It can be challenging to keep track of all the essential vitamins and minerals that your child needs to stay healthy, but as a parent, it’s important to try to watch what they’re eating closely. Diets lacking in certain nutrients can lead to health issues and cause problems with development.
It’s not enough to avoid unhealthy foods: you have to actively ensure your child is getting all the building blocks they need to grow.
One key ingredient to a healthy diet is getting enough iron. Many people, even adults, have trouble getting the right amount of iron in their diet. Without careful planning, your kids could become deficient in iron very quickly. Take a look at these foods that, among other benefits, are very high in iron.
What is Iron, and Why is It Important?
Iron is a mineral that your body uses to transport oxygen to muscles and tissues throughout your body. Iron is a part of your red blood cells and helps them perform this important task.
Good oxygen flow throughout the body is what makes a lot of critical processes work smoothly.
Someone with a diet low in iron can eventually reach an extreme condition known as iron deficiency.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include weakness, fatigue, pale skin, cold skin, and a host of other issues.
Even without reaching this stage, though, a lack of iron can cause lots of low-level fatigue and weakness, which we want to try to avoid.
Meat and Poultry
Iron is found in the muscle of any living thing, and as a result, animal products like meat and poultry are excellent sources of this mineral.
The iron contained in these foods is what’s known as ‘heme iron.’ The body quickly absorbs heme iron.
Red meat is very dense in iron, with about 2mg of iron per 100 grams of meat, or the size of a deck of cards. When it comes to chicken or poultry, the dark meat contains the highest amounts of iron per ounce.
Again, animal products tend to be high in iron. One hundred grams of cooked salmon will contain about 0.5mg of iron.
Iron is not removed during the cooking process, so there’s no need to worry if the method of preparing your favorite fish will lower its iron content.
Fruits and Vegetables
Some, but not all, vegetables contain large amounts of ‘non-heme iron.’ While this form of iron will not be absorbed by the blood as efficiently as heme iron, it’s still important to incorporate them into your child’s diet.
Here are a few examples of fruits and vegetables higher in iron.
- Morel Mushrooms: ½ cup = 8 mg
- Mashes Sweet Potatoes: 1 cup = 3.4 mg
- Spinach: ½ Cup cooked or 1 cup raw = 3 mg
- Asparagus: 6 spears = 2 mg
- Podded Peas: ½ cup cooked = 1.9 mg
- Brussels Sprouts: 1 cup = 1.9mg
- Strawberries: 1 cup = 1.7 mg
- Kale: ½ cup cooked = 1.3 mg
- Tomato Sauce: ½ cup = 1.3mg
- Broccoli: 1 cup contains 0.7 mg
Lots of beans and lentils can pack iron into your diet. They’re actually, ounce for ounce, some of the most iron-rich foods available. A cup of cooked pinto beans, for example, clocks in at over 3.5mg of iron!
As with all our non-animal iron sources, this will be non-heme iron. You can help the absorption of this kind of iron by serving these foods alongside citrus fruits or vegetables high in vitamin C. The added vitamin C makes it easier for this type of iron to make it into the bloodstream.
Here are a few examples of iron content found in 1 Tablespoon of beans. You can see how easily this food can help your child increase their iron!
- Soybeans: 1 Tbsp. = 1.8 mg
- Kidney beans: 1 Tbsp. = 1 mg
- Chickpeas: 1 Tbsp. = 0.8 mg
- Baked beans: 1 Tbsp. = 0.3 mg
- Lima beans: 1 Tbsp. = 0.3 mg
When children are younger, grains are typically your best friend. Especially before your little ones begin to increase the number of foods they will eat.
Fortunately, when it comes to iron, many grains are fortified or naturally contain iron.
Here are a few examples of the iron content of some common grains!
- White Rice: 1 cup = 2.8mg
- Quinoa: 1 cup = 2.8mg
- Whole Wheat Pasta: 1 cup = 2 mg
- Gluten Free Corn Noodles: 1 cup = 0.4mg
- Rice Noodles: 1 cup = 0.2mg
As you can see, even knowing all the right foods to eat, it can be difficult to make sure your child is getting all the iron they need.
But don’t worry, I’ve saved the most iron-dense food on your shelf for last. Most of the breakfast cereals in your pantry have been made specifically with iron intake in mind.
Take a look at your breakfast cereal’s nutrition label. A well-fortified cereal like Cheerios can contain 9mg of iron in just a single cup.
Consider finding a cereal for your child that will help them meet their daily iron needs, especially if they are picky about vegetables and are not a huge fan of meats.
Here are several examples based off of a 1 cup serving size
- Kellogg’s Special K: 8.7mg
- General Mills Rice Chex: 9mg
- General Mills Cheerios or Kix: 9.3 – 9.6mg
- Puffed Rice and Corn Cereal: 9.9mg
- Kellogg’s Rice Krispies: 10mg
- Quaker Quick Oats with Iron: 19.8mg
Keep Meals Balanced By Including Foods High in Iron
Not getting enough iron in your diet can cause real problems, from fatigue to chest pain and palpitations. The mineral is even more important for young eaters who are growing every day and need every little bit of help they can get to ensure they stay healthy.
Take the time to examine your child’s diet and their favorite foods to make sure your little one is getting all the iron he or she needs. There are so many different types of foods out there that will help you reach this goal! Try adding one new exposure to a food higher in iron every week, and see where it takes you.