Do you ever get tired of meal planning and prepping? Then chances are you’ve thought about trying out one of those ready made meal services. But if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), you may be wondering if any of these services can even work with your dietary needs.
As a dietitian who specializes in CKD, I’m often asked which prepared meal service is the most compatible with a kidney friendly diet. Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect option! Nutrition needs can vary a lot in people with CKD and each meal service has it’s pros and cons. But there may be an option that works for you and your health goals if you do a little digging.
In this blog post I will:
- Give you some pointers on what to look for when evaluating if a meal service company can be part of a kidney friendly diet AND
- Evaluate 10 popular prepared meal services on how beneficial I think they are for those with stage 1-4 CKD.
What to look for in a prepared meal service when I have CKD?
Here is some important information I took into account when grading these meal service companies, and what you should look for when deciding if a meal service is right for you and your kidney health!
- Calories. Are the meals going to provide you enough nourishment? Or will you be looking for a snack 10 minutes after eating it.
- Sodium. Excess sodium is not good for CKD and prepared meals are notoriously high in salt. Given this fact, I consider 700 mg or less acceptable for prepared meals.
- Potassium. Not everyone with CKD needs to follow a low potassium diet. I counted low potassium meals as a “con” for my grading purposes – only because adequate potassium is beneficial for slowing the progression of CKD and potassium from food sources are not necessarily associated with high blood potassium levels. BUT if you were told to follow a low potassium diet, please do so as it is sometimes required. Potassium needs will vary person to person.
- Protein. Whole food sources of plant proteins, like beans, lentils and nuts/seeds, are ideal for helping preserve kidney function. Animal protein in excess is not ideal when it comes to maintaining kidney function.
- Phosphorus and potassium additives. These additives should be limited in those with chronic kidney disease. Source of phosphorus is often more important than the total amount. Phosphorus additives (any ingredient on the food label containing “phos”) are readily absorbed into the body whereas phosphorus from natural sources (beans, nuts, etc) are not fully absorbed. Same goes for potassium- potassium additives (potassium salt, any ingredient that states potassium) are more likely to contribute to high potassium than potassium found naturally in food.
You will see a final grade at the end of each evaluation. The grading system goes from A (good choice) to D (worst choice).
Let’s start with premade meal services that cater specifically to “renal” (kidney) diets.
Mom’s Meals offers a “renal friendly” menu which the website states is appropriate for those on dialysis as well as stage 3 or 4 chronic kidney disease. The renal friendly meals are under 700 mg sodium, 833 mg potassium or less and 330 mg phosphorus or less.
The meals arrive fresh, but can be frozen upon arrival if needed. There is a menu of 6 breakfast choices and 15 entrée choices. You can choose between 10, 14 or 21 meals per order. Current prices for renal friendly meals: $8.99 per meal.
- Good source of calories. These are complete meals – they come with a fruit and/or dessert, sometimes a juice. The meals contain around 500 calories each.
- Lower in sodium. The main entrees range from 327-695 mg sodium per meal which can fit into a low sodium diet for CKD.
- Not excessive in total protein, meals are 22 g of protein or less. There were a few vegetarian options (only one that was completely free of animal products).
- Majority of their meals contain phosphorus additives. Source of phosphorus is often more important than the amount. Phosphorus additives are 90-100% absorbed in the body.
- All meals are controlled for potassium. Not everyone with CKD needs to limit potassium. Some of the meals have potassium additives – which are more readily absorbed in the body and more likely to cause high potassium than potassium found naturally in foods!
- Limited options for meals with plant-proteins. Mom’s Meals does have a couple vegetarian options, but only one contained no animal protein at all.
Final grade: B-
Mom’s Meals may work for those with CKD with some planning. Ideally, you want to go through the ingredient list of the meals and try to add some less additives. If you are trying to do more of a plant-based diet, these meals have limited options for you. If you use Mom’s Meals, just be sure to balance it out with plenty of plant-foods during the day and limit other sources of additives.
Top Chef Meals
They offer “renal diet meals”. Their diets are designed for those on dialysis and those whose kidneys are “starting to fail” (I really do not like the wording they chose on their website).
The meals arrive frozen and there are about 16 entrees to choose from ranging from $10-14 per entree.
- Lower in sodium. All meals are <500 mg in sodium.
- The entrees are lower in calories, and may not fill you up. There was one meal that was 410 calories, the rest were around 250 calories or less.
- Meals are all low in potassium. Not necessarily ideal as not everyone with CKD needs to limit potassium.
- All meals contain animal protein. The entrees are over 23 g of protein each, which may be too high for many people with CKD.
- It is unclear if they have potassium/phosphorus additives in their products. Their website lists the main ingredients of the dishes and no potassium or phosphorus additives were seen. When I emailed customer service they were unable to tell me if phosphorus additives were used in any of their products.
Final grade: D
These meals seem appropriate for dialysis, but not for earlier stages of CKD. Although low in sodium, the meals are not sufficient in plant-foods which is vital for maintaining kidney function. It is unclear if there are any phosphorus/potassium additives used in their meals.
Magic Kitchen has prepared meals created for stage 3 and 4 CKD. The meals contain less than 700 mg sodium, less than 700 mg potassium, less than 350 mg phosphorus and less than 25 g protein. The meals arrive frozen and there are about 40 meals to choose from (when they are all in-stock). The price is $10-15 per meal.
- Decent source of calories. The lunch/dinner entrees average around 300-350 calories which may be sufficient for some people.
- Lower in sodium. All are under 700 mg sodium but most meals are less than 500 mg.
- Some vegetarian options (7 meals when I browsed).
- Meals aren’t extremely high in protein, even with the meat entrees, most of under 25 g protein.
- Meals are lower in potassium – again not necessarily ideal when it comes to preserving kidney function.
- Although controlled for phosphorus, most meals contain phosphorus additives which are easily absorbed into the body.
- No completely plant-based options, the vegetarian meals I mentioned above contain dairy.
Final grade: C
These meals may fit into your diet if you have CKD but I would recommend balancing out your other meals/snacks with fresh foods (especially plants!)/foods without phosphorus additives. For those wanting to do a plant-based approach these meals would not work.
Now let’s review some non-kidney specific meal services….
These meals are 100% plant-based, meaning they contain no animal products whatsoever and arrive fresh, not frozen. Each week there are 6 meals to choose from, the menu rotates weekly. These meals are definitely pricey – anywhere from $16 – 18 per meal depending on which package you purchase.
- Most dishes are sufficient in calories. Calories range from 300-650 per entree.
- Low in sodium. Most meals are under 500 mg, a few were around 650 mg.
- Potassium is not listed – but suspect they are a good source given the fact the meals are plant-based.
- These meals contain protein from plants.
- No phosphorus additives.
- Some of the dishes contain potassium salts. Potassium salts are more likely to cause rises in blood potassium than potassium found naturally in food.
Final grade: B-
Many of the meals contain potassium salts which are not recommended for those with CKD. It is unclear how much potassium salt the meals contain. There are some choices that do not contain potassium salt. These meals may be appropriate for those with early CKD (stages 1-3) and do not have a history of high potassium.
This company offers 100% plant-based meals, meaning they contain no animal products. These meals come freshly prepared. There are 8 entrees to choose from which change each week. The meals are $13 each.
- Adequate in calories – most meals are over 400 calories.
- Free of animal products. Some protein comes from beans/lentils/tofu and some meals do contain vegan “meats”.
- Some meals are quite high in sodium. When I browsed their weekly menu, the options ranged from 520 – 1980 mg of sodium.
- All meals are under 600 mg of potassium. Which is considered low potassium. Some meals contained potassium additives which are not ideal for those with CKD.
- About half the meals contained either phosphorus additives. Phosphorus additives need to be limited in those with CKD.
Final grade: B-
Not my favorite option for prepared meals for CKD due to the fact some meals contain phosphorus or potassium additives and some meals are quite high in sodium. You may be able to find some options that work for you.
The “Mediterranean” plan is the one I reviewed. They have about 30 meals to choose from. These meals are delivered fresh and can last 7-10 days in the fridge or can be frozen for later use. The meals are $12.95 each.
- Adequate in calories. The meals ranged from 400 – 500 calories which should satisfy most.
- Low in sodium. The meals were under 600 mg.
- The meals are not potassium restricted and range from 450 – 1760 mg potassium each.
- They do have some vegetarian/vegan options. When I browsed their current menu, there were 12 vegetarian options, 9 of which were vegan.
- Some animal protein meals listed that won’t break your protein bank as they contain <20 g protein.
- Some meals are high in animal protein with >30 g protein per meal.
- Some dishes contain phosphorus additives – but very few! I only saw 3 of the 50 meals which contained phosphorus additives.
Final grade: B
The Mediterranean style diet is a great option for those with early stages of CKD (stage 1-3). These meals are a great option for those who want to enjoy both plant-based and animal protein meals. Just watch the total protein when selecting your meals and scan the ingredient list to avoid added phosphorus.
This is a 100% plant-based meal service company. Meals are $13.99 each and come delivered fresh. There are 15 entrees to choose from, 2 of which are breakfast options.
- Most dishes are adequate in calories. The entrees range from 250 – 600 calories.
- The meals do not contain animal products. The protein comes from beans/legumes, and some vegan meats.
- They do have some lower sodium options.
- Potassium additives were not found in the ingredients list.
- Some meals contain up to 1,000 mg sodium. Would recommend reading the nutrition facts when deciding which meals to purchase.
- Some meals contained phosphorus additives, but not all. Some of the ingredient lists seemed incomplete… example: it did not state what the vegan cheese was made of on the ingredient list of one meal.
Final grade: B-
These meals may work for CKD as they are 100% plant-based and many options do not contain phosphorus additives. Just be cautious of sodium when selecting your meals. Was unable to give points for potassium as potassium was not listed on the nutrition facts.
Daily Harvest has many offerings on their website, but I’ll be focusing on their “bowls” for this review. They have 23 different bowls to choose from and all their products are 100% plant-based. The bowls are $9.79 each and arrive frozen.
- Good source of potassium from plant foods. These meals do not contain potassium additives according to their nutrition labels.
- These meals contain plant sources of protein which is ideal for preserving kidney function.
- These meals are free of phosphorus additives.
- There were 13 options for meals with under 700 mg of sodium.
- While they do have some higher calorie options, most of their bowls are around 250 calories or less which may not be filling for some.
- Many meals are higher in sodium.
Final grade: B
These meals can work for those with CKD but just be cautious of the sodium content when choosing your bowls. You may need to add extra calories to your meals to make them more filling.
These meals are 100% plant-based and arrive frozen. The meals start at $9.99 each. The bowls are 16 oz and contain 2 “snack-size” servings. So I’ll be judging these meals based on the entire container as that is more appropriate for a meal – just be aware that you will need to double the information on the nutrition facts label if enjoying the entire container.
- Calorie content of the meals vary from 200 – 520 calories, most meals are around 400.
- These meals can fit into a low sodium diet. Sodium ranges from 400-560 mg per meal.
- These meals range from 400 to 1100 mg potassium.
- These bowls are 100% plant-based, so no animal protein whatsoever.
- These bowls do not contain potassium additives.
- The packaging is a little misleading due to the bowls appearing to be one serving yet when you look at the nutrition facts you will see each bowl contains 2 servings.
Final grade: A
These meals can definitely fit into a CKD diet. They are 100% plant based, free of phosphorus and potassium additives and can be fit into a sodium restricted diet.
This company offers both vegetarian and 100% plant-based options. I looked only at their veggie bowls. They had 19 options of bowls. The starting price is $9.99 per bowl and they arrive frozen.
- Majority of meals were sufficient in calories, ranging from 400-500 calories per meal.
- Potassium content ranged from 376 – 900 mg (one meal had a whooping 2,800 mg!).
- Many meals were completely plant based, a few options contained dairy.
- These meals do not contain phosphorus or potassium additives!
- Most of the meals were higher in sodium. Only 5 out of 19 bowls were 700 mg sodium or under.
Final grade: A
These meals can fit into your CKD diet if you are paying attention to the sodium content at your other meals/snacks. This is a good choice for someone trying to include more plant-based meals into their diet.
When choosing a kidney friendly prepared meal service – there are many factors to take into consideration. In general, when it comes to protein, plant-protein is supreme for maintaining kidney function, but if choosing animal protein meals make sure the total protein isn’t too high. Aiming for under 700 mg sodium will help prevent you from blowing your daily sodium intake. Avoiding potassium additives and phosphorus additives is ideal. Looking at meal services that cater more towards plant-based type meals is often a better choice than meal services geared towards a “renal” diet.
If you still feel stuck, it’s okay! Working with a registered dietitian can help you figure out how to safely supplement prepared meals into your diet based on your stage of kidney disease and lab results. Interested in getting support with your meal planning? Reach out to me today!
Thank you for this very valuable info on frozen meals.
I am 92 with stage 5 ckd, on dialysis, and I receive Meals on Wheels.
I’m wondering what you would say about Meals on Wheels frozen meals and what grade you would give them.
Meals on Wheels has some good options for those on dialysis – they can accommodate low sodium and their meals are typically well balanced, meaning they include a protein, starch and vegetable. I used to recommend Meals on Wheels to many of my dialysis patients.