Iron is an essential nutrient for children. One of iron’s important jobs in the body is to get iron to muscles. Without enough iron, kids’ growth and development can be slowed. Iron is especially important for brain development.
Iron deficiency can make children more susceptible to infections. Anemia, the name for serious iron deficiency, makes children tired and weak.
But making sure that your child gets enough iron can be a challenge. Here are the Dos and Don’ts.
- … give your kids too much milk. Milk is nutritious, providing protein and calcium. But calcium prevents absorption of iron. Too much milk can also fill kids up and cause them to eat less food. Keep your child’s milk consumption to an 8 oz cup with meals.
- …give your kids too much juice, either. Grape juice can prevent absorption of iron just as calcium can. But juice between meals can fill kids up and keep them from eating their meals. If you must give juice, limit it to one-half cup with a meal. Give kids water in between meals.
- … encourage “grazing.” It’s easy for kids to fill up on cookies, crackers, and other snacks. When it’s time for meals, they may not feel hungry enough to enjoy their food.
- … focus too much on “kids’ food.” Fun foods or foods designed for kids may not be the most nutritious. Since small children eat less in general, it’s even more important that the food they eat contains important nutrients.
- …feed your child iron-rich foods. Meat is at the top of the list. Chicken, beef, pork, and fish are all good sources of iron. Next come beans, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, and iron-fortified cereals. Iron from meat is easier to absorb than iron from vegetable sources, so try to serve meat regularly.
- …add meat to vegetable sources of iron. Having meat along with plant food iron (non-heme iron) helps the body absorb the iron from the vegetables.
- …include vitamin C, too. Vitamin C improves absorption of iron. Citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers are all rich in Vitamin C.
- … cook in cast-iron pots and pans for a little extra iron.
Serve iron-rich foods and iron-Vitamin C combinations to your child at least twice a day. Here are some tasty combinations to consider:
- Hummus with bell pepper slices
- Chili with tomatoes, meat, and beans
- Scrambled eggs with a side of berries
- Iron-enriched pasta with meat and tomato sauce
- Spinach salad with boiled egg, tomato, and tuna
- Tacos with meat and tomatoes
- Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with spinach and orange slices
If you are still concerned about your child’s iron intake, talk with your pediatrician. If tests show that your child has iron deficiency even though you follow these Dos and Dont’s, you might discuss a supplement.