The Importance of Iron Intake for Children

Iron is an important mineral found in the blood. It is responsible for transporting oxygen around the body.

To improve iron levels, children should eat a variety of foods, which contain iron every day. Infants should be introduced to iron rich foods as soon as they start on solid foods at around six months of age. If infants and children do not meet their daily iron requirements they may develop iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in childhood. Toddlers who drink large volumes of milk or juices are at greater risk of low iron stores. This is because these fluids contain very little iron. Also, toddlers can fill up on these fluids which reduced their appetite for foods. A toddler requires no more than 500ml milk each day. Good sources of iron include:

Best sources — Haem iron (Haem iron is found in animal foods and is well absorbed by the body). Foods that contain haem iron include:

  • Meats such as beef, lamb or pork
  • Poultry such as chicken or turkey
  • Fish and shellfish such as sardines salmon, or tuna
  • Offal such as liver and kidney

Good sources – Non-haem iron (Non-haem iron is found in plant foods and is less well absorbed). Foods that contain non-haem iron include:

  • Wholegrain breads and cereals
    Iron fortified breakfast cereals Legumes including baked beans, dried peas, beans, lentils
  • Green leafy vegetables Dried fruit
    Peanut butter
  • Nuts (whole nuts not recommended for children under 3 years)

Iron absorption is improved if these foods are eaten with foods containing Vitamin C. Good sources of Vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits e.g. orange, lemon
  • Tropical fruits e.g. pineapple
  • Berries e.g. strawberries, raspberries
  • Vegetables e.g. capsicum, tomatoes, cabbage or broccoli.

Try some of these ideas to boost your child’s iron intake

  • Choose a breakfast cereal with added iron eg. Baby rice cereal, Weetbix. Add some fruit to assist iron uptake.
  • Spread peanut butter or hummus on toast or crackers.
  • Thicken homemade soups with dried peas, beans or lentils.
  • Use wholegrain breads rather than white.
  • Try some dried fruit or nuts (for children over 3 years) at snack time.
  • Serve baked beans or fresh meat on wholemeal/wholegrain toast.
  • Serve vegetables high in Vitamin C at meal times (e.g. capsicum, tomato, celery, broccoli).

Recommended daily iron requirements

Boys and Girls1–3 yrs9
Boys and Girls4–8 yrs10
Boys and Girls9–13 yrs8
Boys14–18 yrs11
Girls14–18 yrs15

Note: 20mg iron/day is considered the safe upper limit for children


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