Ensuring that your kids eat a well-balanced diet can be quite difficult since they’re eating unpredictably. Iron plays an important role in the transportation of oxygen throughout the body and is especially important for babies’ neurological development, physical growth, and maintaining overall health. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia and affect development. That’s why it’s very important to find how much iron your child needs and what the best sources are.
Below we’ll explain a bit more about iron and what foods are great sources.
How much iron do babies and toddlers need?
Infants tend to get the appropriate dose of iron from their mothers until they reach 4-6 months of age, and later they’re introduced to iron-rich foods such as fortified cereal. This is a great and inexpensive option that helps them meet the needs for iron as they expand their palate of solid foods. On the other hand, toddlers ages 1-3 years need 7 milligrams of iron a day, while kids 4-8 years need 10 milligrams.
As iron deficiency early in life can be a big problem later on, it’s very important to make sure your kid gets enough iron and that you’re familiar with foods that are rich in this nutrient. For example, iron in baby cereal is an effective and safe way to help meet an infant’s dietary needs if there’s no other source provided. Note that formula-fed babies can receive enough iron from the formula so they won’t need fortified baby cereal.
Iron is considered the most critical nutrient for toddlers and babies, meaning they need a lot more iron between 6 months to 2 years than any other time in their lives. Iron deficiency in babies and toddlers can lead to sensory and cognitive impairment, and can also affect their motor skills. To prevent this, learn more about which foods are rich in iron, and you can make delicious recipes for your little one to enjoy and stay healthy.
Great food sources of iron
Some of the best iron-rich food sources include red meat, tofu, egg yolks, fortified breakfast cereals, lentils, and fish. The type of iron in fish, poultry, and meat are easier for the body to absorb, but adding a range of iron-rich foods is the best option. Here are a few examples of foods that have a good dose of iron:
- Red meat (beef, lamb)
- Fish (also oysters and shrimp)
- Dark meat poultry
- Vegetables (dark leafy greens, baked potatoes, pumpkin)
- Legumes and beans (lentils, beans, tofu)
- Fortified cereals (including baby oatmeal)
Just make sure the food portion is appropriate since there are different size servings for toddlers and babies.
Best iron-rich foods for babies
Let’s look at some of the best iron-rich foods for infants:
- Bean puree
- Beef, ground
- Bean pasta
- Eggs (scrambled, hard-cooked yolks mashed with water)
- Baby oatmeal or cereal
- Smoothies (spinach, kale)
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Peanut butter puree
Best iron-rich foods for toddlers
Some of the easiest foods to prepare that are packed with iron include:
- Dried apricots
- Beef burgers
- Green beans
- Peanut butter
- Wheat bread
Adding vitamin C to your child’s daily diet
Iron can be greatly absorbed from a meat source. But if you prefer to base your kids’ diet on iron-rich foods like dark leafy greens and pulses you might want to pair it with vitamin C-rich food since it helps the body absorb the iron in non-meat sources. Some of the greatest sources of vitamin C include fruits and veggies like berries, papaya, mango, citrus fruit, broccoli, sweet pepper, kiwi fruit, etc.
Limit milk intake for better iron absorption
Between ages 1-5, you might want to consider limiting your kid’s milk intake to no more than 24 ounces a day to avoid limiting iron absorption. Note that too much milk can make them less hungry for other foods as well. Although dairy products are an important source of calcium, remember that they should be given in moderation as part of a balanced diet. For example, toddlers who drink lots of cow’s milk can become low in iron and fiber because they don’t eat other food as they’re full on milk.
Adding more iron-rich foods to your child’s diet is an easy way to protect their health from a young age. Getting used to certain healthy foods early on can also be helpful later in life. Many kids are picky eaters and trying to implement iron-rich foods to these kids can be both challenging and overwhelming for the parents. So, search the web, find delicious recipes, and start practicing good eating habits with your kiddo.
Child eating cereal by Providence Doucet from Unsplash
Child eating sandwich by Alex Green from Pexels
Vicky is a Food & Lifestyle Blogger at AvocadoPesto, where she specializes in healthy living and cooking. She is also a world traveler and has visited over 60 countries.