Iron is an important mineral that is found in every single cell in our bodies. Although we store some iron to replace any that is lost, low iron levels over time can lead to poor health.1 Babies, toddlers, pre‐schoolers and teenagers are at higher risk of a deficiency because their diets might not contain high enough quantities of iron to support the rapid growth spurts they undergo during this life stage.2 That's why it's so important to ensure your little ones eat a variety of iron containing foods every day.3
What does Iron do for growing children?
Iron is needed to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Without enough iron, our bodies can't make enough red blood cells and the tissues and organs won't get the oxygen they need.4 Iron is also important for brain development, growth and fighting germs and bugs. Kids who don't eat enough foods containing iron may be tired, faint and pale. They may also have a low appetite and complain of frequent headaches.3
Children need different amounts of iron as they grow. Here's how much they should be getting:4
- Breastfed infants: tend to get enough iron from their mothers until 4‐ 6 months of age, when iron‐fortified cereals are usually introduced. Formula fed infants should be given iron‐fortified formula.
- Babies 7‐12 months old should be getting 11mg iron per day.
- Toddlers aged 1‐4 years need 7mg iron per day.
- Kids aged 4‐8 years need 10mg iron per day.
- Older kids between 9 ‐13 years old should have 8mg per day.
- During adolescence, boys should have 11mg iron daily while girls need 15mg. This difference is due to that fact that adolescence is a time of rapid growth and teenage girls need extra iron to replace what is lost during menstruation.
What foods provide Iron for children?
There are two types of iron in our diet. Haem iron is found in animal foods and is well absorbed by the body. Non‐haem iron is found in plant foods and is less well absorbed.5
Foods containing haem iron include:
- Meats, such as beef, lamb and pork
- Poultry, such as chicken and turkey
- Fish and shellfish, including sardines, salmon and tuna
- Organ meats, such as liver and kidney
Foods that contain non‐haem Iron include:5
- Wholegrain cereals, such as bread and breakfast cereal
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
- Peanut Butter
- Dried fruit such as sultanas, apricots, dates and prunes
- Nuts (whole nuts are not recommended for children younger than five as they are a choking hazard) Lentils, beans, baked beans and dried peas
What's really good to know is that you can increase the amount of iron that your kids get from their food by offering it together with foods that contain vitamin C at the same meal. Vitamin C helps to increase the absorption of iron into our bodies. Examples of foods rich in vitamin C are: 5
- Citrus fruits e.g. orange, mandarin
- Tropical fruits e.g. pineapple
- Berries e.g. strawberry
- Vegetables e.g. tomato, capsicum, cabbage and broccoli
What if my child won't eat meat?
Kids can be notoriously fussy when it comes to food. They may go through phases where they refuse to eat a certain food, or anything other than their favourite type of food. This can make it difficult if you are trying to make sure your kids are getting a healthy, balanced diet. Fortunately, there are many different foods containing iron, so you are sure to find at least one or two that they will like. If you have an extremely picky little eater at home and you are concerned they may be lacking certain vitamins and minerals because of their fussiness, see your healthcare provider for advice.
They may recommend a suitable children's supplement to help top up their iron levels.