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Iron. Kids need it. And more of it than you might think.

Two things I'm fixated on when it comes to kids food - but which often fly under the radar - are iron (many kids aren't getting enough) and sodium (many kids are getting too much). Sodium I will leave for another day.

The below is an edited and summarized version of the bits of this page that I found the most useful, 'cos why reinvent the wheel, right?  


Why do we need iron?

When you don’t have enough iron, red blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen to your body’s organs and muscles. This is called anemia. 

Why do kids especially need iron?

Babies and children need iron for their brains to develop normally.

When babies don’t get enough iron, they may show signs of slow weight gain, pale skin, no appetite, irritability and may be less physically active and may develop more slowly.

In children, iron deficiency can lead to problems concentrating, a shorter attention span, and poor academic performance. Low iron levels can also make kids feel tired and weak.

How much iron do they need? 

Babies are born with a reserve of iron, which comes from their mother’s blood while they are in the womb.
For the first 6 months of life, breastfed babies will get what they need from their mother’s milk. After this babies need additional sources of iron i.e. from solids or store-bought iron-fortified infant formula.
The amount of iron required depends on age. 
Age Amount of iron per day 
0 to 12 months 11 mg
1 to 3 years 7 mg
4 to 8 years 10 mg
9 to 13 years 8 mg
14 to 18 years 11 mg (for boys)
15 mg (for girls)

Source: Health Canada, Dietary Reference Intakes

Which foods are good sources of iron?

There are two different types of iron:

  • Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body. It is found in meats.
  • Non-heme iron comes from plant sources like legumes, vegetables and cereals.

 Foods that are rich in iron include: 

  • Meats: Beef, lamb, pork, veal, liver, chicken, turkey.
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Grains and cereals: Iron-fortified cereals, whole grain breads, enriched bread, pasta and rice.
  • Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, dried peas and beans.
  • Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green peas, beans.

To help the body absorb even more iron, combine these foods with good sources of vitamin C, such as oranges, tomatoes and red peppers.

Did you know? 

Even though cow's milk has about as much iron as human milk, it isn’t absorbed well by the body. And in fact, drinking too much cow’s milk can lead to iron deficiency. It is recommended that babies 12 months or older should drink 500 mL (17 oz) to 750 mL (25oz) of milk each day. 

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