Iron is a really important nutrient for babies and toddlers, but many parents aren’t always aware of how much is necessary OR how to make sure their little ones are getting enough.
I have a blog ALL about iron requirements for mum and baby, but in this blog I wanted to share some easy iron-rich meal ideas for babies and toddlers.
I’ve tried to share a mix of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack ideas as well as a balance of vegan, vegetarian and meat/fish options!
It’s a good idea to try to include an iron-rich food 2-3 times per day in kid’s meals. This is to give them plenty of opportunity to get those foods into their diet, particularly if their appetite varies or they’re going through a period of fussy eating. For vegetarian kids, or children who don’t eat meat/fish often, aim for 3 times per day!
How Do I Know If My Child is Iron Deficient?
When children don’t get enough iron in their diet, it can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia. Some of the signs to look out for that your baby is iron deficient include:
- Lack of energy
- Slow weight gain
- Lack of appetite
- Pale skin
- Heart palpitations
If you have any concerns about these symptoms in your child, it’s best to check with a GP or Health Professional who can provide individualised advice, and check your child’s iron status.
5 Ways to Add Iron to Baby and Kids’ Meals
I’m always talking about adding extras to kids’ meals and how to really make the most out of meals wherever possible. If you’re worried about your child’s iron intake, here are five simple ways to top up iron with minimal prep or effort needed!
- Add fortified cereal (e.g. ReadyBrek or fortified supermarket alternative) to baking – e.g. muffins or pancake batter
- Sprinkle ground seeds onto yoghurt, porridge, cereal, puddings and onto savoury pasta sauces or curries. This is a super subtle way to add extra iron without changing the taste or texture
- Use pasta made with lentils or chickpeas – you can use this alone or mix in with regular pasta if you prefer
- If offering plant-based sources of iron, always include some vitamin C to help with absorption – e.g. add some berries with nut butter to yoghurt, add tomatoes to a lentil curry or pepper with a hummus wrap
- Add green leafy veggies e.g. kale, broccoli, chard to pesto for additional iron
What are Iron-Rich Foods for Babies and Children?
Some of the best iron-rich foods to offer babies and children are:
- Red meat
- Beans, lentils and chickpeas
- Nuts – especially cashew nuts
- Seeds – in particular ground linseed, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds
- Dark leafy green vegetables – kale, broccoli, swiss chard
- Dried fruits – apricots, figs and raisins
- Fortified breakfast cereals
Should I Avoid Serving Iron-Rich Foods with Dairy/Calcium?
I often get parents asking if serving dairy or calcium-rich foods alongside iron-rich meals actually inhibits iron absorption (meaning we take less of the iron in from the meal).
Whilst there is evidence that calcium can inhibit iron absorption, research shows that, actually, over multiple meals and when we’re eating a variety of different foods throughout the day, there isn’t much impact on iron uptakes as an accumulative effect.
Ultimately, we don’t eat nutrients in isolation – some foods/nutrients enhance iron absorption & some may inhibit it – over the day the impact of these is likely to be less significant – so as long as you’re not having dairy foods *every time* you eat iron & you’re eating enough and a variety of iron-rich foods – you’ll likely be able to absorb enough.
Iron Rich Meal Ideas for Kids
5 Iron-Rich Breakfast Ideas for Kids
- Scrambled eggs (or tofu) on toast – egg yolk is a good source of iron – so if your little one isn’t a fan of yolks in boiled eggs, then offering them scrambled can be a good way to make sure they get the yolk too
- Nut butter on toast with fruit
- Yoghurt with milled seeds, nut butter and well-chopped dried fruit (e.g. apricots or figs)
- Porridge topped with with milled seeds, nut butter and well-chopped dried fruit (e.g. apricots or figs) or fortified cereals (Weetabix or Readybrek for example)
- Fritters made with egg and leafy greens such as broccoli and kale. You could try my spinach fritters and swap the spinach for kale!
5 Iron-Rich Lunch Ideas for Kids
- Fish pate on toast – mash some tinned fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sardines) with some yoghurt or cream cheese and a squeeze of lemon
- Jacket potato with beans (Try my stuffed jacket potato recipe)
- Spinach pesto pasta – or make with kale instead – add a sprinkle of ground nuts or milled seeds for additional iron
- Toast with hummus
- Enchiladas/quesadillas – my kids love these healthy enchiladas and they’re so quick and easy to prepare
5 Iron-Rich Dinner Ideas for Kids
- Spaghetti Bolognese – swap beef for lentils if you’re plant-based – both are a great source of iron
- Egg fried rice with tofu and broccoli – this is a great way to use up leftover cooked rice – simply fry together with an egg and add tofu and broccoli for extra iron
- Mixed bean chilli with quinoa (Try my baby-friendly stew recipe)
- Pasta with easy beef and tomato sauce. Replace the beef with lentils if you prefer
- Curry with wholegrain rice – try my summer curry recipe – you could add lentils, ground cashew nuts, chicken, tofu or beef as well for additional iron
5 Iron-Rich Snack Ideas for Kids
- Oatcakes with nut/seed butter and dried fruit
- Hummus dip with veg sticks
- Tofu or chicken strips with a pesto dip
- Egg and soldiers with some fruit slices
- Spinach fritters with dip & veg sticks
I hope you’ve found these ideas helpful. For more on balancing toddler diets, check out my blog.
Charlotte’s Newest Book
Following on from her bestselling books How to Wean Your Baby and How to Feed Your Toddler, this book brings Charlotte’s trademark approach of practical support and nurturing step-by-step guidance to help you manage the juggle of family life.