Iron is a vital nutrient your body needs to produce hemoglobin, the component in red blood cells that carries oxygen to organs and muscles. Iron-rich foods are, therefore, essential for aiding oxygen supply, muscle metabolism, cell functioning, physical growth, nerve development, hormone production, and more.
That means iron is a crucial component of healthy blood, and its deficiency can lead to anemia, which may affect the core functions of your child’s organs. Luckily, infants are born with enough iron to sustain them for about six months. Breast milk or formula can also provide crucial additions to these iron reserves. But once you start weaning your baby or toddler, they must get iron from their food.
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This article will list certain iron-rich foods for your baby or toddler to help them develop. But unfortunately, we will also see foods that prevent iron absorption.
Iron-rich foods to include in your toddler and young children’s diet
There are two categories of iron — heme and non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is usually found in plants, while heme iron originates from hemoglobin and is found in meat, poultry, and seafood. Your body doesn’t absorb non-heme iron as fast as heme iron. And this applies to both children and adults. So if you opt for a vegetarian diet for your child, aim for twice the recommended amount.
That said, there are plenty of iron-rich foods for vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
1. Lean meat, liver, and poultry
These foods are rich in heme iron which is easier for the body to absorb. Try to trim the fatty parts from the meat because they contain little to no iron. Also, ensure you make meat child-friendly by cooking it well before pureeing it. Most experts say you can start feeding your child meat from about 6 to 8 months old.
2. Egg yolks
For years, eggs had a bad rap because they were thought to increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). However, recent studies suggest they don’t pose any danger of CVD.
Egg yolks are not only rich in iron, but they are also easy to cook. One hard-boiled egg has around 1 mg of iron, among other nutrients such as protein and vitamins. Also, you can incorporate them in many ways, from hard-boiled to scrambled to omelets. But remember, don’t give children (below 5) runny or raw yolks because they may carry a risk of foodborne pathogens such as salmonella.
3. Green veggies
Leafy green veggies like broccoli, kale, and spinach are among the best vegetarian options for iron. For example, half a cup of boiled, drained spinach has about 3 mg of iron. Children may not like veggies, so you can add these to smoothies, scrambled eggs, or meat to enhance their taste.
These are great alternatives to meat and seafood. For instance:
- Half a cup of white beans contains 4 mg of iron.
- Half a cup of red kidney beans, about 2 mg.
- Half a cup of lentils, about 3 mg.
You can also enrich them with protein and iron by mashing them with red rice.
This is another fantastic choice for vegetarians and children who are lactose intolerant. Half a cup contains about 3 mg. Tofu comes in many forms. But you can find ways to add it to your child’s diet, whether firm or silken tofu.
Seafood is among the top sources of different nutrients, including iron. Salmon, haddock, and mackerel are among the best sources of iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein. However, introduce these with care if a seafood allergy runs in your family, and consuming more than one or two servings a week may introduce high amounts of mercury.
7. Sweet potatoes
Both potatoes and sweet potatoes are good sources of iron. Additionally, babies also love sweet potatoes because they are naturally sweet. However, ensure you don’t peel them before cooking to retain their iron component.
8. Dried fruit
Dried fruit, such as prunes, raisins, dates, or apricots, are an excellent snack for your baby or toddler. The good news is that they are rich in iron and prevent constipation. Encouraging your child to snack on dried fruits is a good habit that they should continue well into adulthood.
9. Green peas
Peas can be an excellent addition to your baby’s or toddler’s diet because many children love them. Also, it’s easy to prepare or combine with several other dishes. In addition, they provide your child with fiber, protein, iron, and more. However, remember to mash them for younger babies because they can present a choking hazard.
10. Pumpkin seeds
Besides iron, pumpkin seeds are rich in protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids. A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds has around 2.5 mg of iron. But like peas, ensure you mash them for toddlers.
Besides the mentioned foods, fortified cereal and oatmeal can be excellent sources of iron. A serving of iron-fortified meals can ensure your child gets the daily iron requirement in a single serving. Experts recommend about 7 mg of iron daily (1 to 3-year-olds) and 10 mg daily (4 to 8-year-olds). But remember, while fortified juices and cereal may contain sufficient iron for your baby or toddler, they also have high amounts of sugar.
Iron helpers vs. iron stoppers
Foods such as vegetables and fruits help your child absorb the most iron from their diet. So ensure you include foods rich in vitamin C alongside your iron-rich diet.
On the other hand, tea, cow’s milk, and powdered milk can limit your baby’s or toddler’s iron intake. So don’t give young children tea; you can only provide cow’s milk after they turn one. Before that, cow’s milk can lead to intestinal bleeding, among other problems.
Should your baby or toddler take iron supplements?
The need for iron supplements varies from child to child. But generally, experts recommend that babies get their nutrients from food. So consult a pediatrician or doctor first to know if your child needs iron supplements. Otherwise, don’t give them iron supplements because most children won’t need them if their food is well-balanced.
Also, if you have iron pills, keep them out of your child’s reach. Consuming too much iron may lead to other health complications, such as diarrhea, abdominal pains, vomiting, etc.