2 . Sodium – salt – is an important ingredient in maintaining the right balance of fluids for people on dialysis. Limiting sodium intake helps control thirst, which makes it easier to manage fluid intake. Think beyond the salt shaker on the table. How much salt was used in the preparation? Sauces and condiments are other common sources of sodium.
  • 3 . Celebratory beverages can create problems for people on dialysis, leading to excess fluid building up in the body. Offering your guest with kidney disease a small glass to drink from may help him limit fluid intake and stay in balance. Most people on dialysis should limit intake of fluids to 32 ounces a day.
  • 4 . Potassium is important in the proper functioning of muscles, including the heart, but too much potassium can be dangerous for people with kidney disease. Potassium lurks in many common foods – fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, nuts, and legumes. Sweet potatoes or yams, pumpkin pie, creamed spinach, pecan pie and mashed potatoes are holiday favorites that are high in potassium. Lower potassium foods like rice, green beans, stuffing, and apple pie are better choices. Canned or cooked fruits and vegetables are lower in potassium than their fresh counterparts.
  • 5 . Calcium and phosphorous work together in the body, but too much of either can be a problem. Be wary of processed foods, dairy products, and nuts. Beverages can also be a source of phosphorus. Most dialysis patients take phosphate binders that act like sponges and help control blood phosphorus levels. Foods high in calcium include dairy products or fortified juices and cereals. Choose carefully to prevent upsetting this delicate balance.
  • 6 . Dialysis patients should strive for balance in their total nutrient intake for the day. Serving dressings and sauces on the side and allowing guests to add salt or other seasonings at the table will help patients manage their food choices more easily while enjoying their favorite holiday dishes.

The social side of holiday celebration is important to people on dialysis. Include them in every way. Being mindful of their condition will help them to enjoy the holidays and stay healthy. When in doubt, ask! People on dialysis are knowledgeable about their nutrition needs and will likely appreciate your interest and support.

The classic holiday saying just needs a few tweaks:  Eat (in moderation), drink (just a little) and be merry (a lot).