It is important to provide our children with the nutrients they need to grow and learn. One of the most important nutrients required is Iron.
Why do we need iron? Iron is an important mineral found in the blood. It is responsible for transporting the air we breathe in (i.e., oxygen) around the body. This is needed for your body to function. Without it we often feel tired and lethargic and children will have trouble getting motivated and possibly concentrating at school. It can often present as being out of breath, pale in colour and an ongoing poor appetite on top of tiredness. Children should be introduced to iron rich foods when they begin eating solids at around 6 months of age.
Recommended daily iron requirements
Boys and Girls 1–3 yrs.: 9 mg/day
Boys and Girls 4–8 yrs: 10 mg/day
Boys and Girls 9–13 yrs: 8 mg/day
Boys 14–18 mg/day yrs: 11 Girls 14–18 yrs 15 mg/day
Children at risk of low iron stores include:
• Infants with late introduction of solids (i.e.: > 6 months).
• Children who drink large volumes of milk may not be hungry to eat foods (including iron rich foods).
• Picky/fussy eaters who have limited range of food in their diet.
• Children born premature.
• Children who are vegetarian/vegan/restrictive diets.
The two types of iron found in your diet Haem iron which is found in animal foods and is well absorbed by the body and Non–haem iron which is found in plant foods and is not as well absorbed.
• Meats such as beef, lamb, or pork
• Poultry such as chicken or turkey
• Fish and shellfish such as sardines, salmon, or tuna
• Offal such as liver and kidney
• Wholegrain breads and cereals
• Iron fortified breakfast cereals
• Legumes including baked beans, dried peas, beans, and lentils
• Green leafy vegetables
• Dried fruit
• Peanut butter
• Nuts (whole nuts are not recommended for children under 3 years
How to improve iron absorption
1. Eat Vitamin C rich foods to help iron absorption. Choose Vitamin C rich foods such as:
• Citrus fruits (e.g., orange, lemon, mandarins)
• Tropical fruits (e.g., pineapple, kiwifruit, papaya)
• Berries (e.g., strawberries, raspberries)
• Vegetables (e.g., capsicum, tomatoes, cabbage, celery, broccoli)
2. Avoid giving your child too much milk as it contains very little iron. Milk contains calcium which lowers the amount of iron to be absorbed. Children also fill up on milk and may not eat adequate meals.
Here are a few ideas to boost your child’s iron intake
• Choose a breakfast cereal with added iron e.g., Iron fortified infant cereal, Weetbix. Add some fruit high in vitamin C to help iron absorption.
• Spread peanut butter or hummus on toast or crackers.
• Thicken homemade soups with dried peas, beans, or lentils.
• Use wholegrain bread rather than white bread.
• Try some dried fruit or nuts at snack time (whole nuts are not recommended for children under 3 years) **
• Serve baked beans, ham, tuna, BBQ chicken on wholemeal/wholegrain toast or as a toasted sandwich (can be sent cold to school).
• Serve vegetables high in Vitamin C at mealtimes (e.g., capsicum, tomato, cabbage, celery, broccoli) alongside meat
** Risk of choking for children < 3 years
Your child may need iron supplements if their iron stores are too low. Take these as per medical advice and continue with providing iron rich foods. Iron from supplements can be harmful in large doses so ensure to talk to your doctor if you think your child may have low iron levels before supplementing.
Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition)
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