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.
Iron-Rich Foods for Babies and Toddlers
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?
Toddlers ages 1 to 3 years need 7 mg/day of iron. Kids 4-8 need 10 mg/day. For context, 3/4 cup of Cheerios has 6 grams of iron. A 4 ounce hamburger has about 5 grams of iron. 1/2 cup of lentils has 3 grams of iron. An egg has 1.4 grams of iron.
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)
A toddler-size serving of meat is 2-4 one inch cubes or ground meat. A toddler-size serving of produce is 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup. Beans and legumes are 1-2 tbsp to 1/4 cup. (Here’s more specifics in my Daily Toddler Nutrition Guide.)
TIP: You can also get iron in a multivitamin. It’s not the preferred first source (that would be real food) but it’s a backup you may want to consider talking over with your pediatrician.
Quick Tip 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. Win! Some ideas to consider: Pasta with meat sauce (vitamin C from tomatoes, iron from beef), bean burritos or quesadillas (iron from beans, vitamin C from salsa), Simple Green Smoothie (iron from greens, Vitamin C from fruit).
TIP: 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.
Iron-Rich Recipes for Babies, Toddlers, and Kids
Here are some of my favorite recipes for kids that are rich in iron.
- Toddler Meatballs with Hidden Veggies
- Zucchini Burgers
- Slow Cooker Beef Burritos with Veggies
- Simple Green Smoothie
- Cheesy Kale Bites
- Spinach Pesto
- Sweet Spinach Muffins with Banana
- Big-Batch Veggie Chili
- Nut-Free Hummus
- Slow Cooker Chicken and Bean Tacos
- Veggie Chili Mac
- Healthy Loaded Potato Nachos
- One-Pan Pesto Chicken and Brown Rice
- Mini Egg Muffins
- Mexican Egg Muffins with Spinach
- Cheesy Meat Buns
I’d love to hear if iron has been an issue for you with your kids. Chime in below in the comments!