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The beneficial properties of iron for babies are many. From promoting adequate growth and development to keeping anaemia at bay, iron is an essential nutrient that ensures proper health and well-being. Most babies do not need any kind of iron supplements till they are at least four months of age. This is because all babies get plenty of iron from their mothers during the final trimester of pregnancy. If your baby is born prematurely, then there is a possibility that he may suffer from an iron deficiency. This can also happen if you were diabetic or had poor nutrition during pregnancy.
Importance of Iron for the Body
Iron is an essential nutrient needed for proper growth and development. It aids proper functioning of the body by helping the blood transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and the muscles to store and use oxygen. Essentially, iron is the main component of healthy blood, and a deficiency in iron can cause anaemia, which affects core functions in the child’s body.
Symptoms of an Iron Deficiency
You may notice the following symptoms if your child has an iron deficiency.
- Pale skin
- Poor appetite
- Constant fatigue
- Abnormal breathing
- Delayed growth and development
- Frequent illnesses
Iron Rich Foods You Can Include in Your Baby and Toddler’s Diet
There are two categories of iron-rich foods – heme and non-heme. Heme originates from haemoglobin and is usually found in animal products, especially poultry and meat. Heme-iron is absorbed by the body quicker than non-heme iron. There are plenty of non-vegetarian and vegetarian iron-rich foods for babies to try out. Here is a compilation of iron-rich food for babies and toddlers.
1. Meat and Poultry
These are great sources of heme iron, especially red meats and liver. Try to remove all the fatty parts of the meat before cooking, as they do not contain any iron. You should cook the meat well before feeding it to your baby. Else, it can be difficult for them to chew and digest easily.
2. Egg Yolks
Yet another of the good sources of iron for toddlers and infants alike, eggs are easily available and easy to cook and eat. Try to incorporate egg yolks into various recipes. This guarantees that your child gets a healthy dose of iron regularly without having to eat the same thing every day. Caramel custard or custard flan are some delicious options for desserts that include egg yolks.
3. Red and Brown Rice
Excellent sources of non-heme iron-rich foods for infants, these varieties of rice might not appeal to your child if simply cooked. Try to add some flavour to it by stirring in vegetables, eggs, or meat depending on your food habits.
Almost all varieties of beans are rich in iron. Lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, and soybeans are just some examples. You can steam the beans and flavour them with some salt and mild spices before offering them to your child. You can also mix them with meat or rice.
5. Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes
In order to retain most of the iron in potatoes, be sure to cook them with the skin on. Baked and steamed potatoes or sweet potatoes are a favourite with most children. You can also slice them to resemble french fries, as this will also help your child grip them easily when self-feeding. Mashed potatoes are another favourite.
There is no denying that seafood is a source of various nutrients essential to your child including iron. Tuna, clams, and shrimp are the best sources of iron. You can cook these in a variety of ways and feed them to your child on a regular basis. However, be aware that some children can be allergic to specific seafood, so introduce these to your child with care.
7. Peanut Butter
A favourite with a large number of kids, peanut butter, is packed with iron. Using it with whole bread will make it a healthy snack at all times. You can also try out peanut butter cookies for a special treat. Using enriched flour or oatmeal helps you increase the healthy-eating quotient.
A great meat substitute for vegetarians, tofu contains a significant amount of iron. You can cut tofu into strips and sauté them before offering it to your child, alongside a dip. It can also be consumed by children who are lactose-intolerant.
9. Prune and Cranberry Juice
These are some of the few fruit juices with rich iron content. Their sweet taste is bound to appeal to children, but be sure not to give them more than one glass per day. These juices are also good for urinary tract health and prevent constipation. They contain no fat or cholesterol.
10. Dried Seeds
A great snack during travel or after play time, dried seeds are fun to munch on. Sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame are just some of the seeds that contain iron in significant amounts. You can also try to make a granola bar out of these or use them as garnishing in puddings and other sweet treats to make it interesting.
11. Cream of Wheat and Oatmeal
Oats have the highest iron content among cereals. Just one bowl of oatmeal can provide about 60% of your child’s daily iron requirements. A bowl of cream of wheat can meet all of your child’s daily iron need. However, being a non-heme iron, it might be difficult for the body to absorb all of the iron.
12. Dried Fruits
Dried dates, apricots, prunes, and raisins all contain a large amount of iron. They make for extremely healthy snacks to chew when your child is hungry or simply wants something to munch on. Encouraging your child to reach for dried fruits whenever they want a snack is one good habit you might want to continue into adulthood.
13. Green Leafy Veggies
You might find it difficult to get your children to finish up green veggies when served raw or steamed. Spinach, broccoli, collards and kale are rich in iron and many other essential nutrients. You could blend these into a paste and use them in gravies, soups or dips. Add some flavour with spices if required.
If your child refuses to eat fresh tomatoes cut into nice little cubes, try drying it under the sun or inside an oven. Then you can make sauces and soups out of it. Spaghetti with tomato sauce and mildly-flavoured tomato soup are sure to be a hit with your child.
15. Organic Dark Chocolate
Children love chocolates, and it can be hard to keep them off it as they grow older. One way to satisfy their cravings is to find organic dark chocolate. These contain less sugar while being rich in iron.
Babies who are being breastfed or given infant formula fortified with iron do not require any iron supplements. Toddlers who eat a well-balanced diet, with enough iron sources included, also do not need any supplementation either. Poor iron content in children can lead to distracted focus and causes them to feel tired and weak. So, try to incorporate at least a couple of iron-rich food into your baby’s daily diet.