In this article, I'm going to talk about iron-rich foods for kids.
Both traditional and perhaps more alternative food sources of iron for kids and picky eaters and why we should think about whether our kids are getting enough iron.
We often focus on enough fruits and veggies, not too much sugar, enough protein, but iron is something to consider too.
Many children are not getting enough iron
Kiwi Kids are by no means exempt. Despite living in the land of plenty the Nutrition studies undertaken in NZ have found
- 66% of toddlers were at risk of inadequate iron intake (1)
- 14 % of kiwi kids under the age of two were iron deficient (2)
What foods are high in iron?
I am sure most people are aware of the traditional iron-rich foods. For those who need a refresher here's a quick list
- Red Meat
- Beans Lentils and Legumes
- Dark greens and leafy vegetables (such as Spinach, Kale)
The problem is sometimes despite a huge amount of encouragement, young children might not be eating enough of these to meet their needs.
If you have a picky eater then these can often be the first foods to drop off from a child's diet.
So I thought I would put together a list of some of the other foods that can contribute significant amounts of iron in your child's diet. Other foods that picky eaters might be willing to try.
I also have a collection of recipes that contain loads of these iron-rich picky eater friendly ingredients that could also work for your child!
Before continuing on, I want to mention some of the more common causes of iron deficiency in children.
Things other than inadequate dietary intake, possible things you should rule out and check with your healthcare professional about if you are really concerned about iron deficiency for your child.
- In preschool children, one of the biggest causes of iron deficiency can be due to inadequate intake of complementary foods because of too higher milk intake. ie the child fills up on milk rather than foods.
- Undiagnosed cows milk allergy can also contribute to iron deficiency in preschoolers
- Other possible causes in preschool and school-age children include: Rapid/rebound growth, former low birth weight, Coeliac disease, Parasitic infection, Gastrointestinal blood loss
Alternative Iron-Rich Foods for Kids That Don’t Eat Meat
This is where I step in with my list of lesser-known iron-rich foods.
These foods are plant sources of iron (other than egg) which means the iron is not as well absorbed by the body as animal sources, but these foods can be contributing decent amounts of iron in your child's diet. Especially if you use them in baking and snacks.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but they are foods I find my kids will merrily snack on and eat in baking which is why I have them on my list.
- Wheat Biscuits
- Sunflower Seeds
- Hummus and or Chickpeas
How much dietary iron do children need?
Kids actually need quite high intakes of iron, the chart below provides the guidelines for NZ and Australia.
As you can see in relation to adults, particularly adult males, children have fairly high iron needs.
The traditional iron-rich foods such as red meat fish and chicken provide the required iron in relatively small servings, 100g of red meat, for example, provides approximately 3.4mg of iron.
But as discussed earlier sometimes our children are not particularly obliging when it comes to eating the recommended amounts of traditional iron-rich food.
Which is why I've put together a collection of easy kid-approved recipes utilising these iron foods.
(1) Soh et. al Dietary intakes of 6–24-month-old urban South Island New Zealand children in relation to biochemical iron status, Public Health Nutrition, 2002; 5 339-346
(2) Grant CC, Wall CR, Brunt D, Crengle S, Scragg R. Population prevalence and risk factors for iron deficiency in Auckland, New Zealand. J Paediatr. Child Health 2007; 43: 531-7.