Toddler foods that are high in iron?

A friend of mine has an eleven month old. He is breastfed and doesn't have much interest in solid foods beyond social eating. He is gloriously healthy, growing normally and his iron level is just over 10, which I understand to be normal. His pediatrician has prescribed iron drops, 1 dropperful twice a day, and he HATES it. His mom tried one drop on her tongue and said it was absolutely nauseating. What high-iron foods might be good for a toddler?


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

It's great that your friend's baby is so wonderfully healthy! And you're right, his iron (hemoglobin) level of 10 is within the normal range. Normal levels for children between the ages of six months and nine years range from between 10.5 and 14 gm/dl, with the average being 12. (Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, Behrman, Kliegman and Arvin, 1996).

Toddlers require approximately 10 mg. or iron each day. Since this little guy is still nursing, he is getting a very absorbable form of iron as the base of his daily diet.

Iron levels in mothers' milk are reported to be in the range of .3 mg. to .9 mg. per liter of milk consumed (Picciano and Guthrie, 1976; Siimes et al., 1979). Though mothers' milk does not contain large amounts of iron, approximately 50 percent of its iron is absorbed, compared to only a 7 percent absorption from formula, and a 4 percent absorption from infant cereals (Dallman 1986).

Animal foods, like red meat, fish and poultry, are also excellent sources of iron because they are most easily absorbed by the body. Iron from other sources will not be as easily absorbed. The body retains only about five percent of the iron from non-animal sources.

Here are some tips that can help up a toddler's iron intake:

  • Try flavor-enhancing the iron enriched infant cereals you are offering. If he enjoys eating pears, begin adding a teaspoon of cereal into his pears. If he enjoys this, try gradually increasing the amount you mix in. Try any fruit or veggie that has already been introduced into his diet -- and of course, one he already enjoys!
  • If baby cereal just doesn't interest your little one, try an adult cereal (hot or dry) that is iron fortified. Though the iron is not as well utilized, it nevertheless can be an excellent dietary source. Choose a cereal that contains only foods that have been safely introduced into your toddler's diet. Stay away from cereals with nuts, seeds or hard pieces of dried fruit.
  • Many toddlers enjoy the taste of red meat. Since this iron is readily assimilated, you might want to try serving small soft meatballs made with finely ground beef and iron-fortified cereal.
  • Use iron skillets for cooking. Foods, especially those with a tomato base will pick up some iron from the skillet.
  • To improve iron absorption, choose a vitamin C-rich food, such as orange juice to eat along with iron-rich foods. (Make sure these foods have already been safely introduced into baby's diet.)
  • Serve an animal source of iron along with a non-animal source together in the same meal. (For example, serve chili, which contains both beef and beans -- and may contain vitamin C rich peppers and tomatoes.) This type of combination will significantly increase the absorption from the non-animal source.

Next Page: Learn the best sources of iron

Best Sources of Iron:

Beef or chicken liver
1 oz.
2 slices
2 slices
1 chop
2 slices
2.5 mg
3.6 mg.
3 mg.
1.8 mg.
0.9 mg.
.8 mg.

Other Sources:

Whole grain bread
White bread
Peanut butter
Baked beans
Lentils/soy beans/red kidney beans
Green peas
Baked potato with skin
Sesame seed paste (tahini)
Dried apricots
Blackstrap molasses
Prune juice
Cream of Wheat cereal
2 slices
2 slices
2 tablespoons
1/2 cup
2/3 cup
1 cup
1/2 cup
1/2 cup
2/3 cup
1/2 cup
1 tablespoon
10 halves
1 tablespoon
1/3 cup
3 oz.
1.4 mg.
0.6 mg.
1.0 mg.
2.0 mg.
5.0 mg.
2.5 mg.
2.2 mg.
2.2 mg.
1.0 mg.
1.2 mg.
2.75 mg.
2.1 mg.
2.2 mg.
3.2 mg.
3. 5 mg.

Hope these tips will be of help.

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