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Iron Rich Foods

Child Nutrition Basics

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Updated April 07, 2014

Updated April 07, 2014
Fortunately, iron deficiency anemia isn't as big a problem as it once was.

The use of vitamins, iron rich baby foods, and/or iron fortified baby foods have helped both breast feeding babies and babies who drink an iron fortified infant formula avoid becoming anemic from a lack of iron.

Iron deficiency is still a problem for some kids though, especially toddlers who are picky eaters and drink too much milk and not enough iron-rich foods.

In general, your child should eat at least two or more iron-rich foods each day. Knowing which foods actually have iron in them can be confusing for parents though.

Iron-Rich Foods

Foods that are a good source of iron include:
  • liver
  • lean red meats, including beef, pork, lamb
  • seafood, such as oysters, clams, tuna, salmon, and shrimp, etc.
  • beans, including kidney, lima, navy, black, pinto, soy beans, and lentils
  • iron fortified whole grains, including cereals, breads, rice, and pasta
  • greens, including collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens
  • tofu
  • vegetables, including broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus, parsley, watercress, brussel sprouts
  • chicken and turkey
  • blackstrap molasses
  • nuts
  • egg yolks
  • dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, dates and apricots

Iron Rich Baby Foods

At first, unless your baby was premature or is already anemic, your baby will usually get all of the iron she needs from breast milk or an iron-fortified infant formula. Once she is 4 to 6 months old though, she will likely begin to need some extra iron, which usually comes in the form of an iron fortified baby cereal. Later on, be sure to choose from a good variety of iron-rich baby foods, which you can often find by comparing food labels and choosing foods with a high iron content. Or choose age appropriate iron-rich foods when making your own baby food to make sure your infant gets enough iron.

Iron Fortified Foods

In addition to foods that naturally have a lot of iron in them, many foods are now fortified with iron or have iron added to them. This is good news because many kids, especially younger ones don't usually like many of the best iron rich foods, such as liver, oysters, clams, and lentils.

Check food labels to find foods fortified with iron, including:

  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Ready-to-eat Cereals, such as Total, Product 19, Raisin Bran
  • Grits
  • Iron Kids Bread
  • Carnation Instant Breakfast Mix
  • Pasta
  • Iron Fortified Toddler Formula, such as Enfamil Next Step or Similac 2
Remember that a food that provides 10% to 19% DV or more for a nutrient, such as iron, is usually considered to be a good source of that nutrient, so compare food labels and look for foods that have higher numbers for iron on the food label.

What You Need To Know

  • Risk factors for iron deficiency include toddlers and older children who drink more than 24 ounces of milk each day and have a diet low in iron and vitamin C.

  • Vitamin C can help your body absorb iron, so it is a good idea to pair iron-rich foods with foods that have a lot of vitamin C, including citrus fruits and iron-fortified orange juice.

  • It is harder for the body to absorb the nonheme iron that is found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, than the heme iron that is found in animal foods, including red meats, poultry, and fish.

  • Remember that nuts and shellfish can pose a food allergy danger for younger kids and too much seafood can expose younger kids to mercury, so follow current fish and mercury warnings when feeding children seafood.

  • Keep in mind that the %DV for iron on food labels is based on the adult needs of 18mg or iron a day, while a toddler only needs about 7 to 10mg a day. So while an egg provides 4% DV of iron for an adult, it would actually provide about 7% to 10% DV of iron for a toddler.



Sources:

NIH Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron.

Prevention of Iron Deficiency in Infants and Toddlers. Louis A. Kazal, JR., M.D., American Family Physician October 1, 2002.

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