Meeting Your Child’s Nutrition Needs: Iron

When we think about vitamin and mineral needs, iron is a mineral that may come to mind. It’s a important component of hemoglobin, which is a component of red blood cells that transport oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body. It is also one of the most common mineral deficiencies, especially in children.

I work with many clients who want to know about about adequate iron intake in their infant and young toddler's diet.  The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), or average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals, is 11 mg iron for babies 6-12 months of age, and 7 mg of iron for children 1-3 years of age.  There are two forms of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is the iron that is typically found in meat and non-heme is the iron commonly found in plant sources. It’s important to note that typically, heme iron is absorbed better by our bodies than non-heme iron. BUT, if you don’t eat meat or have a child that is not the biggest meat fan, there are many ways to meet your child’s iron needs.

Here are three of my favorite iron rich food sources that I feel are not given enough credit, along with some great toddler approved recipes. And read to the end - I also include a list of iron rich foods.



Half a cup of lentils contains 3.3 mg of iron. Lentils are easy to make (here is an easy way to make them on the stove) and a big batch can be prepared and last for a few days. Add lentils to pasta sauce, or mash into a dip with garbanzo beans (lentil hummus anyone?) or sprinkle cooked lentils on a grilled cheese sandwich. The possibilities are endless and the health benefits are huge!


Blackstrap Molasses

The nutritional king of molasses. Blackstrap molasses has 3.5 mg iron in one tablespoon. And not only is blackstrap molasses high in iron, it is a great source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, selenium AND low in sugar. Blackstrap molasses can be added to oatmeal, french toast batter, and topped on pancakes or waffles. It can also be added to a multitude of baked goods. Two of my favorite recipes that can be nutritionally boosted with blackstrap molasses are these baked oatmeal bars (add a few tablespoons into the wet ingredients) and this chocolate zucchini bread.


Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Who would have thought cocoa powder would be a source of iron? Two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder contain 1.4 mg of iron. Try this powder in some great baked toddler approved recipes, including the chocolate zucchini bread listed above, or adding a few tablespoons into this zucchini banana oat bread. I have also made black bean brownies using this powder (recipe coming soon!).

There are many more sources of iron that I love to include in my family's meals like:

  • Red meat and dark poultry

  • Fish sources like tuna and salmon

  • Eggs

  • Tofu

  • Beans

  • Dried fruits

  • Grains (like quinoa, barley, teff, amaranth, oat bran, wheat bran

  • Dried fruits

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals

And BONUS: if you consume a food rich in vitamin C with an iron rich food, your body will absorb more iron.

Stay turned for future blog posts which highlight some of these foods.  Do you have a favorite iron rich recipe? Let me know in the comments below, or contact me with questions.