Iron is a popular topic among new parents, and for a good reason. There is not much iron in breastmilk and by month four or so most breastfed babies are approaching the end of their stored supply.
Formula fed babies have a little more leeway because iron is added to formula. However that doesn’t mean that formula fed babies do not need iron-rich foods as they transition to solids. Here’s what you need to know about iron as a tiny human parent:
Why Iron Is Important
Iron is one of those nutrients worth paying attention to during infancy. It plays an important role in neurodevelopment and not getting enough when you’re young appears to have lifelong effects on cognition and behavior . Iron is also necessary for oxygen transport, and immunity in children, among other things.
Types of Iron:
We’ll spare you the sciency stuff, but there are two types of iron to be aware of as you transition your tiny human to food:
- Heme iron: Heme iron is found in animal products such as meat, poultry and seafood, and is more readily absorbed than non-heme iron.
- Non-heme iron: Non-heme iron is found in vegetables, beans, nuts, and fortified grains. Iron in non-heme sources is bound up in cell walls and other plant components making it less bioavailable than heme iron.
Daily Iron Needs For Toddlers
New eaters 7-12 months need 11mg of iron a day, while 1-3 year olds need 7mg of iron a day. These numbers are nice to have but what does this actually mean in terms of food? To get roughly 11mg of iron a day, your toddler needs to eat the following:
- 2 Raised Real meals and;
- 1/2 cup fortified cereal and;
- 1 oz beef and;
- ¼ cup white beans
Surprising Sources of Iron
It’s no secret that red meat is a good source of iron, but there are plenty of other choices out there. Here are some of our favorite surprising sources of iron for children:
#1: A 1/4 of a cup of firm tofu provides 15% of the daily recommended iron intake for toddlers with 1.6mg per serving.
#2: Some iron-fortified cereals provide more than 40% of the daily recommended iron intake for toddlers per 1/4 cup per serving.
#3: Cooked lentils provide 15% of the daily recommended iron intake for tiny humans per 1/4 cup serving (1.6mg iron).
#4: A single tablespoon of tahini provides 1.3mg of iron (12% of the daily recommendation for tiny humans). If you spread it on whole wheat fortified bread you’ll add another 1.4mg of iron per slice.
#5: Cooked spinach provides 1.6mg of iron (15% of the recommended daily intake for tiny humans) per 1/4 cup serving. Is there anything that this super green can’t do?
#6: A 1/4 of a cup of cooked peas provides 1mg of iron (9% of the daily recommended value for tiny humans.) We were shocked by this one too.
#7: A single egg provides 0.9mg of iron or 8% of the daily recommended intake for toddlers.
#8: Beans provide up to 1.6mg of iron per 1/4 cup serving (15% of the recommended daily intake), depending on the variety.
#9: We couldn’t leave this one out! Raised Real meals provide 5-15% of the recommended daily iron intake for toddlers, as well as a myriad of other essential nutrients for growing bodies.
Factors That Boost Iron Absorption
Worried about your tiny human’s iron intake? There are a few things that you can do to give your toddler a ‘leg up’ with iron absorption:
- Vitamin C: Mixing high iron foods with vitamin C-rich foods like fruits and veggies, increases absorption of heme and non-heme iron.
- Animal protein: Eating animal protein (beef, chicken, seafood, etc) with non-heme iron sources like lentils, beans and spinach, increases iron absorption.
On the flip side of the coin, calcium, phytates (found in beans and grains), and polyphenols (found in fruits and veggies), decrease iron absorption. If you’re feeding your tiny human an iron-rich meal, wait a while to give them milk or yogurt to maximize their iron gains.
Whether you’re a tiny human or a big one, getting enough iron is all about eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods and at Raised Real, that’s our specialty.
Disclaimer: This article/video/guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment in any manner. Always ask your pediatrician or other qualified health provider any questions you have regarding any medical conditions.
 Iron requirements of infants and toddlers. Domellöf M, Braegger C, Campoy C, Colomb V, Decsi T, Fewtrell M, Hojsak I, Mihatsch W, Molgaard C, Shamir R, Turck D, van Goudoever J; ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Jan;58(1):119-29.