Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Iron: Helping Your Child Get Enough
Iron in red blood cells carries oxygen to all parts of the
body. When children don't get enough iron, they may look
pale, act cranky, and not have much energy. Iron-deficiency
anemia is the most common nutritional problem children have.
See Iron Deficiency Anemia
You can, however, prevent anemia without much trouble by
following these guidelines:
- Breast-feed your baby or give iron-fortified formula.
- Start giving your baby iron-fortified infant cereal by
the age of 6 months.
- Teach your child to eat solid foods so he doesn't just
See Solid (Strained) Foods
- Take some moderate care in planning your child's menu.
- Serve nutritious food at snack time. Snacks shouldn't
be just treats that provide calories with few other
See Snacks for Children
IRON CONTENT OF FOODS
Children need 6 to 10 milligrams (mg) of iron per day.
Except for milk, the foods listed in this chart offer
significant amounts of iron.
Food Amount Iron (mg)
Meat and other protein:
Beef, pork, lamb 3 ounces 2 to 3
Poultry 3 ounces 1.5
Beef or chicken liver 3 ounces 8.5
Calf liver 3 ounces 14
Pork liver 3 ounces 25
Clams 3 ounces 5
Oysters 3 ounces 13
Other fish, shellfish 3 ounces 1 to 1.5
Nuts 2 Tbsp 1
Seeds (sunflower, squash,
pumpkin) 2 Tbsp 2
Breads and cereals:
Enriched or whole-grain
bread 1 slice 0.7
Noodles, spaghetti, etc. 1/2 cup 0.7
Cooked or dry cereals 1/2 to 3/4 cup 0.7
Vitamin- and iron- Iron content varies;
supplemented cereals read package
Fruits and vegetables:
Green, leafy vegetables 1/2 cup 2
Peas, mixed vegetables 1/2 cup 2
Other vegetables, average 1/2 cup 0.8
Prunes and dates 1/2 cup 2
Other fruits and juices 1/2 cup 0.6
Whole, skim, 2% milk 1 cup 0.1
Blackstrap molasses 1 Tbsp 3
Sorghum 1 Tbsp 2.5
Molasses 1 Tbsp 1
OTHER STRATEGIES FOR ADDING IRON TO THE DIET
The problem with iron is that it is difficult for the body
to absorb. Iron in meat, poultry, and fish is absorbed
several times better than iron from vegetable sources.
Animal protein contains something called meat factor, which
improves absorption of vegetable iron eaten at the same time
as meat. Vitamin C helps iron absorption, too. If your
child eats foods rich in vitamin C at the same time as foods
rich in iron, the iron will be absorbed better. Examples of
meals that have both meat and vitamin C include hamburgers
and coleslaw, spaghetti with meat and tomato sauce, hot dogs
and orange wedges, and chicken with broccoli.
EGGS, MILK, AND LIVER
Iron in egg yolk is poorly absorbed. In fact, unless you
have some vitamin C at the same time you eat an egg, egg
yolk will keep iron from being absorbed from other foods.
Milk is low in iron (anemic children used to be called milk
babies). Milk neither enhances nor blocks iron absorption
from other foods.
Liver is an excellent source of iron. However, if your
child eats too much liver, she will get too much vitamin A.
If you serve liver, serve it only twice a month.
GETTING CHILDREN TO EAT FOODS RICH IN IRON
Have regular meals and snacks, keep control of the menu, and
offer children a variety of foods. Then wait. If you try
to force children to eat nutritious food, they won't like it
and most won't eat it. All you can do is offer good food,
have regular meals and snacks, and make eating pleasant.
See Eating Basics: Helping Your Child Eat Well
Typically, iron-rich foods are challenging for children.
For example, green, leafy vegetables have a strong flavor.
Eat and enjoy them yourself, and after a while your child
will try them and maybe even learn to like them. Meat can
be hard to chew and swallow. Make meat moist and tender.
CALL YOUR CHILD'S PHYSICIAN DURING OFFICE HOURS IF:
- Your child consistently appears pale, listless, and
- Your child consistently eats a diet low in iron.