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13 Best Iron-rich Foods For Your Kids

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Our body needs iron to create hemoglobin and myoglobin, which carry oxygen from the lungs through the blood to the other parts of the body. Kids need iron for development during their growing years, and its deficiency leads to a condition called anemia or iron deficiency.

MomJunction tells you why iron is important for your child, and the benefits of iron-rich foods for kids.

Benefits Of Iron For Kids

Humans, like most other living things on earth, need iron as it plays a major role in several complex biological processes, the main one being hematopoiesis, a process that produces red blood cells in the body.

    • Iron binds the oxygen in the hemoglobin, enabling transfer of oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.
    • It also enables conversion of blood sugar into energy.
    • Iron is essential for physical and mental growth in children and babies.
    • It is critical for proper functioning of the immune system and overall cognitive development in children (1).
    • When an individual is recovering from an ailment or illness, iron is essential to produce the enzymes like amino acids, new tissue cells, neurotransmitters, and hormones.
    • Iron also helps you gain energy after a strenuous physical activity or exercise.

[ Read: Best Nutritious Foods For Kids ]

How Much Iron Does Your Child Need?

Iron is an essential nutrient when taken in the right quantities. Excessive iron intake makes it difficult for the body to absorb and convert it into a nutrient. Extra iron is usually stored in important organs like the pancreas, liver, and heart, which can result in life-threatening diseases and disorders later. Therefore, it is imperative that your child gets enough, but not too much, iron for growth.

The amount of iron your child needs depends on his or her age (2).

  • Toddlers (1 to 3 years) should get at least 7mg of iron every day.
  • Young kids (4 to 8 years) should get 10mg.
  • Older children (9 to 12 years) should get 8mg.

The kinds of food you choose alter the absorption levels of the mineral. Sometimes, hereditary hemochromatosis causes the body to absorb more iron than necessary. It is highly unlikely that kids will have a high intake of iron. Symptoms of excessive iron in the body include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, and weight loss, among others (3). If your child displays these symptoms, consult a doctor immediately.

13 Best Iron Rich Foods For Kids

Our body cannot produce iron by itself, which requires us to consume it from other sources. There are many sources of iron, but the natural sources are safer than iron supplements for children. Iron-rich foods are divided into two basic categories – heme and non-heme foods.

Heme Iron-rich Foods

Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin, which is why it is mainly found in animal products like meat and poultry. Iron in animals is usually attached to what are called heme-proteins, and hence the name. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body with an absorption rate of 7 to 35%, than non-heme iron.

Here is a list of heme iron rich foods for children.

1. Red meat

Red meat is one of the richest sources of heme-iron. Red meat has high amounts of heme-protein, from which heme-iron is derived. Your body is also able to absorb more iron when you consume red meat. In organ meat, liver is rich in iron. One slice of a beef liver can give your kid 5mg of iron, which is half their recommended consumption. 100gm of cooked beef contains 3mg of iron, while 100gm of cooked liver contains 11mg, more than what your child may need in a day.

2. Lean pork

Lean pork is healthy and rich in iron. If you kid consumes 100gm of cooked, ground lean pork in a day, he gets 1.2mg of iron. However, lean pork, like other meats, has a higher absorption rate between 15 and 35 percent, and including it in your diet can increase your iron intake.

3. Poultry and eggs

Poultry, especially dark meat, is a good source of iron for kids. If your children do not like eating beef or pork, giving them smaller amounts of chicken or eggs in their meals will still ensure that they get the recommended amount of iron every day. Including poultry in your daily meal can increase the amount of iron that your body absorbs. Chicken liver is one of the best sources of iron for kids – 75gm contains 9.2mg of iron, which helps your children get the required amount of iron every day.

[ Read: Best Calcium Rich Foods For Kids ]

4. Seafood

Seafood is one of the other meats that are rich in iron. Fish, oysters, and clams have the highest amount of iron among seafood. While oysters contain 7mg of iron per hundred grams, clams contain a whopping 28mg of iron per 100gm. The amount of this mineral varies from one type of fish to another. Scallops, shrimp, salmon, and tuna are also excellent sources of iron. A tuna sandwich or cooked salmon once a week can be considered as a good source of iron.

Non-Heme Iron-rich Foods

Non-heme iron is obtained from plant products, dairy, eggs, as well as meat. However, it is less absorbent when compared to heme-iron. But if you and your children follow a vegetarian or vegan diet for any reason, plant-based foods are your best sources of iron. To get the required amount of iron, you should consume sufficient amounts of non-heme iron rich foods. Some of them are mentioned below.

5. Beans

Beans of all varieties have iron in them. Make it a point to include black beans, kidney beans, Lima and pinto beans in some form or the other in your meals. It is especially important if your kids do not eat meat. Three-fourth cup or 175ml of cooked soybeans contain 6.5mg iron, while the same amount of kidney beans contains 3.9mg iron, Lima beans contain 2.2mg iron, and re-fried beans have 3.9mg iron.

6. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach

Among non-heme iron foods, green leafy vegetables like turnips, kale, broccoli, and spinach are all rich sources of iron for kids. 100gm of spinach contains 2.7mg of iron, while the same amount of kale gives you only 1.5mg of iron. Broccoli and turnips may provide even lesser amounts of iron with each having less than 1 mg of iron per 100gm. 125ml of beet greens has 1.5mg of iron while cooked green peas have 1.3mg of iron per 100gm.

The best way to get the most iron from these foods is to cook some of them together, instead of separately.

7. Peanut butter

Peanut butter is not only protein rich but also has good amounts of iron. In every 100gm of peanut butter, there is 1.9mg of iron. So a couple of slices of bread with peanut butter, a peanut butter smoothie, or a cupcake can be excellent choices for increasing your child’s iron intake.

[ Read: Magnesium Rich Foods For Kids ]

8. Tofu

Tofu is another dairy-free option for vegan or lactose-intolerant kids. Also, milk can prevent absorption of iron, which makes tofu a much better option. Including tofu in salads, sandwiches, and desserts can be an excellent way to get iron into your kid’s diet. Every 100gm of tofu contains 5.4mg of iron, so one grilled tofu sandwich covers almost half the daily recommended dose of iron for your child.

9. Prunes

Prunes are among the healthiest dried fruits you can give your kids. It is a low-fat option with zero cholesterol. However, prunes are only a source of non-heme iron, which cannot be absorbed quickly as well as heme-iron. In every 100gm of prunes, there is 0.9mg of iron.

10. Oatmeal and cream of wheat

Among cereal grains, oats have good amounts of iron in them. Iron fortified oatmeal has more iron, with every 100gm of oatmeal giving you 6mg of iron. One bowl of oatmeal every day covers over 60% of the daily value for your child.

Likewise, cream of wheat can provide almost the entire daily value of iron that your child needs. One serving of cream of wheat or one 100gm of cooked cream of wheat gives you 11 mg of iron. However, as it provides non-heme iron, your body may not absorb all of it. So, 100gm of cooked cream of wheat may not yield 11 mg of iron to the body.

11. Dried fruits – raisins, apricots, and figs

All dried fruits including raisins, figs, and apricots are also rich in iron. Dried fruits are ideal snacks that your kid can have on the go. A handful of raisins, a few dried figs, or apricots along with kids’ snack or lunch consisting of meat or eggs can boost their iron absorption.

Dried apricots have 2.7mg of iron per 100gm while raisins contain 1.9gm, and dried figs only have 0.3mg of iron per 100gm.

12. Chickpeas

Among legumes, chickpeas have high iron content. One 100gm of chickpeas, or one cup of boiled and strained, have 6.2mg of iron in them. The best way to eat chickpeas for better iron absorption is cooked or raw (soaked). You can make a tangy chickpea salad with tomatoes and lemon as a snack for your kids. If they don’t like chickpeas as they are, you could make hummus and serve it with pita bread. However, one 100gm of hummus has only 2.4mg of non-heme iron.

13. Iron-fortified cereals, bread, and pasta

Iron-fortified cereals and pasta have more non-heme iron content. Fortified foods are those that have added iron or other nutrients that the body cannot produce on its own. While there are several so-called ‘fortified foods’, you should pick one only after reading the labels. A bowl of enriched cereal may have as much as 67mg of non-heme iron. A slice of enriched bread may have 0.9mg of iron per slice, while a cup of enriched pasta can have 2mg of iron.

[ Read: Fiber Rich Foods For Kids ]

7 Tips To Include Iron In Your Child’s Diet

The best way to make sure that your child gets the recommended daily value of iron is to include high iron foods in his or her diet. Here are a few tips you can use to make these foods more appealing.

  1. Find recipes that will help the ingredients retain their nutrient content.
  2. Create a meal plan that includes heme and non-heme iron-rich foods that your kids eat.
  3. If you are making pizza or macaroni, you could choose iron-fortified pizza base or pasta to increase the amount of iron in the food.
  4. Choose healthy cereals – read the ingredient and nutrient tables on the cereal boxes to know whether or not the cereals are fortified.
  5. The best way to improve iron absorption in the body is to pair foods rich in vitamin C with iron-rich foods. Along with a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of fortified cereal, give your kid a slice of grapefruit or a glass of orange juice.
  6. Using cast iron pots and pans for cooking enhances the iron content in the foods.
  7. Reduce your child’s intake of milk, as it inhibits iron absorption by the body.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does my child need an iron supplement?

Your child may require iron supplements if he or she has iron deficiency and displays symptoms like weakness, loss of appetite, unusual cravings like eating dirt or chalk, behavioral issues, etc. Always consult a doctor first, before giving your child iron supplements.

2. Safe types of iron supplements for kids

Doctors may recommend liquid drops as they are easy to administer and are also easily absorbed by the body. The drops can be squirted directly into the child’s mouth using a dropper, which also has precise dosage levels.

Intake of too much milk by toddlers or children, who consume less iron and vitamin C, can increase the risk of iron deficiency. Always have iron-rich foods along with foods rich in vitamin C because vitamin C is essential for absorbing iron. Too much of seafood can expose younger kids to mercury, hence give them in a limited amount. Do remember that while it is important that your children get the required amount of iron every day, it is equally important that you do not overdo it.

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