Ensuring that our kids eat a well balanced diet, including iron-rich foods, can be hard when they’re eating unpredictably. I hope this info on iron-rich foods for kids (and the recipe ideas at the bottom) helps to set your mind at ease!
Ensuring that your kids are getting enough iron can seem hard when they’re in a phase of picky eating—or just not eating a ton. But since iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia are still common issues with kids and it can impact their development and behavior, it’s important to try to include iron-rich foods in their daily meals.
For some context, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Among children ages 1 to 3 years, iron deficiency occurs in 6.6 percent to 15.2 percent of toddlers, depending on ethnicity and socioeconomic status.” Which is much higher than I would have expected. They say that preterm infants, exclusively breastfed infants, and infants at risk of developmental disabilities are at higher risk for deficiencies.
I never want any parents to worry excessively about their child’s nutritional intake and thankfully, adding iron to a diet is actually quite easy.
How much iron does my child need?
- 3/4 cup of Cheerios: 6 mg
- 1 serving fortified infant oatmeal: 5 mg
- 4 ounce hamburger: 5 mg
- 2 ounces Banza chickpea pasta: 4 mg
- 1/2 cup dried peaches: 3.2 mg
- 2 ounces Barilla red lentil pasta: 3 mg
- 1/2 cup of lentils: 3 mg
- 1 cup prune juice: 3 mg
- Spinach Quesadilla: 2.1 mg
- 1/2 cup dried apricots: 1.7 mg
- 1/2 cup oatmeal: 1.7 mg
- Simple Green Smoothie: 1.7 mg
- Spinach Banana Muffin: 1.4 mg
- 1 egg: 1.4 mg iron
- 1/2 cup raisins: 1.5 mg
- 1 slice whole wheat bread: 0.7 mg
- 1/2 cup fortified baby puffs: 0.7 mg
- 1 ounce hummus: 0.7 mg
- 2 tbsp peanut butter: 0.6 mg
- 1/2 cup edamame beans: 0.5 mg
- 1 cup watermelon: 0.4 mg
TIP: It’s possible that your kiddo is already getting enough just by eating normal toddler-size servings.
Does my child need an iron supplement?
This question will vary a lot by child so it’s best to check in with your doctor. Kids are routinely screened for iron deficiency when they’re babies and toddlers, so definitely discuss this with your pediatrician if you don’t remember what those results were, if your child is older, or if you’re just curious about supplementing. It can be hard to find a multivitamin with iron, so check your label, or consider a separate iron supplement in consultation with your doctor.
What are the best sources of iron for kids?
The AAP recommends that iron comes from iron-rich foods first and foremost. The type of iron in meat, fish, and poultry is easier for our bodies to absorb, but adding a range of iron-rich foods is your best bet. Here are some examples of foods with a good dose of iron.
- Red meats like beef and lamb
- Dark meat poultry
- Fish including shrimp and oysters
- Iron-rich vegetables including dark leafy greens (think Popeye!), baked potatoes, and pumpkin
- Beans and legumes like kidney beans, lentils, and tofu
- Fortified cereals like Cheerios and some hot cereals
- Whole grains and whole grain products (including some of the newer bean pastas like Banza)
TIP: A toddler-size serving of meat is 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup. A toddler-size serving of produce is 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup. A serving of beans and legumes is 1-2 tablespoons for younger kids and 1/4 cup for older kids. (Find more specifics in my Daily Toddler Nutrition Guide.)
Top 10 Best Iron-Rich Foods for Babies
Here are my go-to foods with a lot of iron that you can feed to a baby who’s eating purees or baby led weaning style foods.
- Beef, ground
- Bean puree
- Beans, very soft and lightly mashed
- Bean pasta, cooked very soft (like Banza)
- Chicken, finely shredded or ground
- Eggs, scrambled or hard cooked yolks mashed with water
- Green bean puree
- Infant cereal, fortified
- O cereal
- Smoothies with spinach or kale (serve on a spoon or in a reusable pouch)
- Sweet potatoes, mashed
- Pea puree
- Peanut butter puree
- Strawberry puree
TIP: Iron stores in babies start to run out starting around 6 months, so you’ll want to incorporate these foods into your baby’s diet from an early age.
Top 15 Best Iron-Rich Foods for Toddlers and Big Kids
These foods are easy to prepare and packed with iron for kids.
- Apricots, dried
- Bean pasta (like Banza with marinara sauce)
- Beef burgers
- Green beans
- Peanut butter
- Smoothies with spinach or kale
- Spinach Pesto
- Wheat bread
TIP: Aim to serve 2-3 of these foods (from either the baby or toddler list) most days and you should easily provide enough opportunities for your child to eat enough iron.
Add Vitamin C for Increased Iron Absorption
If you pair iron-rich foods with produce with plenty of Vitamin C—think citrus, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, dark greens, and bell peppers—the iron will be more readily absorbed by the body. Some ideas to consider:
- Pasta with Meatballs (Vitamin C from tomatoes, iron from beef)
- Bean Burritos with salsa (iron in beans, Vitamin C from salsa)
- Bean Quesadillas with chopped tomatoes on the side (iron in beans and whole grain tortilla, Vitamin C from tomatoes)
- Simple Green Smoothie (iron from greens, Vitamin C from fruit)
- Spinach Banana Muffins with Banana with kiwi (iron in spinach, Vitamin C from kiwi)
Limit Milk to No More than 24 Ounces Each Day to Avoid Limiting Iron Absorption
Experts at the Mayo Clinic also advise against letting the kids have more than 24 ounces of milk in a day (or three 8 ounce servings) which could negatively impact iron absorption. That much milk could also make them less hungry for other foods.
50 Best Iron-Rich Recipes for Babies, Toddlers, and Kids
Here are some of my favorite recipes for kids of all ages that are rich in iron. (The list is organized alphabetically for easy reference, not in order of preference!)
- Bean Puree
- Bean Pasta with Marinara Sauce
- Beef Burritos with Veggies
- Black Bean Quesadillas
- Black Bean Soup with Citrus
- Broccoli Pesto
- Broccoli Cheddar Soup
- BBQ Shredded Chicken
- Cheesy Meat Buns
- Chicken Meatballs with Sweet Potato
- Chocolate Smoothie with Hidden Veggies
- Green Smoothie
- Kale Bites
- Lentils and Rice with Dried Fruit
- Lentils with Tomatoes and Italian Spices
- Lentil Soup with Veggies
- Lentil Falafel
- Meatballs with Hidden Veggies
- Mini Egg Muffins
- Mexican Egg Muffins with Spinach
- Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
- No-Bake Energy Bites
- Nut-Free Hummus
- Oatmeal with Apple and Raisins
- Oatmeal with Pumpkin
- Pesto Chicken and Brown Rice
- Potato Nachos
- Pumpkin Oatmeal Bars
- Slow Cooker Chicken and Bean Tacos
- Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
- Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
- Spinach Banana Muffins with Banana
- Spinach Pesto
- Spinach Quesadillas
- Strawberry Puree
- Strawberry Smoothie
- Strawberry Muffins
- Sweet Potato Quesadillas
- Sweet Potato Baby Food
- Tofu Nuggets
- Tofu with Sesame
- Whole Wheat Bread
- Veggie Chili
- Veggie Chili Mac
- Zucchini Burgers
Printable Iron-Rich Foods List
For easy reference, you can print this list of iron-rich foods for kids keep in your kitchen, or save the image on your phone. Simply sign up for my newsletter and gain access to my entire FREE Resource Library of printables!
I’d love to hear if iron has been an issue for you with your kids. Chime in below in the comments!