Getting a Toddler to Eat Foods With Iron

By Lori A. Selke
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Iron is an essential nutrient for both children and adults, helping blood to carry oxygen to all the tissues of your toddler's growing body. Toddlers in particular are vulnerable to iron deficiency -- in the United States, up to 15 percent of children ages one to three may be deficient -- and one of the best ways to counter that is to make sure your child eats a variety of foods rich in iron. Of course, many toddlers are also just entering their picky-eating phase, so sometimes that's easier said than done.

How Much Iron Toddlers Need

Toddlers -- children between 1 year old and 4 years old -- need 7 milligrams of iron a day according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to KidsHealth, toddlers are at risk for iron deficiency in part because they may have switched away from breast milk or iron-fortified formula to cow's milk and they may also be eating less baby cereals, which are also iron-fortified. Symptoms of iron deficiency in toddlers include pale skin, fatigue, rapid heartbeat and irritability. Your pediatrician can perform a quick blood test to determine the iron levels in your child's blood and whether they are of concern.

Kid-Friendly Iron-Rich Foods

Whether or not your toddler is currently suffering from an iron deficiency, it's a good idea to incorporate a variety of iron-rich foods into her diet. You may think first of red meat, but even if your toddler dislikes beef and lamb in any form there are still plenty of kid-friendly sources of iron to try. Most commercial breakfast cereals are enriched with iron, as are many breads. Dried fruit is rich in iron -- make sure that it's chopped into pieces no larger than a pea to avoid choking hazards, however. Beans and lentils, spinach and other dark leafy greens, tofu, eggs, tuna and salmon are all high in iron as well.

Serving Suggestions

Many toddlers love eggs in one form or another -- try them scrambled, hard-boiled and sliced or in an omelet. Stuff that omelet with spinach for an extra iron boost. If your child enjoys smooth textures, try refried beans, served with tortilla chips or stuffed inside a quesadilla. Cooked greens can be added to a quesadilla as well for an extra-nutritious meal. Mashed tofu is mild and surprisingly kid-friendly and can be flavored with soy sauce or other condiments as your child prefers. Beans make a great finger food choice, so feel free to serve them whole. If your child loves noodles, serve a pasta sauce laced with tomatoes and spinach.

More Tips on Avoiding Iron Deficiency

Try not to let your child drink more than three 8-ounce servings of cow's milk a day -- too much milk fills your toddler up and discourages him from eating more iron-rich foods. It's also a good idea to encourage your toddler to eat foods rich in vitamin C, as it assists in iron absorption. Oranges and other citrus fruit, tomatoes, pineapple, kiwi and bell peppers are all good sources of vitamin C.

About the Author

Lori A. Selke has been a professional writer and editor for more than 15 years, touching on topics ranging from LGBT issues to sexuality and sexual health, parenting, alternative health, travel, and food and cooking. Her work has appeared in Curve Magazine, Girlfriends, Libido, The Children's Advocate,, The SF Weekly, and