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Iron is an important mineral. It helps carry oxygen around the body. If a child doesn’t get enough iron in the body it can lead to anaemia (low iron), tiredness, irritability, and loss of appetite, all of which can end up causing negative consequences for their learning and development. In this blog, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about iron for children.
Who is at risk of low iron stores?
Some children are more at risk of low iron stores than others. It’s important to be aware if your child might be at risk. Children at greater risk of low iron include:
- Children who are solely breastfed and older than six months.
- Children who are not eating solids from six months.
- Children who drink large volumes of milk, as they can fill up on milk instead of foods. Milk is a poor source of iron and also inhibits iron absorption.
- Children who are not eating adequate meat on a regular basis (two to three times per week).
- Children who lack vitamin C in their diet.
- Children with absorption problems, parasites, or gastrointestinal issues, such as coeliac disease.
- Picky/fussy eaters who have little variety in their diet.
- Children who are born prematurely who have not developed good iron stores.
- Children who are vegetarian/vegan.
Children who consume coffee, tea or unprocessed bran may also be at risk because these foods hinder iron absorption.
What foods are good sources of iron?
There are two types of iron that can be found in food: haem and non-haem iron.
Haem iron is found in animal foods and is usually easily absorbed by the body. Good examples include:
- Red meat, like beef, lamb, liver
- Pork, Chicken, turkey
Non-haem iron is found mainly in plant foods. While our bodies don’t absorb it as easily, it’s still an important source of iron. Good examples include:
- Iron-fortified cereals (e.g. baby rice cereal, Weetbix)
- Regular wholegrain cereals and bread
- Legumes (e.g. baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils)
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, broccoli)
- Peanut butter and sesame paste (tahini)
- Dried fruit (e.g. sultanas, apricots, dates, prunes)
- Nuts/seeds (e.g. cashews, almonds, sunflower, linseeds)
It’s good to keep in mind that non-haem iron is more easily absorbed if eaten with foods high in Vitamin C at the same meal. Some good sources of Vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruit, such as oranges
- Berries, such as strawberries
- Vegetables, such as broccoli, capsicum, tomato, cabbage
How much iron does my child need?
Your child’s iron needs will depend on their age. The recommended dietary intake of iron for children are below:
|Recommended dietary intake (RDI) of iron for children|
|Age group (years)||Iron (mg)|
What are good examples of iron-rich meals to feed my child?
Around 6 months to 7 months – smooth foods
- Iron-fortified baby cereal and pureed fruit
- Cooked red meat or chicken pureed with boiled water until it is smooth
- Pureed green leafy vegetables
Around 7 months to 8-9 months – soft lumps
- Finely chopped cooked meat served with mashed vegetables
- Mashed beef mince sauce with well-cooked finely chopped pasta
- Mashed baked beans with wholegrain toast
- Scrambled egg with wholegrain toast
Around 8-9 months to 12 months – finger foods and firmer lumps
- Strips of meat or well-cooked chicken
- Boiled/scrambled egg
- Wholemeal toast and peanut butter
- Cut up meat patties served with tomato sauce or salsa
- Tender casseroled meat
- Slices of ham
Beyond 12 months – family meals
- Wholegrain cereal (e.g. Weetbix) with milk and fruit
- Peanut butter on wholemeal bread
- Baked beans in tomato sauce with wholegrain toast
- Ham/tuna/egg sandwich with wholegrain bread
- Tacos with minced meat and kidney beans
- Spaghetti Bolognese (try using chicken or pork mince for a different flavour)
- Mini beef or chicken burger patties
- Minestrone soup with four bean mix
Give appropriate milk feeds:
- Breast milk or formula should be your child’s main drink until 12 months.
- Beyond the age of 12 months, solid foods should be the main source of nutrition for your child.
- If children drink too much milk (e.g. more than 600 ml of milk per day) they may eat less food, including iron-rich foods.
- Excessive calcium intake from milk can reduce iron stores and may cause low iron levels.
What if my child/family are vegetarian or vegan?
If your family follows a plant-based diet, iron absorption may be lower. For this reason, your iron intake will need to be up to 80% higher than normal. In order to meet your child’s iron needs, it will be important to have a well-planned menu, so as to ensure your child received all the nutrients they need to grow, develop and stay healthy. We also recommend:
- Include a wide variety of foods such as legumes (e.g. baked beans, lentils), fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, soy products, wholegrain breads and cereals in their diet.
- Considering an iron supplement. Get advice from your doctor or dietitian first.
Over to you
Do you struggle to get your child to eat a balanced diet? Are you concerned your child isn’t getting enough iron in their diet? What are some of your family’s favourite iron-rich foods?
Are you interested in more kid friendly advice?
The experienced team at Growing Early Minds are here for you and your family. Call our friendly team on 1800 436 436 or contact us
Disclaimer: The information here is provided on a general basis. You’re encouraged to consult with your General Practitioner (GP), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) or a Paediatrician (child doctor) if you have any concerns.