Getting enough iron is so important for babies, toddlers, and kids of all ages. Here are some amazing, healthy foods high in iron for babies and toddlers, as well as easy kid-friendly recipes and tips for how to serve these iron-rich foods for baby led weaning.
As a mom of a picky eater toddler, I know how challenging it can be to make sure our kiddos are getting enough nutrients and iron. This is why I put together this helpful guide for figuring out whether your little one is getting enough iron and what kinds of foods you can serve your kids to make sure they reach their daily iron needs.
As always, remember that this is not to be taken as medical advice. I am just a mom sharing my experiences and the helpful information I found online. Always work with your child's pediatrician to figure out whether your child is getting enough iron and other nutrients depending on their specific diet and situation.
Iron supplements versus foods rich in iron
Many parents supplement their kids' diet with iron supplements, or multivitamins with iron. This can be a good choice, but many kids don't like those vitamins with iron because they taste AWFUL!! I had the hardest time getting my son to actually take those vitamins, so I had to do some research to figure out foods to feed my son so he would get enough iron even without supplements.
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Benefits of iron for babies and toddlers
Iron is an important mineral that toddlers and infants need to grow and develop. In adults, iron deficiency can cause fatigue, weakness, and dizziness. But iron deficiency can be especially dangerous for babies and toddlers.
Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which causes a person's blood cells to not work properly. The developing brain needs iron to function properly. Without enough iron in their systems, infants and toddlers are more likely to have developmental delays or behavioral issues like irritability or aggression due to the lack of oxygen reaching their brains. (Source)
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How much iron babies need
Always work with your pediatrician to determine whether your baby needs iron supplements. According to the CDC, most newborns are born with enough iron in their bodies to last them the first 4 months of life. After that, many pediatricians recommend supplementing with iron if babies are not drinking iron-fortified formula. (Source)
In the first year of life, infants and toddlers need 11 milligrams of iron per day. (Source)
Most newborns have sufficient iron stored in their bodies for at least the first 4 months of life. Breast milk contains very little iron; therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants who only receive breast milk (exclusively breastfeed) will need a supplement of iron each day at a dose of 1 milligram of iron for each kilogram of body weight; this supplement of iron should start at 4 months of age.
When infants receive both breast milk and formula, their need for supplemental iron will depend on how much breast milk and how much formula they consume. Parents should talk to their infant’s healthcare provider about whether their infant is getting enough iron.
If an infant is receiving only iron-fortified infant formula (during the time before complementary foods are given), then additional iron supplementation is not necessary.
At about 6 months of age, an infant’s iron needs can be met through the introduction of iron-rich foods, iron-fortified cereals, or iron supplement drops.
Here are some tips on how to make sure your baby or toddler has enough iron in their diet.
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Best iron-rich foods for babies and toddlers
Here is a list of foods rich in iron. Keep reading below for ideas for how to serve these foods to babies, toddlers, and picky eaters... because we all know picky eater toddlers aren't asking for second helpings of kale during dinner!!
- Beef (2.2 mg iron per 3-oz serving)
- Pork (0.7 mg iron per 3-oz serving) - pork liver has over 13 mg iron per 2.5 oz serving!
- Chicken (0.5 mg iron per ¼ cup serving) - chicken liver has 9 mg iron per 2.5 oz serving!
- Tuna (~1 mg iron per 3 oz serving, depending on the kind of tuna)
- Tofu (3.3 mg per ¼ cup serving)
- Beans (2.5 mg iron in ¼ cup serving)
- Peas (0.5 mg iron in ¼ cup serving)
- Eggs (0.6 mg iron in 1 large egg)
- Dried fruits (not too much - they're high in sugar!) (Raisins: 0.5 mg iron per 1 ounce serving, Dried apricots: 0.9 mg per ¼ cup serving)
- Leafy dark green vegetables (Kale: 1 mg iron per 1 cup uncooked kale which cooks down a lot, Spinach: 1 mg iron per 1 cup uncooked spinach which cooks down a lot)
- Iron-fortified breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas (read the labels on the packaging to get the iron content. 1 cup of cheerios has ~6 mg iron!)
- Orange juice (0.5 mg iron per cup, or buy iron-fortified orange juice for extra iron!)
(Sources: Google rich results)
Don't rule out foods for your kids just because you don't like them. Be open minded (and never talk about not liking certain foods in front of your kids). For example, my husband and I both hate liver, but our son surprisingly likes it in small amounts! And since it's so high in iron, a little chicken liver is a great way to naturally supplement his iron needs.
Kid-friendly recipes high in iron
The EASIEST way to get kids to eat iron is to serve them fortified cereals, breads, or pasta. 1 cup of cheerios has about 6 grams of iron! My son happily eats that every day, and I feel OK giving him cheerios because they have very low added sugar and are whole grains. But here are a few recipes that are good for many toddlers that are high in iron:
- Scrambled tofu - a great high-protein meal idea for kids that's ready in under 5 minutes, perfect for those with egg allergies (read more about our experience with food allergy testing in babies)
- Use tofu instead of ricotta for pasta recipes like lasagna or stuffed shells
- Make non-spicy tacos using ground beef or ground pork
- Chicken salad with pineapple - the sweetness of the pineapple makes this a super kid-friendly recipe!
- 3-ingredient tuna salad - super easy to whip up! Or try making tuna salad with chopped egg and mayo, so tasty!
- Tuna nuggets - the cute nugget shape is great for getting kids to eat fish!
- Make ground pork burgers (you can make small patties for kids, or form these into meatballs!)
- Sweet potato chicken nuggets - with the added benefit of hidden veggies for extra nutrition!
- Blend fresh or frozen spinach info baby food with spinach
- Blend sauteed kale or spinach into pasta sauce
All of these food ideas can be served to babies as part of baby-led weaning, if they are chopped small enough and into appropriate shapes for babies.
Other kid-friendly recipes to check out
- Mini broccoli quesadillas
- Mini chicken quesadillas
- Air fryer fish sticks
- Air fryer carrot fries
- Kid-friendly air fryer recipes
- Kid-friendly Instant Pot recipes
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