It is estimated that 9% of toddlers ages 1-2 years and 9-11% of adolescent girls in the U.S. are iron deficient. (1) In a previous post, we discussed the two types of iron and where to find heme iron in foods. Today we're discussing the other type of iron, non-heme, and where to find it in our food supply.
NON-HEME IRON FOOD SOURCES
For many parents, trying to get their infants and toddlers to eat meat is difficult. While non-heme iron is not absorbed as easily, it is still essential to add to the diet in order to increase those iron stores. There are things that you can do to help non-heme iron be better absorbed in the body, so check out our post about that here.
We've listed below six good sources of non-heme iron in food to allow you to help your infant and toddler have options to incorporate more iron into their diet. With the foods we also linked to some easy recipes that little hands may love!
Eggs are a great source of iron and also protein and fat. They are easy for little ones to gum or eat as they’re soft. And new allergy recommendations encourage parents to introduce high allergen foods to babies early to decrease risk of severe food allergy later.
Here’s a great muffin tin egg recipe, perfect for little hands.
BEANS (AND HUMMUS)
Chickpeas (4.74 mg per cup) and Kidney beans (3.25 mg per cup) are among the highest amounts of iron in beans. Not only are they full of iron but they are a great way to help develop that pincher grasp!
Fun soft roasted chickpea
**note: if you’re child is less than 12 months, do not feed honey. Use the maple syrup option for sweetener.
Kidney bean and veggie burger
You can also easily serve chickpeas in the form of hummus. Hummus can be spread on bread, tortillas, or soft pita bread. It could also be served with a spoon for littles to feed themselves or offered on the side as a dip.
At 1.3 mg for ¼ block of firm tofu, it’s a great addition to a diet. Either cube and sauté or roast in the oven to add additional iron. It would also be easy to dice and add to a scrambled egg dish.
Ready-to-eat cereals are usually always fortified with iron (along with other vitamins and nutrients). These are easy options to increase iron in your infant and toddler’s diet. Look for low-sugar options, like plain Cheerios and Kix.
Apricots and raisins two examples of dried fruit that contain iron, with apricots having 3.5 mg for one cup! Dried fruit could be added to fortified cereals for a fun, easy iron-rich trail mix.
Spinach contains so many wonderful nutrients and iron is one of them- with 3.6 mg for 100 g (about 1/3 cup). These amazing leaves are great for our bodies, but little ones can have trouble eating the whole leaf or may just flat out refuse. Mixing spinach into sauces or shakes is an alternative way to incorporate into the diet. Spinach is also better absorbed when it is cooked, so adding it to a sauce to cook may be an easy way to get little ones to consume it. Check out our recipes for some hidden spinach in sauces and shakes:
Healthy Greens Shake
Creamy Butternut Squash (and Spinach) Tortellini
Spaghetti Sauce (with Spinach)
Remember that plant sources of iron are better absorbed by pairing with certain foods (spoiler: limiting calcium and adding Vitamin C). Read about that here.
For quick meal ideas that include iron and vitamin C rich foods, check out our guide here!
1. Prevalence of iron deficiency in the United States. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9091669