Getting Iron Intake Right for Infants and Toddlers
• Guest post by Lauren Gladman•
Accredited practicing dietitian (APD) specialising in infant, children and adolescent nutrition for 11 years.
Mum to Isla, 4 years and Finn, 2 years.
Kids are little energy machines who grow, learn and develop rapidly. Iron is an important nutrient that children need in their diet from 6 months and beyond when they are introduced to solids. Iron is important for your child’s growth and development, In particular for the development of the brain. It also increases energy and concentration levels and helps fight infections by keeping the immune system healthy.
It sounds simple enough – so we give our kids iron rich foods….right? Yes, from the first month of eating solids, children should have iron rich foods, such as red meats, eggs, chicken, dark green vegetables and iron-fortified cereal. Once solids are established, aim to give your infant 2 serves per day of iron rich foods and, even with the varying appetite of an infant, they will get the iron they need.
Sounds easy – until the fussy eaters we all know and love frustratingly are likely to refuse some or all of these iron rich foods. At 2-5 years of age, a child’s iron needs are very high. This is around the same age fussy eating behaviours are expected. Ideally, iron will come from a variety of sources including red meats 3-5 times per week in addition to chicken, fish and eggs. Baked beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and iron-fortified cereals and breads are also good sources of iron (as well as a host of other nutrients). Consuming a range of these “ideal” foods can be difficult for some fussy eaters, particularly those who are too busy to worry about chewing meat.
What to do?
A few tips to include ’kid friendly’ iron rich foods;
- Mince based meals (meat balls or homemade hamburgers anyone?)
- Use sausages (try a range of flavours)
- Use deli meats in lunches
- Slow cooked or casserole meats are softer and often better accepted
- Fish, baked or fried, is softer than red meats
- Salmon mornay
- Use leftover mince dishes as sandwich fillers
- Buy iron-fortified breads
- Use iron-fortified cereals as a breakfast option. Also try offering dry cereal as an iron-rich healthier alternative to biscuits
- Try crumbed meats to increase the toddler appeal
- Use nut pastes for snacks, hommus as a dip
- Try pate as a spread on sandwiches and toast (children over 12month only)
- Use eggs & baked beans as an easy dinner
- Use iron-fortified tortillas as pizza bases with ham and meat on top
If you feel like fussy eating is affecting your child’s growth or that they could be iron deficient, speak with your doctor or an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)