In this complete guide to iron-rich foods, we will go over everything you need to know about what iron is, how much baby, toddler, and kids need in their diets, lists of the best iron-rich foods, plus over 50 easy iron-rich recipes that contain both animal and plant-based iron sources.

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Medically reviewed and cowritten by Jamie Johnson, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Iron Rich Foods for Baby

Confused about what iron is and why your child needs it? Then you have come to the right place!

Iron is essential for growing babies, toddlers, and kids, as it helps with brain development. It’s also essential for producing red blood cells, which sends oxygen from our lungs to different parts of the body. While babies are born with enough iron stores to last them until 6 months of age, it is important to make sure you are providing enough iron in their diets after their iron reserves are depleted.

In this complete guide to iron, we will go over everything you need to know about what iron is, how much baby, toddler, and kids need in their diets, lists of the best iron-rich foods, plus over 50 easy iron-rich recipes that contain both animal and plant-based iron sources.

In this guide, you will find:

  1. Why is Iron Important?
  2. What is Iron-Deficiency?
  3. Signs of Iron Deficiency in Babies
  4. Does my Baby or Toddler need an Iron Supplement?
  5. How Much Iron Does my Baby Need?
  6. Best Iron Rich Foods for Babies
  7. Best Iron Rich Recipes for Babies
  8. Best Iron Rich Recipes for Baby-Led Weaning
  9. How Much Iron Does my Toddler or Kid Need?
  10. Best Iron Rich Foods for Toddlers and Kids
  11. Best Iron-Rich Recipes for Toddler + Kids
  12. Foods with Vitamin C

Why is Iron Important?

Iron plays a role in many different functions in our body. Most notably, it is important in producing red blood cells, which carry oxygen from our lungs to different parts of the body. Iron helps support the immune system and helps regulate body temperature. It’s also needed for brain development and maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails, and making hormones. 

What is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency anemia happens when there is not enough iron in the body to properly make red blood cells. This can affect brain growth and development in children, which can lead to learning and behavioral problems. Some side effects of iron deficiency anemia are fatigue, weakness, irritability, pale skin, fast heartbeat, cold hands and feet, more frequent infections, brittle nails, headaches, poor appetite, or cravings for non-food items like ice or dirt. 

Babies who drink cow’s milk before the age of 1 (which is not recommended) and toddlers who drink too much cow’s milk are at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia because it can interfere with iron’s absorption. Ensure your toddler is not drinking more than 16-24 ounces a day of cow’s milk. 

Signs of Iron Deficiency in Babies

  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Poor appetite or craving non-food items (like ice or dirt)
  • Brittle nails

Most infants are usually screened for iron deficiency anemia by 12 months of age, but if these symptoms sound like they are describing your baby, please contact your pediatrician.

Does my Baby or Toddler need an Iron Supplement?

Babies usually have enough iron stores to get them through their first four-six months. If your baby is breastfed, it is important to give baby iron-rich foods when they are ready to start solids or give a supplement. This is because breast milk lacks iron. On the other hand, most infant formulas are fortified with iron, so this is not as much of a concern for these babies. In many cases, a diet full of iron-rich foods can raise iron levels to where they need to be. But your baby may need an iron supplement if her iron is low enough to warrant one, and your pediatrician feels that diet alone may not be enough to raise it. Your pediatrician may also recommend a supplement if your baby is premature, has a low birth weight or has a health condition that affects iron absorption.

How Much Iron Does my Baby or Child Need?

Infants 0-6 Months: need .27 mg a day, which is usually met through breastfeeding or iron-fortified infant formula. After six months, natural iron stores are depleted and iron needs increase due to rapid growth of your child. 

Infants 7-12 Months: need 11 mg a day, which can be met with complementing breast milk or formula with iron-rich foods or an iron supplement.

Best Iron Rich Foods for Babies

Fortunately, there are a ton of great iron-rich foods that are great for baby as a puree or as a finger food if you are doing baby-led weaning.

Note: heme iron, most concentrated in animal sources, will be better absorbed by the body, as opposed to nonheme iron, which is mostly found in plant sources. If you do not follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, try to serve a mix of animal and plant sources of iron to your baby. 

Best Iron Rich Recipes for Babies

Best Iron Rich Recipes for Baby-Led Weaning

How Much Iron does my Toddler or Child Need?

Children ages 1-3 need 7 mg a day
Children ages 4-8 need 10 mg a day
Children ages 9-13 need 8 mg a day

For reference, here are some of the top foods my kids eat and how much iron they have:

  • Peanut Butter: 0.6 mg
  • Cereal (iron-fortified): 3.4 mg
  • Chicken: 1.8 mg
  • Eggs: 0.6 mg
  • Spinach Smoothie: 2.7 mg

Thankfully there are plenty of good sources of iron in easy-to-find and low-cost foods that can be found at most grocery stores. And chances are you are probably already serving some iron-rich foods to your child. An easy way to make sure they are getting enough iron is to aim for them to eat 2-3 servings a day of any of the foods listed below.

While that may seem like a lot, remember that toddler and child portions are generally smaller than you would think, and it may be possible they are already eating the recommended amount.

Serving Sizes for Toddlers and Kids

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these are the recommended serving size for a child between:

1 and 3 years of age

  • Grains: 1/4 – 1/2 slice of bread, 1/4 cup of cereal, pasta or rice
  • Vegetables: 1 tbsp for each year of age
  • Fruit: 1/4 cup canned or 1/2 piece of fresh
  • Dairy: 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 oz cheese, or 1/3 cup of yogurt
  • Protein: 1 oz (equal to two 1-inch cubes of solid meat or 2 tbsp of ground)
  • Eggs: 1/2 any size, yolk and white
  • Beans: 2 tbsp

4 and 6 years of age

  • Grains: 1/2 slice of bread, 1/3 cup of pasta or rice, 1/2 dry cereal
  • Vegetables: 1/4 cup cooked or 1/2 cup salad
  • Fruit: 1/3 cup canned or 1/2 piece of fresh
  • Dairy: 1/2 cup of milk, 1oz cheese, or 1/2 cup of yogurt
  • Protein: 1oz (equal to two 1-inch cubes of solid meat or 2 tbsp of ground)
  • Eggs: 1 egg any size, yolk and white
  • Beans: 1/3 cup cooked

7 and 10 years of age

  • Grains: 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of pasta or rice, 1 cup dry cereal
  • Vegetables: 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup salad
  • Fruit: 1/3 cup canned or 1 piece of fresh
  • Dairy: 1 cup of milk, 1oz cheese or 3/4 cup of yogurt
  • Protein: 2-3oz of meat
  • Eggs: 1 or 2 eggs
  • Beans: 1/3 cup cooked

Best Iron Rich Foods for Toddlers and Kids

  • Beef, Pork, Lamb
  • Dried Fruit: apricots, raisins, prunes, dates, etc
  • Dark Greens: spinach, kale, collard green, etc
  • Lentils
  • Eggs
  • Chicken, Turkey
  • Quinoa
  • Beans, Lentils and Tofu
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Peanut Butter
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Iron-Fortified Grains: such as cereals, bread or tortillas

Best Iron-Rich Recipes for Toddler + Kids

Foods with Vitamin C

To achieve maximum absorption, it is important to serve foods with vitamin C alongside foods with iron. Here is a list of foods that are high in vitamin C.

  • Red and Green Bell Peppers
  • Kiwi
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Pineapple
  • Cauliflower
  • Mango
  • Peas
  • Tomatoes

Some great combinations would be to add in chopped red or green peppers while cooking ground beef or chicken, adding in oranges to a spinach smoothie, cooking broccoli and egg cups, serving a piece of fortified bread with peanut butter with a side of pineapple chunks as a snack, etc. There are plenty of easy options that allow you to get both vitamin C and iron into your child’s diet.

Graphic for Post- iron rich foods baby, toddler and kids - complete guide and over 50 recipes. Images are in a grid on colorful kids plates with iron rich foods.

Get the recipe: 50 Iron Rich Recipes for Baby, Toddler & Kids: Broccoli Egg Cups & More

5 stars (3 ratings)
These wholesome iron-rich Broccoli Eggs Cups are filled with eggs, broccoli and cheese. Plus, find 49 other healthy muffin recipes for your little ones in this post!

Ingredients 

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk, regular, almond, coconut, hemp, etc
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • salt and pepper to taste, optional

Instructions 

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 8 muffin tins with silicone muffin molds or generously spray with cooking oil to prevent sticking.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together.
  • Add in the broccoli, cheese, salt and pepper and stir until combined.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the muffin tins until 3/4 the way full.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until eggs have set and the cheese is golden brown.

Notes

Age: 6+ months
Storage: in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Reheat Frozen: to reheat the frozen egg cups, simply place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave in 30-second intervals until warm.

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