Toddler iron intake
Getting more iron into your toddler's diet
Iron is an essential nutrient for toddlers: it plays a crucial role in brain development and overall growth and health. Read more about your toddler’s iron needs, which foods are good iron sources, and how to increase their intake by partnering iron-rich foods with fruit and vegetables.
The importance of iron for your toddler
Iron is an important nutrient that is involved in many functions within the body, including brain development. A steady supply of iron is necessary for normal cognitive development, which sets the stage for a lifetime of learning. Iron is also involved in the production of haemoglobin – a protein in blood that carries much-needed oxygen around the body for energy and growth.
During toddlerhood, your child’s brain and body are developing rapidly, which is why toddlers have relatively high iron requirements compared to adults.
Toddlers’ high need for iron means they’re more vulnerable to iron deficiency if they don’t consume iron-rich foods regularly. In fact, 23% of 1 year olds and 10% of 2 year olds don't get enough of this brain-building nutrient.
If your toddler’s iron levels get too low, it can leave them tired and lacking in energy. In a small number of cases, low iron levels can lead to iron deficiency anaemia.
How to include enough iron in your toddler’s diet
The iron in foods such as fish and red meat is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources, such as wholemeal bread, lentils, beans, and dark green, leafy vegetables.
To help your toddler get enough iron each day, encourage them to eat two portions of animal-based protein or 3 portions of non-dairy vegetarian proteins.
Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron and is found in citrus fruits, e.g. oranges, kiwi fruit, and many vegetables, such as peppers, broccoli and spinach. Giving your toddler fruit as a dessert is a good way to increase absorption of iron from their savoury meal.
Good sources of iron
The following foods are good sources of iron to include in your toddler’s daily diet:
Haem-iron (the most easily absorbed):
- Half a chicken breast – (approximately 60g) contains 0.3mg
- Dark chicken meat – 60g contains 0.5mg
- Hard-boiled egg – 1 whole egg contains 1mg
- Thinly sliced roast beef or lamb – 1 slice (28g) contains 0.8mg
- Sardines – 50g portion contains 1.4mg
- Spinach – 1 tablespoon cooked spinach contains 0.3mg of iron
- Broccoli – 1 floret (20g) contains 0.2mg
- Baked beans – 1 tablespoon contains 0.3mg
- Wholemeal bread – 1 medium slice contains 0.6mg
- Lentils – 1 tablespoon contains 0.7mg
- Dried apricots – 1 dried apricot contains 0.3mg
- Fortified breakfast cereals – 1 bowl (30g) contains 2.3mg
Increase your toddler’s iron intake with a serving of the following foods:
- Homemade beefburgers
- Lamb bolognese
- Beans on toast
- Mildly spiced dhal and rice
- Broccoli frittata
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, you eat a varied, balanced diet. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breastmilk, and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. Always consult your healthcare professional for advice about feeding your baby.
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
Our nutritionists and feeding advisors are always on hand to talk about feeding your baby. So if you have a question, just get in touch.