The Best Sources of Iron for Toddlers

Published by Mama Knows Nutrition on

Sources of Iron for Toddlers

Want to know the best sources of iron for toddlers, to prevent iron deficiency and keep your child healthy? I thought you might!

Iron is essential for growth and development — something your toddler is doing an awful lot of! And, it’s especially important for babies & toddlers who were born preterm or had a low birth weight, because they may have less iron stored up in their body than full-term babies.

Meat, fish, and poultry have the most iron in them, but here’s the thing: The BEST sources of iron for toddlers are the ones they’ll actually eat and enjoy. So, if your toddler isn’t particularly into iron-rich foods like meat, rest easy. There are plenty of vegetarian sources, as well! Your little one will just need to eat more of them because our bodies don’t use vegetarian iron sources as efficiently as they do meat sources.

Iron-Rich Weeknight Dinner Ideas for Toddlers

Want to skip right to making easy-to-implement, iron-rich meals? My Dinnertime Survival Guide features 6 weeks’ worth of easy, healthy weeknight meals– which include plenty of iron-rich foods– to make sure they get what they need. Best part? It’s under $15!

Download The Dinnertime Survival Guide!

Sources of Iron for Toddlers

Toddlers ages 1-3 need 7 mg iron per day. If they don’t eat meat, they’ll need more than that. Fortified cereals can be a great way to make sure they get what they need. 

That said, don’t get overly caught up in counting each day. Instead, take a look at this list of high iron foods and see if there are any that your toddler eats regularly. 

Ways To Get 1 mg Iron:

  • 1 serving of chicken nuggets
  • 3 oz chicken 
  • 1.5 oz beef
  • 1 meat-based pouch like Serenity Kids (Get 15% off here)
  • 1 tbsp cooked spinach
  • ¼ cup chickpeas
  • ½ cup peas
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ½ of a medium potato (skin and flesh)
  • 9 cashews (make sure to chop for toddlers to remove the choking hazards)
  • ½ cup white rice, enriched
  • ¼ cup cheerios

Little one not into meat? No problem! Check out these sources of iron for picky or vegetarian toddlers:

Vegetarian Sources of Iron for Toddlers

  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Parsley
  • Turmeric
  • Asparagus
  • Leeks
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Soy/tofu
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Hummus
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Olives
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Green Beans
  • Fortified cereals (Cheerios, oatmeal, etc.)
Vegetarian Sources of Iron for Toddlers

Increase Iron Absorption for Toddlers with Vitamin C

One of the best ways to increase the amount of iron your toddler’s body gets from iron-containing foods is to pair them with foods rich in vitamin C, because vitamin C increases the amount of iron our bodies absorb.

Here are some toddler-friendly foods that are high in vitamin C:

  • Broccoli
  • Bell pepper
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Raspberries
  • Sweet potato
  • Lemon
  • Lime

Serve Toddler-Friendly, Iron-Rich Foods

I’m not sure about you, but when I look at that list of vegetarian foods high in iron, I only see, like, five foods that my toddler would willingly eat… so I assume you might be thinking the same thing. I’m like, “Swiss chard? Parsley? TURMERIC?! No, no, and no. My toddler is not going to eat that!”

If you have a picky eater, I definitely recommend grabbing my free picky eater starter guide! But in the meantime, what are we gonna do about iron?

We’re going to boost their intake with iron-rich foods that toddlers will actually eat!

#1 Smoothies

One of my favorite ways to boost toddlers’ nutrition is with smoothies. I haven’t met many kids who turn down a smoothie, and you’d be surprised by the amount of nutrients you can cram in there. 

Iron-rich smoothie add-ins: 

  • Spinach
  • Silken tofu
  • Unsalted chickpeas
  • Unsalted beans
  • Pumpkin seeds

#2 Mashed Beans or Chickpeas

These can be added into a lot of things that your toddler already eats, like:

  • Quesadillas
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Soup or fruit/veggie purees (just puree and mix in)
  • Brownies. Try the recipe for 2-bite brownies in No Sugar, Still Sweet!

Consider Reducing Milk Intake

Too much milk is often a reason that toddlers aren’t getting enough iron. 

Milk has a small effect on the way our bodies absorb iron from other foods. So if, for example, your toddler eats iron-fortified cereal in milk, the milk will technically reduce the amount of iron absorbed from the cereal. But again, the effect is small, and studies show that it’s not significant enough to impact overall iron status. 

The REAL problem with milk for toddlers when it comes to iron and other nutrients, is that if toddlers are drinking a lot of it (more than 16-20oz daily), they are going to be less hungry. Then, they’ll eat less solid foods, and they’ll likely miss out on chances to eat enough iron-rich foods.

Cast Iron Pan

Other Ways To Boost Iron Intake

For picky eaters or kids with small appetites, you can boost their iron intake in a couple ways:

#1 Cook with a cast-iron pan. Teeeeny tiny iron particles will get absorbed into the food when you do. I know this sounds weird, but it’s perfectly safe.

#2 Use a Lucky Iron Fish when cooking soups, stews, or sauces. This works in a similar way to cooking with a cast iron skillet: releasing small traces of iron into the food as you cook, and boosting the iron content.

#2 Give multivitamins with iron. You don’t HAVE to use supplements, but if you want to, this linked option is a good one. Just check with the pediatrician before choosing to use a multivitamin that contains iron, because it may or may not be the right thing for your little one. Also, too much iron can be constipating, so keep that in mind.

A Note on Treating Iron Deficiency

If your pediatrician recommends a specific iron supplement to treat iron deficiency, I definitely recommend following their instructions on that. Typically, an iron supplement is the BEST way to reverse a documented iron deficiency. It’s very unlikely that you can successfully treat iron deficiency anemia with diet alone.


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