Foods High in Iron for Babies and Kids

By Katie Newsome, MPH, RD, LD Sep 26, 2023 • 3 min

Iron is vital for your health—it's an essential mineral involved in carrying oxygen throughout the body. It's naturally found in many foods and added to others. It is important for babies and kids to get enough iron for their growth and development. Ensuring the healthiest diet for our children can sometimes feel like a challenge, though. The good news is that there are iron-rich foods that can be enjoyable for the whole family. So let's take a look at some healthy, iron-rich foods for your little ones.

What foods are high in iron?

There are two types of dietary iron: heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron is found in animal products and is more easily absorbed by the body. Sources of heme iron include:

  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Sardines and tuna (canned or fresh)
  • Eggs

Nonheme iron is found in many plant-based or fortified sources. This type of iron is not as easily absorbed by the body as the iron from heme sources, though. Sources of nonheme iron include:

  • Tofu
  • Red beans, black beans, chickpeas and black-eyed peas
  • Lentils and green peas
  • Spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Fortified breads and breakfast or infant cereals

Babies who do not eat solid or baby food can get iron from breast milk, which naturally contains iron, or from formula that has been fortified with iron. However, babies who are exclusively breastfed past six months of age may need additional iron. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.

How can I make sure my child gets enough iron from their food?

Offer your child a variety of foods that contain iron, both during meal and snack times.

In addition, pairing nonheme sources of iron with healthy sources of vitamin C can help your child absorb the iron they need. Sources of vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables

Why is iron necessary for babies and children?

Without enough iron, children can develop iron-deficiency anemia, which can lead to delayed growth and development. The symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include pale skin, irritability, fatigue and rapid heartbeat. Another possible symptom is pica, which is the desire to eat nonfood substances, such as ice cubes, dirt or clay, and paint chips.

Serving balanced meals and snacks that contain iron-rich foods can help ensure children and babies get enough iron and other nutrients. To learn more about iron-rich foods, or for questions about specific dietary needs, consult your child's pediatrician or a registered dietitian.

Clinically reviewed and updated by Julie McDaniel, MSN, RN, CRNI September 2023.

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