Iron Rich Foods for Children

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Fortunately, iron deficiency anemia isn't as big a problem as it once was. The use of vitamins, iron-rich baby foods, and/or iron-fortified baby foods are recommended for full-term breastfeeding babies beginning at six months of age; premature infants may require iron supplementation sooner, as their stores at birth may be lower.

Iron deficiency can still be a problem for some kids, especially toddlers who are picky eaters and consume too much milk and not enough iron-rich foods. To prevent iron deficiency, your toddler's physician should check lab values.

In general, your child should eat at least two or more iron-rich foods each day. Knowing which foods actually have iron in them can be confusing for parents, though.

Iron-Rich Foods

Foods that are a good source of iron include:

  • Beans, including kidney, lima, navy, black, pinto, soybeans, and lentils
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, dates, and apricots
  • Egg yolks
  • Greens, including collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and turnip greens
  • Iron-fortified whole grains, including cereals, bread, rice, and pasta
  • Lean red meats, including beef, pork, lamb
  • Liver
  • Nuts
  • Seafood, such as oysters, clams, tuna, salmon, and shrimp, etc.
  • Tofu
  • Vegetables, including broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus, parsley, watercress, Brussels sprouts

Iron-Rich Baby Foods

At first, unless your baby was premature or is already anemic, your baby will usually get all of the iron they need from breast milk or iron-fortified infant formula. Once they are 4 to 6 months old, though, they will likely begin to need some extra iron, which usually comes in the form of iron-fortified baby cereal.

Later on, be sure to choose from a good variety of iron-rich baby foods, which you can often find by comparing food labels and choosing foods with high iron content. Or choose age-appropriate iron-rich foods when making your own baby food to make sure your infant gets enough iron.

Iron-Fortified Foods

In addition to foods that naturally have a lot of iron in them, many foods are now fortified with iron or have iron added to them. This is good news because many kids, especially younger ones don't usually like many of the best iron rich foods, such as liver, oysters, clams, and lentils.

Check food labels to find foods fortified with iron, including:

  • Carnation Instant Breakfast Mix
  • Grits
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Iron kids bread
  • Iron-fortified toddler formula such as Enfamil Next Step or Similac 2
  • Pasta
  • Ready-to-eat cereals, such as Total, Product 19, Raisin Bran

Check the Food Label

Foods that provide 10% to 19% DV or more for a nutrient, such as iron, are usually considered to be a good source of that nutrient, so compare food labels and look for foods that have higher numbers for iron on the food label.

Facts About Iron-Rich Foods

Other things to know about iron-rich foods include that:

  • It is harder for the body to absorb the nonheme iron that is found in fruits, vegetables, and grains, than the heme iron that is found in animal foods, including red meats, poultry, and fish. However, pairing animal foods with plant foods increases the absorption of the plant-based iron.
  • Keep in mind that the %DV for iron on food labels is based on the adult needs of 18mg or iron a day, while a toddler only needs about 7 to 10mg a day. So while an egg provides 4% DV of iron for an adult, it would actually provide about 7% to 10% DV of iron for a toddler.
  • Remember that nuts can pose a choking hazard for younger kids and too much seafood can expose younger kids to mercury, so follow current fish and mercury warnings when feeding children seafood.
  • Risk factors for iron deficiency include toddlers and older children who drink too much milk each day and have a diet low in iron and vitamin C.
  • Vitamin C can help your body absorb iron, so it is a good idea to pair iron-rich foods with foods that have a lot of vitamin C, including citrus fruits and iron-fortified orange juice.

A Word From Verywell

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2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Iron: Fact Sheet for Professionals. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  2. The Children's Hospital. Iron. University of Oklahoma.

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.