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Is your child facing difficulty learning, remembering spellings or too tired for a round of ‘catch the ball’ and other activities? Then chances are – they are iron-deficient. Iron deficiency is linked to fatigue, cognitive impairment and health disorders in kids.
From green poop to congestion, fatigue, cognitive impairment and growth disorders – iron deficiency causes an assortment of health problems in kids and affects their overall well being. Breastfeeding does provide iron during the first six months. However, breast milk alone doesn’t cut it when it comes to meeting the daily nutritional requirements in children, especially when it comes to iron.
Benefits of Iron for Children
The following are the benefits of iron for children-
- A protein known as haemoglobin in iron-rich foods is responsible for carrying oxygen through the blood to different organs in the body. Iron deficiency leads to anaemia which is why the biggest benefit iron provides is to keep your child’s blood healthy and circulating.
- Sufficient iron intake is linked to proper cognitive development in growing kids. Majority of a child’s cognitive development takes place within the first 6 years of their lives which is why proper iron intake is a must.
- Iron fights against hair loss and brings a glow to the skin, thus keeping it healthy.
- It fastens healing of wounds and injuries and the oxygen supplied to different muscles and tissues promotes proper growth of different organs in the body.
- Improves appetite, fights against fatigue and keeps children energetic throughout the day.
- Iron aids in developing a strong immunity and produces reactive oxygen specimens that combat pathogens.
Amount of Iron Your Child Needs
The amount of iron your child requires will depend on his/her age. The following are the iron requirements for kids in different age brackets-
- Babies between zero to six months- 0.27mg/day
- Babies between seven to twelve months – 11mg/day
- Toddlers ranging between 1 to 3 years old – 7mg/day
- 4-year to 8-year-old kids – 10mg/day
Best Iron Rich Foods for Children
Dietary iron comes in two forms – heme and non-heme. Heme iron is the iron you find in animal meats while non-heme iron comes exclusively from plant-based foods. Lean meats, seafood and eggs/dairy, contain both heme and non-heme iron.
The key difference between heme and non-heme iron is their absorption rates in the blood. Heme iron gets absorbed and utilized easily in the blood while non-heme, not so much. Here is a list of iron-rich foods for kids, both heme and non-heme.
Heme Iron-Rich Foods
Heme-rich sources of iron for children are crucial for growing kids. Try to include fortified cereals and seafood to meet the daily requirement for iron intake in kids. Here is a list of iron rich food sources for kids.
1. Lean Meats
From chicken, lean turkey breast to beef – lean meats and organ meats are rich sources of heme iron for your kids. Remove fatty parts in meats since there is little iron in them. Aim to add liver to their meals and another kid-friendly iron-rich meal choice is spaghetti with meatballs or baked casserole. Pork chops work just as well.
If your child is not prone to seafood allergies, then give them a serving of canned light-tuna. Not only is this low in calories and a low-fat option, it’s an ideal source of iron for kids and can be served with pureed vegetables and sandwiches.
Iron content is higher in red meats, and lean lamb portions provide adequate iron content. Lamb chops contain up to 2.1mg of iron per 3-ounce serving, and its portions are excellent sources of essential fatty acids like Omega-3s and CLA. Lamb is also rich in protein and contains vitamin B12 which is essential for cognitive development.
High in iron and zinc, most types of shellfish are rich in iron, especially clam and oysters. Oysters regulate cholesterol levels in the blood, and a 3-ounce serving of cooked oyster provides up to 5.9 mg of iron in kids.
Non-Heme Iron-Rich Foods
A nutritious meal plan includes both heme and non-heme iron for proper cognitive and organ development. Excess iron can be toxic while too little iron causes iron deficiency and impairs children’s development. This is why a good mix of heme and non-heme sources is crucial in your child’s diet.
Here are some non-heme sources of iron-rich foods for kids.
Spinach, kale, broccoli and your favourite daily greens are non-heme rich sources of iron for kids. Chop them up into salads and sandwiches or serve them alongside scrambled eggs. You could even make vegetable juices or smoothies with kale and broccoli and serve them to your kids.
2. Prune Juice
Although this has high-sugar content, prune juice is an excellent source of non-heme iron. Limit intake to no more than 3 to 6 ounces per day for your children. 1 cup of prune juice contains approximately 3 milligrams of iron, and it even helps with constipation problems.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of iron for kids. Ensure you cut them up into smaller chunks so that your children don’t choke or have trouble eating them. You could serve by creating a trail mix of pumpkin seeds, raisins, apricots and prunes or even make pumpkin seed milk for a delicious daytime beverage.
4. Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwiches
Take fortified whole-wheat bread and serve a peanut butter jelly sandwich to your kids for a delicious evening snack. A serving of peanut butter jelly sandwich alone made from the fortified whole-wheat bread will meet their daily iron requirement. Another option is to make peanut butter cookies from fortified flour or oatmeal.
Kids love to snack quite often, and a good way to meet their daily iron intake is to give them a quarter cup of raisins every day. A quarter cup of raisins not only will help prevent constipation, but they also contain approximately 1 milligram of iron.
6. Potatoes (with skin)
Potato skins are rich in non-heme iron and also contain a good deal of vitamin C. Be sure to not leave out the skin when making baked potatoes or french fries. Potato skins are known to carry over 5 times as much iron as regular peeled potatoes. They are nutrient-dense and mustn’t be left out.
7. Fortified Cereals
Most instant and dry cereals (fortified versions) contain almost 100% of your child’s daily iron requirement. Oatmeal is another good alternative too. Just be sure to check the nutrition info on labels to check for the amount of iron included in these cereals. Also, make sure you shop for low-sugar options and aim for one serving of these a day.
8. Beans And Lentils
Beans and lentils are your go-to choices for iron if your child especially hates meat. A half-cup of beans contains 4 mg of iron while a half-cup of lentil contains about 3 mg of iron. Excellent iron-rich bean choices include soybeans, lima beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Make bean sandwiches with fortified whole-wheat bread or serve them alongside iron-enriched rice for a complete meal that’s rich in protein, essential amino acids, and iron.
You could even make iron-rich hummus with chickpeas for serving with pita bread during evening snacks.
Certain types of mushrooms are rich in iron and if your kids love coming back to these, why not keep serving to meet their needs? To give you a figure, one cup of cooked white mushrooms provides up to 15% of the RDI while oyster mushrooms offer iron twice as much as the white ones. It is important to note, however, that Portobello and Shiitake Mushrooms contain very little iron content as per nutritional guidelines.
Other options you could turn to for a mix of heme and non-heme iron are eggs, nutritional yeast, and fortified dairy products which include milk and cheese. Cow’s milk, however, doesn’t provide iron and consuming too much of it leads to an iron deficiency in children.
Tips To Include Iron in Children’s Diet
An iron-rich diet is one which includes both heme and non-heme iron. Here are some tips for creating an iron-rich diet for kids.
1. Add Pulses And Fortified Grains
Make sure to include a few beans and lentils in your child’s daily meal plans or use fortified grains like amaranth and quinoa to help your child meet their daily iron requirement.
2. Use Vitamin-C Rich Foods
From oranges to greens, sweet potatoes, bell peppers and different berries, vitamin-C rich foods help the body better absorb iron-content from other foods. Whenever you’re planning to serve lean meats, be sure to throw in a dash of sweet potatoes or fruit and vegetable smoothies for a nutrient-perfect meal.
3. Ask The Doctor
If you’re thinking of giving iron-supplements to your kids, be sure to consult the doctor before resorting to them. Children’s bodies react differently to supplements due to diets which is why consulting with your paediatrician is vital before you make this decision on your own.
If your child takes in too much iron one day and a little less on the next, then there’s no need to worry. Keep a track on your child’s iron intake on average throughout the week and if they’re falling a little short, be sure to add the above foods in their diet. Keep things interesting, make snack times fun and they’ll be consuming the right amounts of iron in foods in no time!