As you may already know, iron plays a very important role in your child’s nutrition. Iron is what produces hemoglobin, a protein in the red blood cells that aid the blood in carrying oxygen and delivering it to all the other cells in the body. Because of hemoglobin, your child is able to produce healthy red blood cells to support their growing muscles and tissues with the oxygen they need.
Iron is also important for boosting the immune system and keeping sickness at bay. Basically, not getting enough iron can mean more infections, more colds, and time tending to a sick child instead of enjoying a healthy one!
While most breastfed babies get enough iron from mother’s milk, bottle-fed babies will need a formula that is iron-fortified. And once they start eating, they need to get the right amount of iron-rich foods in their daily diet. Premature and low-birth-weight infants typically require more iron than full-term, normal-weight babies.
Many young children, in particular toddlers, are at risk for iron deficiency, which is the most common cause of anemia in children. Most children are not getting enough iron in their diet once they switch over to regular foods. It is even more difficult for a picky-eater to obtain enough from solid foods.
This is why it is important for kids to build an appetite for iron-rich foods and not continue to fill up on milk and dairy - which contain NO IRON.
Have you ever wondered why so many kids cereals are fortified with iron? It’s because iron is a very important nutrient for a rapidly growing toddler. The recommended amount of iron for a 1 to 3-year-old child is 7 milligrams per day. Children who are 4 to 8 years of age will need an average of 10 milligrams of iron per day.
But even though there are plenty of iron-fortified foods out there, that doesn’t mean they are healthy for your toddler. In fact, most of the iron-fortified cereals and breads are high in sugar and low in fiber - blah.
It is important that you balance these fortified foods out with foods that are naturally high in iron.
So what iron-rich foods can I feed my kid? Here is our top 5 hit list:
Lean meat and poultry are good sources of iron because they contain large amounts of heme iron which is easier for the body to absorb. If your child eats a vegan, vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet, aim for twice as much iron as the recommended amount.
- Chicken (dark meat)
- Turkey (dark meat)
- Beef, organ meats, liver
Fortified-iron and low-sugar cereals like oatmeal are one of the best ways to ensure your toddler gets enough iron - without the extra sugar. A serving of iron-fortified cereals and oatmeal typically has 100 percent of the daily value for iron in just one serving.
- Brown Rice
If you are aiming to give your kids a vegan or vegetarian diet, or your picky child isn’t a fan of meat, beans are a fantastic compromise! Soybeans, lima beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils, for example, are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, including iron. A half cup of white beans has 4 milligrams of iron, while a half cup of lentils has 3. Not too bad for beans!
- Lentil beans
- Lima beans
- Soy beans
- Kidney beans
Iron heavy seeds such as pumpkin seed contain nearly 6 milligrams of iron per half cup. A great way to make them more appealing is to add them to a trail mix with raisins, prunes, dried apricots. Just keep in mind that raisins and seeds could potentially be choking hazards for very young children! Make sure you mash or cut large seeds into smaller pieces and keep watch on your toddler while they munch on them.
- Pumpkin seed
- Sunflower seed
- Squash seed
- Sesame seed
Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach are among your best vegetable options for getting iron. A half cup of leafy greens typically has about 3 milligrams of iron. If your kid isn’t into greens, try being sneaky with it and add a few chopped greens to your toddler’s favorite dish - they probably won’t even notice!
***PICKY EATER TIP*** Your child’s body will absorb iron better when the iron is ingested along with a source of vitamin C! To increase the amount of iron absorbed by the body, serve iron-rich foods alongside foods rich in vitamin C:
- orange juice
- bell peppers
- sweet potatoes
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Renzo's Vitamins does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Renzo's Vitamins are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If your child has a severe medical condition or health concern, please see your pediatrician.