We never grow as quickly as we do when we’re a toddler.  This is why it’s imperative that a toddler’s diet is packed with nutrients.  Did you know that at the age of 6 months, breastmilk alone cannot meet a baby’s increasing growth and development requirements?

In fact, recent data indicates that 1 in 3 infants and toddlers are low in iron.

Iron plays a crucial role in development, and deficiencies can lead to numerous health and developmental issues, which is why parents are urged to focus on ensuring their baby has an adequate iron intake. New guidelines recommend that baby’s first foods must be iron-rich. The best sources of iron are meat, fish and poultry because they contain haem iron, which is more readily absorbed by the body than the plant based form of non-haem iron. Red meat, such as beef and lamb, is recommended as ideal iron-rich food choices because it has the highest amount of haem iron. The best non-haem iron sources include dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, eggs and legumes and iron-fortified products.

Both heam and non-haem iron options should be included in the diet to maximise iron absorption.

Here are my top 3 recommendations for boosting a child’s iron intake:

  1. Get them started on red meat.
    Many mums think of red meat as one of the last foods to introduce instead of one of the first, however there’s no reason to wait.  Planning in 3-4 meals a week can really help in meeting children’s increased iron requirements. For example, beef or lamb mince could be made into bolognese, rissoles, meatballs or hamburgers to suit the whole family, so meals will never be boring.
  2. Look for iron fortified foods.
    Some products, such as grain or rice cereals can be fortified, meaning that they have extra amounts of non-haem added to boost the overall iron content. Parents shouldn’t rely on these iron fortified products alone, but they do provide great iron rich options to supplement their child’s diet.
  3. Include Vitamin C to help absorb non-haem iron.
    Vitamin C is necessary to help increase iron absorption, so when children are eating foods containing primarily non-haem iron, it is good to pair it with something that is also going to provide Vitamin C. For example, you could blend in some tomatoes with other dark green vegetables or serve capsicum sticks with hummus dip as an iron rich between-meal snack.

By having a combination of meals containing haem iron sources, foods fortified with iron as well as having Vitamin C rich foods to maximise absorption of non-haem iron, parents will be ensuring that they are providing their child with a diet that is rich in this vital nutrient for their optimal growth and development.

Have any other ideas for feeding your toddlers red meat and leafy greens? Share with us below.

Image source Shutterstock.


  • Argh I always struggle to get my boys to eat meat! Little rat bags fight it!

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  • Good value tips here.

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  • Nuts ! My toddler is 2 and loves cashews and other nuts :)

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  • mince based recipes are a great way to hid vegies from the kids so they will eat them

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  • we use fortified cereal to thicken all our bub’s foods both home made and prepackaged just helpd add that little bit more

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  • Leafy green vegetables are important for kids and adults. Finding fun recipes that taste good are the best way to get kids to enjoy and eat them.

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  • You can start a baby on fortified baby cereal earlier than you can vegetables – under 6 months of age. A lot of little ones don’t like capsicum so I wouldn’t introduce it too soon or you may struggle with other vegetables. We made that mistake with 2 kids.

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  • Lack of iron zaps them from energy at a time in their lives when they need it the most.

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  • Iron is such a valuable mineral for grown up bodies, even more so for toddlers. I sometimes used to supplement with vitamins etc if I thought the kids might be lacking

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  • good tips thanks, our youngest two being prem have to have iron supplements as well

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  • Adding minced beef to their diet is quite easy. If we make minced balls, we could add some quinoa for example and some chopped kale or spinach.

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  • Very good information and an important reminder to think about iron intake.

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  • I knew red meat is a good starter as one of the first foods.We’re vegetarian so haven’t done that.
    A baby’s digestive system is much better equipped to handle fats and proteins than carbohydrates. For this reason, a wonderful first food for babies is a soft boiled egg yolk (not the egg white) from a pastured hen.
    At about 6 months of age a bit of red meat or liver can be grated into the egg yolk. Mashed banana is also a wonderful carbohydrate to add around this time as banana digests very easily due to the copious amounts of amylase present – no need for baby’s small intestine to produce it herself.
    Next pureed meats, fruits and vegetables can be added. These foods should be introduced one at a time to reduce any chance of a reaction. Best also to avoid high starch veggies like potatoes and sweet potato, which contain very complex starch molecules which are much more difficult to digest for baby than non starchy vegetables. Also Consumption of veggies with a bit of healthy fat like butter increases mineral absorption tremendously!
    I don’t agree that fortified cereals and grain are a good starter as you mention.
    It’s known that it is a good idea to delay introduction of grain based foods and starchy vegetables for as long as possible ! And it is the question if cereals are ever a good option. Some experts advise that the child be 2 years old before being given these foods to eat. Whatever you decide, it is wise to forgo them until well after the first birthday. Even then, the grains should be properly prepared (either sprouted, sour leavened or soaked) to ensure maximum digestibility through breakdown of the starch, gluten and antinutrients such as phytic acid.

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