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Healthy Habits: Ensuring Adequate Iron Intake for Growing Kids

Posted on September 28, 2023. Last updated on September 28, 2023
Alyssa a registered dietitian
Written by Alyssa

While iron is considered a “micro”-nutrient, there is nothing small about its importance for growing toddlers and young kids. In this article, we will talk about the benefits of iron in children’s diets and some tips and tricks for adding iron to your kid’s diet. 

The Benefits of Iron for Kids

Iron is an essential mineral needed to help red blood cells move oxygen to cells all throughout your child’s body. According to the Mayo Clinic, your little one needs iron for healthy development as they grow, including their ability to learn. Adequate iron intake can also prevent a disease called iron-deficiency anemia.

Children at school learning

Foods High In Iron for Kids

So, what food contains iron, and what is the best iron for kids? First, it is necessary to differentiate between heme and non-heme iron. 

Heme iron is a type found in animal products, such as meats, fish, seafood, and eggs. According to the CDC, heme iron is preferable because your child’s body can absorb and utilize it better. However, non-heme iron is also beneficial and can be found in plant sources, such as tofu, beans, leafy greens, and fortified cereals for infants. 

If possible, try to fill your child’s meals and snacks with foods rich in heme iron. However, non-heme iron is better than none and can still help keep your child healthy. 

Did you know that vitamin C can work together with iron, so it absorbs better? So, pair your child’s iron source with vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, and bell peppers. 

Inversely, it is important to note that you should avoid pairing your iron source with too much calcium, which can impair absorption.

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How Much Iron Do Kids Need?

Your child’s exact amount of iron varies greatly depending on their age. The Mayo Clinic makes the following recommendations:

AgeDaily Iron Recommendation
7-12 months11 mg
1-3 year-olds7 mg
4-8 year-olds10 mg
9-13 year-olds8 mg
14-18 year-old girls15 mg
14-18 year-old boys11 mg

For reference, a cup of ground beef contains about 3 milligrams of iron, and a cup of black beans has almost 4 milligrams.

Easy Iron-Rich Meal and Snack Ideas

There are many delicious and kid-friendly ways to incorporate iron into the meals you prepare for your child. Try out these awesome ideas!

  1. Hand-breaded chicken strips with broccoli and berries
  2. Ground beef tacos topped with cubed tomatoes and lettuce
  3. Mini scrambled egg bites with chopped bell peppers, peas, and cheddar cheese
  4. Whole wheat pizza crust topped with tomatoes, pesto, and turkey pepperoni
  5. Oatmeal topped with peanut butter, berries, and cinnamon

Additionally, according to Columbia University, you can cook your food on cast iron pots and pans to increase the iron content of the food. 

Cast iron skillet

For snacks, you can try some of these delicious ideas!

  1. Turkey on wheat crackers with sliced grape tomatoes
  2. Baked fish sticks with orange slices
  3. Iron-fortified cereal and 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice. 
  4. Peanut butter with pretzels and cubed mango
  5. Chopped chicken with sliced strawberries

Your little one is bound to love these iron-rich meal and snack ideas that you can also enjoy. The options are endless but make sure to pair iron with a source of vitamin C. 

Key Takeaways

In conclusion, iron is an essential micronutrient for your child to help their red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Adding iron to your kid’s diet will help them grow, develop, and thrive. 

Alyssa Miller picky eating dietitian
Hi there! My name is Alyssa

I'm a registered dietitian and picky eating specialist with nearly a decade of experience, mom of three, and the founder of Nutrition for Littles. I'm dedicated to making mealtimes enjoyable and nutritious for families.

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