Infants born to term have sufficient iron stores to last 4-6 months. This is why feeding iron fortified cereals, vegetables or meats are great first foods in order to provide the iron a baby needs during infancy when iron needs are 11 mg/day for babies 7-12 months.
Iron is necessary to make the protein hemoglobin, which transports oxygen throughout the body. Children who don’t eat enough iron rich foods in their diet are at risk of iron deficiency. Iron requirements continue to increase as a child gets older and will be at it’s highest of 18mg/day for your adolescent girl when she starts her period.
The best and most easily absorbed sources for iron are heme sources from animal protein. Including Vitamin C foods with non-heme vegetarian sources can increase this absorption. Be aware that foods high in calcium, phytates (from grains and legumes) and oxalate (spinach) bind with minerals like iron and can decrease absorption at meals. This is why it’s common for a young child who drinks primarily cow’s milk all day can be at risk of an iron deficiency.
Here are some recommended foods to include in your child’s diet to help meet their iron requirements.
Heme Iron sources:
Meats: ~ 3oz has 2-3mg of iron/ serving
Chicken, turkey (dark meat is higher)
Salmon, oysters, clams, tuna, shrimp
Non-Heme Iron sources:
Beans: kidney, pinto, black beans, chickpeas, split peas
Dried fruit, raisins, apricots, prunes, peaches
Leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts
Seeds; sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds
Nuts; peanuts, pecans, cashews, almonds
Whole grains (enriched); cereal, brown rice, bread
Vitamin C foods to include with non-heme iron sources:
Orange juice, oranges
Broccoli, Brussel sprouts
Liver is a very high source of iron but didn’t make my list since I know it’s not a favorite among kids.
If you have special concerns about your vegetarian child getting enough iron and other nutrients, read my blog post My Child Wants to Be a Vegetarian.
For information on other important nutrients your toddler needs, check out Seven Key Nutrients for Your Toddler .
If you have a toddler who you struggle to feed, be sure to attend my free webinar: Feeding Toddlers & Preventing Picky Eating.