Iron-Rich Foods for Toddlers: 10 to Try (2023)

Iron is an essential nutrient that the body uses to produce hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that helps your blood carry oxygen to all the other cells in the body.

Iron is essential for:

  • supplying the body with oxygen
  • muscle metabolism
  • maintaining connective tissue
  • physical growth
  • nerve development
  • cell functioning
  • producing some hormones

Breast-fed babies usually get enough iron from their mother’s milk, while infants fed with formula should receive iron-fortified formula.

Iron-deficiency anemia

When your toddler switches to eating regular foods, they might not get enough iron. Rest assured, this isn’t common in the United States; only 8 percent of toddlers have iron deficiency.

However, low iron levels can lead to anemia, where the number of red blood cells in your body are too low, potentially causing problems with oxygen getting to key organs.

If your child has low iron levels, you may notice that they:

  • are pale
  • appear irritable
  • don’t want to eat

Longer term, it can lead to:

  • slower growth
  • delayed motor skill development
  • a higher number of infections, as iron supports the immune system

Symptoms may not appear at first, but in time, your child may experience:

  • fatigue
  • pale skin
  • irritability
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • decreased appetite
  • slow weight gain
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • lightheadedness
  • difficulty concentrating

Some studies have found that children who drank tea were more likely to have iron-deficiency anemia. One reason for this may be that tannin, found in tea, decreases the body’s ability to absorb iron. Another is that children may be too full to eat after drinking tea.

Related: 10 signs and symptoms of iron deficiency

Iron is essential for a rapidly growing toddler. That’s why a lot of cereals and other toddler foods are fortified with iron.

The recommended daily requirements for iron vary by age.

(Video) Iron Deficiency in Toddlers (1-3 years): [DO THIS & STOP WORRYING] | Dr. Raj

  • age 0–6 months: 0.27 milligrams (mg) per day
  • age 6–12 months: 11 mg per day
  • ages 1–3 years: 7 mg per day
  • ages 4–8 years: 10 mg per day

Infants born preterm or with a low birth weight usually need more iron than those born with a healthy weight.

Heme vs. nonheme iron

Dietary iron has two main forms: heme and nonheme. Plants contain nonheme iron. Meats and seafood contain both heme and nonheme iron.

The body doesn’t absorb nonheme iron as easily as heme iron. This is true for both toddlers and adults. If your child eats a vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet, aim for twice as much iron as the recommended amount.

The body absorbs iron better when you consume it with a source of vitamin C. To enable the body to absorb more iron, serve iron-rich foods alongside foods rich in vitamin C.

Examples of foods high in vitamin C include:

  • orange juice and oranges
  • grapefruit
  • kiwifruit
  • broccoli
  • tomatoes
  • strawberries
  • bell peppers
  • papaya
  • cantaloupe
  • sweet potatoes

Feeding your toddler iron-rich foods alongside foods high in vitamin C can help decrease their risk of developing iron deficiency.

1. Lean meats

Meat and poultry contain large amounts of heme iron, which is easy for the body to digest. Beef, organ meats, and liver in particular have a lot of iron. A 3-ounce serving of beef liver, for example, contains 5 mg of iron.

Dark chicken and turkey meat are also rich sources.

Make your toddler a stew or casserole with soft, well-cooked lean meat. Make sure to remove the fatty part of the meat since there is very little iron in the fatty parts. Spaghetti with meat and tomato sauce is another iron-friendly option.

Related: Top lean proteins you should eat

2. Fortified cereals

Fortified cereals and oatmeal are a good way to ensure your toddler gets enough iron.

A serving of iron-fortified cereals typically has 100 percent of the daily value for iron in just one serving. The exact amount will vary, so be sure to check the label. Dry cereals, like Cheerios, are usually fortified as well.

(Video) The Best IRON-RICH Foods for Babies (and How to Increase Absorption)

One cup of plain, uncooked, rolled oats contains around 3.5 mg of iron.

You can top your toddler’s iron-fortified breakfast cereal or oatmeal with some blueberries or strawberries for added vitamin C.

Note that while fortified cereals and juices can provide extra iron, they’re often high in sugar, too.

3. Beans

If you are aiming for a vegetarian diet or your child isn’t a fan of meat, beans are a great compromise. Soybeans, lima beans, kidney beans, lentils, and other beans and pulses contain iron, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals.

For example:

  • a half cup of white beans has 4 mg of iron
  • a half cup of lentils has 3 mg of iron
  • a half cup of red kidney beans has 2 mg of iron

Mash some cooked lentils or make a soup or mild chili. Try mashing in some enriched rice with your beans for a complete protein and high-iron meal.

You can also try serving your toddler some low sugar baked beans with a piece of whole wheat bread for a high iron lunch. A side of mashed sweet potatoes adds vitamin C to the dish.

Chickpeas, known to some as garbanzo beans, are another type of bean high in iron and a great snack for toddlers (and adults!). You can blend the chickpeas to make your own iron-rich hummus.

Be aware that some people have a chickpea allergy. If you’re not sure about giving your child chickpeas, ask your doctor first.

4. Spinach

Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, and spinach are among your best vegetable options for iron.

A half cup of boiled, drained spinach contains about 3 mg of iron.

Try serving your toddler finely chopped, steamed spinach or add chopped spinach or other greens to their:

  • mac and cheese
  • scrambled eggs
  • smoothies

Related: Which is better, spinach or kale?

5. Raisins and other dried fruit

Kids love to snack on raisins. The good news is that the dried fruit can give your toddler a boost in iron, while also helping prevent constipation. A quarter cup of raisins has about 1 mg of iron.

Related: Are dried fruits good or bad?

(Video) 20 Iron Rich Foods and Iron Supplements for Babies & Kids

6. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, healthy fats, and minerals, including iron. A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains 2.5 mg of iron.

Try making a trail mix with raisins, prunes, dried apricots, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Keep in mind that raisins and seeds may be choking hazards for very young children. Mash or cut these foods into small pieces and keep watch on your toddler while they munch on them.

Related: Super healthy seeds you should eat

7. Eggs

Eggs are a good source of essential protein, vitamins, and minerals, including iron. One hard-boiled egg contains 1 mg of iron.

For years, people tried to limit their egg consumption because eggs also contain cholesterol, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Current research suggests, however, that eggs don’t increase the risk of CVD, after all.

Toddlers can eat eggs in many ways, such as:

  • soft boiled with toast sticks
  • hard boiled, whole or mashed
  • scrambled
  • as an omelet
  • in rice and noodle dishes

You can add chopped spinach and other iron-rich foods to omelets and scrambled eggs. Try different ways to see how your toddler likes them best.

Always make sure the egg is fresh and well cooked. If you can, use fresh, locally sourced organic, free-range eggs.

Related: Top 10 health benefits of eggs

8. Green peas

Green peas contain protein, fiber, iron, and other nutrients. Many toddlers love them, they’re easy to prepare, and they pair well with many dishes.

A half cup of green peas provides 1 mg of iron.

You can boil peas and serve them as a side, mash them with root vegetables for infants, or add them to soups, stews, and savory rice.

Keep a bag of peas in the freezer or get fresh peas in the pod in season. Ask your toddler to help you shell the fresh peas.

Peas may pose a choking hazard for young children, so consider mashing them for infants.

(Video) Easy Iron Rich Foods for Babies and Kids!

Related: Why green peas are healthy and nutritious

9. Tuna

Canned light tuna is a low calorie and low fat addition to your child’s diet that also supplies iron and other important nutrients like protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

Three ounces of light tuna, canned in water, contains 1 mg of iron.

Combine shredded tuna with pureed vegetables to boost your toddler’s iron intake, but hold off if seafood allergies run in your family.

Related: Mercury in tuna. How to eat it safely

10. Tofu

Tofu is a mild and versatile plant-based food that provides complete protein, calcium, iron, and other nutrients. It can provide some of the essential nutrients your toddler needs if they don’t eat meat.

A half cup of tofu contains 3 mg of iron.

Tofu comes in different forms. Firm tofu you can chop and add to salads or stir fries, bake or use to make nuggets. Silken tofu has a softer texture. You can mix it with salad dressings, add it to smoothies, or put fruit with it for a dessert.

There have been concerns about whether isoflavones, an ingredient in tofu, could be harmful for hormone balance. Experts currently believe this is “unlikely.”

Related: Using tofu and how to prepare it safely

According to the National Institutes of Health, around 12 percent of infants in their first year, and around 8 percent of toddlers have low iron levels.

It is always best for your child to get their nutrients from food, but if your doctor thinks your child may have iron-deficiency anemia, they may prescribe iron supplements.

(Video) 10 Best Calcium-Rich Foods for Kids

Follow the instructions your doctor gives you and keep all supplements out of the reach of children. Consuming too much iron can lead to serious health problems.

Never give your child iron supplements without first consulting a doctor. Most children don’t need supplemental iron.

FAQs

What is good for kids iron? ›

Serve iron-rich foods.

When you begin serving your baby solids — typically between ages 4 months and 6 months — provide foods with added iron, such as iron-fortified baby cereal, pureed meats and pureed beans. For older children, good sources of iron include red meat, chicken, fish, beans and spinach.

What are 5 foods that are rich in iron? ›

Good sources include:
  • nuts.
  • dried fruit.
  • wholemeal pasta and bread.
  • iron-fortified bread and breakfast cereal.
  • legumes (mixed beans, baked beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, silver beet, broccoli)
  • oats.
  • tofu.

Is banana rich in iron? ›

Iron content in bananas is low, approximately 0.4 mg/100 g of fresh weight.

What snacks are full of iron? ›

Other sources of nonheme iron, with 0.7 milligrams or more, include:
  • One-half cup of cooked split peas.
  • 1 ounce of peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, roasted almonds, roasted cashews, or sunflower seeds.
  • One-half cup of dried seedless raisins, peaches, or prunes.
  • One medium stalk of broccoli.
  • One cup of raw spinach.
16 Nov 2020

How can I boost my toddler's iron? ›

How Can I Help My Child Get Enough Iron?
  1. beef, pork, poultry, and seafood.
  2. tofu.
  3. dried beans and peas.
  4. dried fruits.
  5. leafy dark green vegetables.
  6. iron-fortified breakfast cereals and breads.

How can I boost my picky toddler iron? ›

What foods should my toddler eat for iron?
  1. Lean meats. Meat and poultry contain large amounts of heme iron, which is easy for the body to digest. ...
  2. Fortified cereals. ...
  3. Beans. ...
  4. Spinach. ...
  5. Raisins and other dried fruit. ...
  6. Pumpkin seeds. ...
  7. Eggs. ...
  8. Green peas.
24 Jun 2020

What fruit is high in iron? ›

Prune juice, olives and mulberries are the three types of fruit with the highest iron concentration per portion. These fruit also contain antioxidants and a variety of other nutrients beneficial to health.

What vegetables are very high in iron? ›

Fruits and vegetables high in iron include dried fruits, dark leafy greens, podded peas, asparagus, button mushrooms, acorn squash, leeks, dried coconut, green beans, and raspberries.

What foods increase iron levels quickly? ›

Foods rich in iron include:
  1. Red meat, pork and poultry.
  2. Seafood.
  3. Beans.
  4. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach.
  5. Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots.
  6. Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas.
  7. Peas.
4 Jan 2022

Is peanut butter high in iron? ›

Peanut butter is a rich source of healthy fats, protein and iron. It can work well in treating anemia. To get the most of its health benefits, include peanut butter in your daily diet.

Can low iron cause sleep problems in toddlers? ›

Since iron deficiency in human infants is most prevalent during the latter part of the brain growth spurt, the normal development of sleep patterns could be particularly affected.

Are eggs rich in iron? ›

Low iron levels are a common concern for blood donors, so you might be wondering if eggs are a good source of iron to help you out. Fortunately, eggs are a great source of iron, protein and other essential vitamins.

Are carrots high in iron? ›

Carrots are high in iron, particularly non-heme iron, as well as a good source of vitamin C. In addition they have Vitamin A and beta-carotene.

Is apples high in iron? ›

Apples are a rich source of iron with various other health-friendly components that are required for stimulating haemoglobin count. Eat at least one apple along with its skin daily.

Is Honey high in iron? ›

Honey is an excellent source of iron. It also contains elements like copper and manganese, which aid in erythropoiesis. That makes it a potent weapon against anaemia. In addition, you can eat honey with apples or bananas to help keep the haemoglobin and red blood cells well balanced, thus treating iron deficiency.

Is milk rich in iron? ›

Dairy products such as cheese, cottage cheese, milk and yogurt, although rich in calcium, have negligible iron content.

What food has the most iron ever? ›

Iron Rich Foods by Nutrient Density (Most Iron per 100 grams)
FoodServing
1 Dried Herbs (Thyme, Parsley, Spearmint, Black Pepper, Marjoram) View (Source)100 grams
2 Fortified Cereals View (Source)100 grams
3 Spirulina (Dried Seaweed) View (Source)100 grams
4 Bran View (Source)100 grams
6 more rows
26 Sept 2022

How do you fix anemia in toddlers? ›

If your child has iron-deficiency anemia:
  1. Make sure your child takes the iron supplements exactly as prescribed.
  2. Include iron-rich foods in the family's diet. ...
  3. Serve fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C or a glass of orange juice at mealtimes. ...
  4. Talk to a dietitian or your doctor if your child is a vegetarian.

What happens if iron is low in toddlers? ›

These are the most common symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia: Pale skin. Irritability or fussiness. Lack of energy or tiring easily (fatigue)

What happens if a child is low on iron? ›

Anemia caused by a low iron level can affect a child's ability to learn in school. A low iron level can cause decreased attention span, reduced alertness, and learning problems in children. A low iron level can cause the body to absorb too much lead.

Which cereal has the most iron? ›

Cornflakes 28.9mg/100g (US) 8.0mg/100g (UK & Ireland) Cornflakes come in as the most iron rich cereal due to fortification techniques to enrich this cereal with vitamins and minerals.

Does orange juice help with iron? ›

Vitamin C and Citric Acid Aid in Iron Absorption

When consuming iron-rich plants, it is beneficial to also consume foods with vitamin C or citric acid, such as 100% orange juice, which may help increase absorption of iron into your body.

Which fruit is best for anemia? ›

Eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods, such as oranges, tomatoes, or strawberries, to improve absorption. Eat iron-rich foods with foods that contain beta carotene, such as apricots, red peppers, and beets, to improve absorption.

What causes low iron levels? ›

There are many things that can lead to a lack of iron in the body. In men and post-menopausal women, the most common cause is bleeding in the stomach and intestines. This can be caused by a stomach ulcer, stomach cancer, bowel cancer, or by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Are potatoes high in iron? ›

Potatoes, especially the unpeeled ones, contain significant amounts of iron. One large unpeeled potato contains around 3.2 mg of iron. Potatoes also have vitamin C in them, which is essential for the absorption of iron in the body.

How can I get iron naturally? ›

Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells that acts like a taxicab for oxygen and carbon dioxide.
...
Some of the best plant sources of iron are:
  1. Beans and lentils.
  2. Tofu.
  3. Baked potatoes.
  4. Cashews.
  5. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach.
  6. Fortified breakfast cereals.
  7. Whole-grain and enriched breads.
23 Jan 2020

What food contains iron? ›

Good sources of iron include:
  • liver (but avoid this during pregnancy)
  • red meat.
  • beans, such as red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas.
  • nuts.
  • dried fruit – such as dried apricots.
  • fortified breakfast cereals.
  • soy bean flour.

How do you make iron picky eater? ›

How to help your picky eater absorb more iron
  1. Pair iron from plant or animal sources with vitamin C-rich foods like fruit and vegetables. ...
  2. Pair iron from animal sources with iron from plant sources. ...
  3. Watch the milk. ...
  4. Serve more fruit or give a supplement with vitamins and minerals.

Does low iron cause autism? ›

Precious cargo: Anemia impairs the blood's ability to carry oxygen to the brain. Being anemic while pregnant may increase a woman's chance of having a child with intellectual disability, autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Can low iron cause speech delay in toddlers? ›

Conclusion: There is evidence that children with Iron Deficiency Anemia show more deficient language development than normal children. Iron deficiency is that the most widespread nutritional deficiency worldwide and an enormous general medical issue, particularly in developing countries.

What causes anemia in toddlers? ›

The most common causes include: nutritional deficiencies (iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12) inherited diseases (e.g., Fanconi anemia, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia) autoimmune diseases.

What food is most high in iron? ›

Iron Rich Foods

Heme iron is found in meat, fish and poultry. It is the form of iron that is most readily absorbed by your body. You absorb up to 30 percent of the heme iron that you consume. Eating meat generally boosts your iron levels far more than eating non-heme iron.

What fruit is highest in iron? ›

Prune juice, olives and mulberries are the three types of fruit with the highest iron concentration per portion. These fruit also contain antioxidants and a variety of other nutrients beneficial to health.

Which fruit contain lots of iron? ›

Dried fruits like prunes, raisins and apricots are good sources of iron. 100 grams of prunes contain 0.93 mg of iron while raisins contain 2.6 mg of iron. Apricots have 6.3 mg of iron per 100 grams. Prunes also help in digestion and lower cholesterol levels in our body.

Is eggs high in iron? ›

Low iron levels are a common concern for blood donors, so you might be wondering if eggs are a good source of iron to help you out. Fortunately, eggs are a great source of iron, protein and other essential vitamins.

What raises iron fast? ›

Add vitamin C to your diet.

“Pairing vitamin C with your meal gives non-heme iron a boost, upping its absorption,” Sass says. In addition to eating more fruits such as oranges, kiwfruiti, and grapefruit, you can get a healthy dose of vitamin C from bell peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Which vegetable has the most iron? ›

10 high iron vegetables for vegetarians
  • Spinach. ...
  • Swiss chard. ...
  • Cooked beet greens. ...
  • Canned tomatoes. ...
  • Lamb's lettuce. ...
  • Green cabbage. ...
  • Brussels sprouts. ...
  • Boiled green peas. Boiled green peas contain 2.46 mg of iron per cup.
6 May 2021

What drink is high in iron? ›

A. Juices like prune juice, beetroot juice, pumpkin juice and spinach juice are rich plant-based iron sources. They are also a powerhouse of various vitamins and minerals, which increase your body's healthy iron levels.

Are apples full of iron? ›

A medium apple contains . 31 milligrams of iron and a medium banana contains . 22 milligrams of iron, which each amount to less than 2 percent of the iron a woman needs to consume each day. The iron in apples and bananas is non-heme iron, and it won't be as well absorbed as heme iron from meat.

What everyday foods contain iron? ›

Cashews. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach. Fortified breakfast cereals. Whole-grain and enriched breads.

Is milk high in iron? ›

Cow's milk has very low iron content (only 0.5 mg/L).

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