35 Iron-Rich Foods for Growing Babies and Toddlers

35 Iron-Rich Foods for Growing Babies and Toddlers

When I started noticing that all of the baby cereals sold in stores had “iron-fortified” written all over them, I started to wonder what was so important about iron. And whether or not my child was getting enough.

And especially since my son was exclusively breastfed (breast milk is low in iron vs iron-fortified formula), I wanted to make sure he was getting some high iron solid foods into his diet as he got older. 

Up until 6 months of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics explains that full-term breastfed babies get enough iron from breastmilk. Most full-term babies also have enough iron stores accumulated during the last trimester in utero to draw from for that first 6 months of life.

After 6 months of age though, iron needs increase. And without enough iron, babies are at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Fortunately, most babies are screened for anemia through blood tests to check for hemoglobin levels indicating low iron at their 9 month pediatric well check appointment.

Iron and Healthy Child Development

As it turns out, iron is an essential nutrient for healthy child development. According to the CDC, sufficient iron intake is important specifically for children’s brain development and hemoglobin production (hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells and delivers oxygen throughout the body). 

How Much Iron Do Babies and Toddlers Need?

The Mayo Clinic states that babies 7-12 months of age need 11 mg of iron daily, and toddlers 1-3 years old need 7 mg of iron daily. And then that number shoots up again as they get older. 

So what are some good sources of iron for young children? And what exactly does 11 or 7 mg of iron look like on a dinner plate or in a snack cup? Let’s find out!

Please note that I am not a nutritionist or medical professional and that I encourage you to speak with your pediatrician regarding your child’s individual nutritional needs. Additionally, some of the foods listed below are common allergens, so please be aware of any food sensitives or allergies your child may have.

35 Iron Rich Foods for Babies and Toddlers

While this is not an exhaustive list of high iron foods, here are some of my kids’ favorites. 

In the tables below this list you can find iron content/serving size as well as meal and snack ideas!

Please note that some of these foods are choking hazards for babies and young children unless cut, cooked/steamed and mashed or pureed as needed.

  • Meat, Fish, Poultry & Eggs
    Ground Beef
    Canned Tuna
    Ground Turkey
    Chicken Breast
  • Vegetables
    Sweet Potatoes
    Green Peas
  • Fruits
    Dried Apricots
    100% Pumpkin Puree
  • Grains
    Iron-Fortified Cereal
    Iron-Fortified Bread
    Iron-Enriched Pancake and Waffle Mixes
    Chia Seeds
  • Legumes
    Red Beans
    Navy Beans
    Black Beans
    Garbanzo Beans
  • Nuts
    Cashew Butter
    Almond Butter
    Peanut Butter
  • Packaged Snacks
    Granola Bars

Iron Rich Meat, Fish, Poultry & Eggs

Meats and seafoods are among the best sources of iron, because animal products have “heme iron”. This is compared to “non-heme iron”, which is the form of iron found in plant based foods. So unlike iron from plants (“nonheme iron”), heme iron is more readily absorbed by the body (CDC)

Iron Rich Animal ProductsServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Egg1 egg.9 mg ironNutrition Value
Cooked Ground Beef1 oz.7 mg ironNutrition Value
Light Canned Tuna in Water (drained)1 oz.5 mg ironNutrition Value
Ground Turkey (93% lean, 7% fat)1 oz.3 mg ironNutrition Value
Wild Atlantic Salmon1 oz.3 mg ironNutrition Value
Farmed Atlantic Salmon1 oz.1 mg ironNutrition Value
Cooked Chicken Breast (boneless, skinless)1 oz.1 mg ironNutrition Value
1 oz serving of fish in a small dish
1 oz of wild atlantic salmon (.3 mg iron)
While Everyday Health states that red meat, organ meats and seafoods like lamb, liver, and clams are particularly good sources of iron, we aren’t exactly eating plate fulls of liver and clams in our house.
So to get some iron from animal sources in for my kids, we opt for thinly sliced pieces of chicken (dipped in ketchup of course), salmon, ground beef, and ground turkey in soup or pasta sauce. He also loves canned tuna spread on top of wheat thins with some cream cheese.
Like meats, eggs are also a good source of heme iron and readily absorbed by the body. Plus, they’re easy to prepare as a scramble, omelet or hard boiled for little ones. 

Babies and toddlers can also easily get some egg into their diet through egg containing recipes like these Banana Veggie Pancakes.

Veggies with Iron

Iron Rich VegetablesServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Spinach1/4 cup cooked spinach1.6 mg ironEat This Much
Sweet Potatoes1/4 cup mashed sweet potato.85 mg ironMy Food Data
Peas1/4 cup frozen peas.5 mg ironNutrition Value
Kale1/4 cup cooked kale.3 mg ironEat This Much
Broccoli1/4 cup cooked & chopped.25 mg ironMy Food Data
small bowl of 1/4 cup serving size of broccoli
1/4 cup cooked chopped broccoli (.25 mg iron)
handful of 1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup frozen green peas (.5 mg iron)

As mentioned, iron found in meats is known as “heme iron” and is readily absorbed by the body. Iron found in veggies is “non heme iron” and is not quite as easily absorbed. In good news though, to help with iron absorption of plant-based iron, you can pair those veggies with foods high in vitamin C. The vitamin C helps the body absorb the non-heme iron.

The American Academy of Pediatrics lists the following fruits and vegetables as vitamin c-rich foods; pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe, raspberries, kiwis, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, cauliflower, potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, leafy green vegetables, and vitamin c fortified juices. 

While my toddler would never pick up plain kale or spinach, he will eat them when they are finely chopped or blended into other foods. For example, my toddler will eat finely chopped kale in pasta or quesadillas. And he loves smoothies, so that’s another easy way to incorporate dark leafy greens into his diet.

Other veggies like broccoli, peas and sweet potatoes are easy to steam and puree, mash, or slice into wedges. It took my son a long time to eat plain steamed brocolli florets, but he would eat them when dipped or mashed in with applesauce. 

Engaging in some play with food can also be helpful for picky eaters. For example, my 2 year old loves to eat peas when he pretends they are balls that “boing” into his mouth. When my toddler was younger, we just made sure to squish the peas before serving to prevent choking.  

Iron Rich Fruits

Iron Rich FruitsServing SizeIron ContentInformational Source
Dried Apricots (unsweetened)1/4 cup dried1 mg ironNutrition Value
Figs1/4 cup dried.75 mg ironNutrition Value
Raisins3 tablespoons.56 mg ironNutrition Value
Dates1/4 cup dried.4 mg ironNutrition Value
Prunes1/4 cup dried.375 mg ironNutrition Value
100% Pumpkin Puree (canned, Good & Gather brand)1/4 cup1 mg ironNutrition Value
handful of 3 tablespoons of raisins3 tablespoons of raisins (.56 mg iron)

Aside from being a good source of iron, dried fruits like apricots, figs, raisins, dates and prunes are a sweet and tasty treat for toddlers. My toddler loves chopped up dried apricots, figs, raisins, dates and prunes mixed into finely chopped salads, oatmeal, cheerios, puffs or just plain on their own.

Please note that foods like raisins are choking hazards for babies and young toddlers, so prepare such foods accordingly by chopping into small pieces. 

High Iron Grains

Iron Rich GrainsServing SizeIron (mg)
Happy Baby Organics Oats & Quinoa Iron-Fortified Cereal3 tablespoons5 mg iron
Natural Grocers Whole Wheat Bread1 slice.5 mg iron
Quaker Rolled Oats1/4 cup.75 mg iron
O Organics Quick Cook Quinoa1/4 cup dry1 mg iron
Chosen Foods Organic Chia Seeds2 teaspoons.73 mg iron

small bowl of 1/4 cup serving size of dried oats cooked1/4 dried oats cooked (.6 mg iron)

box of kodiak flapjack & pancake mix and waffle
1/2 cup Kodiak mix makes 1 waffle (1.7 mg iron)
4 small banana chia seed pudding cups
Banana chia seed pudding cups (1 cup has 2 teaspoons of chia seeds = .73 mg iron)
bag of happy tot organic oats & quinoa baby cereal
3 tablespoons of Happy Baby oat & quinoa baby cereal has 5 mg iron

Grain based iron fortified foods are usually one of the easiest ways to get a boost of iron into kids. My son loves PB&J sandwiches, waffles, pancakes, quick cook quinoa mixed with applesauce, and cream of wheat. 

We also regularly make the following easy grain based iron rich recipes;

Now that my toddler is eating bigger portion sizes and a wider variety of iron-containing foods, he is mostly able to meet his daily iron needs without iron-fortified cereals.

And as a side note, as important as it is that kids are getting enough iron, it’s equally important that they’re not getting too much as explained by Healthline. This could happen if a child were taking an iron supplement as well as eating a lot of iron-fortified foods.

A Note on Iron-Fortified Infant Cereal Made from Rice
I avoid iron fortified rice cereal, because rice can contain high levels of arsenic. Jessica Huhn from Ready.Set.Food explains that this is because rice absorbs a lot of arsenic from pesticides and fertilizers. And Consumer Reports states that arsenic is a Group 1 carcinogen and can have harmful effects on developing brains.

Iron Rich Legumes

Iron Rich LegumesServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Lentil Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup1.3 mg ironWestbrae Organic Lentil Beans No Salt Added
Red Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup1.1 mg ironWestbrae Organic Red Beans No Salt Added
Navy Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup1.05 mg ironEden Organic Navy Beans No Salt Added
Tofu (firm)1/5 block (79 grams)1 mg ironO Organics Firm Tofu
Black Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup.95 mg ironEden Organic Black Beans No Salt Added
Garbanzo Beans (canned, no salt added)1/4 cup.7 mg ironEden Organic Garbanzo Beans No Salt Added
small bowl of 1/5 block of tofu serving size
1/5 block of tofu (1 mg iron)

Tofu is an easy iron rich food to offer and comes in different textures ranging from silken tofu to extra firm tofu. You don’t have to cook it and you can simply mash it or slice it into thin strips for babies who have started on solids, or chop it into cubes for older kids. My toddler loves cubes of soft tofu with some jam spread on top. Tofu can also be blended up with smoothies!

Beans are a harder sell than tofu in my house, but I have had some success blending them up with yogurt and cheese and heating it all up to serve as a dip or quesadilla fixing. 

Creamy Nut Butters with Iron

Iron Rich Nut ButtersServing SizeIron (mg)Informational Source
Cashew Butter (unsalted)1 tablespoon.9 mg ironNutrition Value
Almond Butter1 tablespoon.6 mg ironNutrition Value
Peanut Butter (unsalted, creamy)1 tablespoons.55 mg ironNutrition Value
1 tablespoon of peanut butter on a knife
1 Tablespoon of Creamy Unsalted Peanut Butter

Creamy nut butters are easy to spread onto toast or crackers for a little nutritional boost. And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are of course a favorite with my 2 year old. Not to mention easy to pack for a picnic lunch or snack on the go. 

And I always buy the creamy variety of nut butters, as the crunchy kinds pose more of a choking hazard risk. Spreading nut butters relatively thin onto food items also helps prevent any choking hazard risks.  

Iron Rich Snacks

Packaged SnacksServing SizeIron (mg)
Happy Baby Organic Kale & Spinach Puffs1/4 cup.45 mg iron
Cheerios1/4 cup2.1 mg iron
Happy Tot Organic Apples & Spinach Soft-Baked Oat Bars1 bar1 mg iron
happy tot fiber & protein bar
Happy Tot organic apples & spinach bar with 1 mg of iron
kale and spinach puff in a toddler bowl
1/2 cup of Happy Baby kale & spinach puffs (.9 mg of iron)
toddler bowl of cheerios and chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup of cheerios with dry chopped cranberries (4.2 mg iron)

Granola bars and puffs with ingredients like kale and spinach are easy on the go snacks with iron to have on hand. My son also loves to have a snack cup with cheerios and chopped up dried fruit.

Dried fruits like apricots, figs, and raisins are especially high in iron. Dried cranberries are a hit too, and these have an added benefit of being high in vitamin C. And vitamin C helps the body absorb non animal product forms of iron.

Good Sources of Iron for Babies & Toddlers at Mealtimes

Breakfast Foods High in Iron

There are so many great breakfast foods high in iron. Here are some ideas to get started;

  • Banana Veggie Pancakes made with iron fortified cereal
  • Pumpkin Yogurt Parfait
  • Scrambled eggs with toast and fruit
  • Pancakes or a waffle made from Kodiak Cakes buttermilk mix with a side of fruit
  • Oatmeal with raisins
  • French toast with whole wheat bread and fruit
  • Smoothie with banana, berries, a splash of orange juice, tofu, yogurt & spinach or kale

iron rich breakfast plate for toddlers with scrambled egg and oatmeal with raisins

Lunch Foods High in Iron

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread with side of peas and fruit
  • Tuna fish sandwich on whole wheat bread with side of sweet potato and fruit
  • Turkey or chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread with side of fruit and sweet potato
  • Cheese and bean quesadilla with bean dip, fruit and avocado on the side
  • Wheat thins with cream cheese and canned tuna spread on top

iron rich toddler lunch plate with cheese and bean quesadilla, bean dip, raspberries and avocado

Dinner Foods High in Iron

For a high iron dinner, my tot loves the following;
  • Pasta with ground turkey or chicken and minced cooked kale mixed in
  • Cheese quesadilla with bean dip and a side of high vitamin C fruit
  • Salmon or chicken with rice and broccoli
  • Quinoa bowl with finely diced chicken/tofu/fish, sweet potato/broccoli/peas, raisins and a little applesauce to sweeten it!

iron rich toddler dinner plate with salmon, rice with broccoli and chopped blueberries

Iron Rich Snack Ideas for Toddlers

  • Cheerios or Happy Baby Organic Kale & Spinach Puffs with chopped dried fruit mixed in (cranberries, apricots, figs, dates, or prunes)
  • Banana Chia Seed Pudding
  • Simple Homemade Granola Bars
  • Happy Tot Organic Apple & Spinach Soft-Baked Bar
  • Bean dip with tortilla chips
  • Diced steamed sweet potatoes with cinnamon
  • Peanut butter or almond butter spread on crackers or toast
  • Smoothies with tofu and leafy greens added in

I hope these food tables and ideas for iron rich meals and snacks for toddlers are helpful! What iron rich foods does your toddler like? Say hi in a comment below and let me know!


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