How to Increase Iron in Toddlers

Toddlers have higher iron needs than older children and adults because of their rapid growth, but ensuring that your child gets enough iron isn't difficult. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, a child between the ages of 1 and 3 needs 7 milligrams of iron per day, and at age 4, his iron needs increase to 10 milligrams a day. Plenty of toddler-friendly foods are high in iron, and you can also incorporate a few tricks to ensure that your toddler's body uses all of the available iron in the foods he eats.

High-Iron Foods

Serve your toddler a wide variety of foods and beverages that are naturally high in iron. The iron in meat, called heme iron, is more easily absorbed by the body than the nonheme iron found in plants. Beef, the dark meat of chicken and turkey, tuna and chicken liver are all excellent sources of heme iron that can be incorporated into a toddler's diet. Nonheme iron sources include:

  • spinach
  • lentils
  • oatmeal
  • beans
  • tofu
  • raisins

Iron-fortified cereals can be an important source of iron for toddlers but avoid cereals that are high in sugar. Prune juice is one of the best iron-boosting drinks and can be served as an alternative to other juices or milk once or twice a day.

Boost Iron Availability

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When your toddler eats nonheme iron from plant sources, you can increase his ability to digest that iron by serving other foods simultaneously. Foods with vitamin C boost nonheme iron absorption. You can offer a cup of orange juice with a vegetarian high-iron meal or snack or serve vitamin C-rich foods such as bell pepper, strawberries or broccoli alongside the high-iron ingredients. Pairing high-iron vegetables with a small amount of meat or fish can also boost the total iron availability in the meal. Cooking meals in iron cookware can also increase the total iron content of the meal, especially when the food you are preparing is acidic. Tomato-based spaghetti sauce or soups especially benefit from preparation in an iron pot or pan.

Control Milk Intake

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, milk intake of more than 24 ounces per day in a child between ages 1 and 5 can increase the risk of an iron deficiency. Limit cow's milk, goat's milk and soy milk to less than 24 ounces a day to lower your child's risk. Avoid serving milk with a meal that is high in iron because milk can make it harder for the body to absorb the iron.

Supplemental Iron

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If dietary methods do not raise your toddler's iron levels sufficiently, talk to his pediatrician about giving him an iron supplement or a multivitamin with iron. Because high doses of iron can be deadly to a small child, keep any supplemental iron out of your toddler's reach and only give him the specific amount recommended by a doctor.