12 Iron-Rich Foods To Boost Your Toddler's Brain Development And Overall Health
Iron deficiency leads to anemia and puts your toddler's health and development at risk. Here are 12 iron-rich foods that offer heme and non-heme iron sources to your child's diet.
Iron is an essential mineral needed for optimal bodily function as it is required to make haemoglobin, a part of red blood cells.
Iron deficiency is also detrimental to the brain and central nervous system, as haemoglobin transports oxygen to the brain and around the body. As such, affecting learning, memory and attention span.
Toddlers require sufficient iron in their diet (7mg/day) as their body is developing rapidly, and this mineral plays a role in your child’s growth. If your toddler has been breastfed or is still breastfeeding, it is still essential to complement his diet with iron-rich food. If your toddler is drinking cow’s milk rather than iron-fortified formula, do look into complementing his diet too.
Should there be iron-deficiency in your toddler, he may experience symptoms such as dizziness, lack of energy, shortness of breath, irritability, headaches and may have a pale skin colour and brittle nails. These signs point to the possibility of anaemia, which should be arrested to avoid putting your toddler’s development at risk.
Offering your child iron-rich foods is not difficult. There are two forms of iron in food: Heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes from meat and non-heme iron comes from vegetables, where heme iron is known to be better absorbed by the body. Here’s a handy guide for parents to prepare iron-rich foods to help raise healthy and happy toddlers!
Iron-fortified cereals and whole grains
What’s good: Look out for cereals that are iron-fortified as indicated on their packaging. For whole grains, choose oatmeal, wheat, millet, brown rice over white rice to offer your toddler that extra zest of iron from his source of carbohydrates.
How to serve your toddler: For cereals, refer to instructions for preparation method as some may require cooking. Do note that iron and calcium are enemies as the latter affects the absorption of iron in your body. Provide your toddler with a glass of freshly squeezed juice instead, as Vitamin C helps accelerate efficient absorption of iron.
For whole grains, cook them according to the preparation instructions, where it would likely be similar to cooking white rice. For a blend of taste and texture, you may also mix two different grains for your toddler. Serve with meat and vegetables for a complete meal.
Lean red meat: duck and beef
What’s good: Heme iron are derived from meat sources such as duck and beef. For some religions, beef is avoided, and hence parents should consider other poultry choices or offer your toddler with iron-rich vegetables instead.
100gram beef = approx. 2.6mg iron
How to serve your toddler: If you’re preparing red meats, ensure the meat is well-cooked for your young child to avoid food contamination due to the fresh blood present in semi-cooked ones. Beef stews and beef lasagne are popular with children. Make a yummy bowl of duck or beef porridge for your toddler, or prepare a grilled duck breast sandwich topped with vegetables for a healthy meal!
What’s good: Eggs, particularly the yolks, are a rich source of iron that your growing toddler needs. Eggs are also an excellent source of brain-boosting foods that are great for toddler development.
1 whole egg = approx. 1mg iron
How to serve your toddler: Get creative with eggs – scrambled, hard-boiled, omelettes (add spinach or tomatoes for extra iron and Vitamin C!), pancakes, steamed egg/chawanmushi. Or just add an egg into that bowl of bee hoon soup or porridge for your toddler. An egg a day for toddlers is recommended.
Spinach and kale
What’s good: Spinach and kale are known to be iron-rich, and some of the best sources of non-heme iron. These green leafy vegetables are low in calories, high in nutritional value and provide an excellent source of iron – now we know why Popeye loved his spinach!
100g spinach = approx. 2.7mg iron, 100g kale = approx. 1.5mg iron
How to serve your toddler: Cook spinach or kale briefly towards the end of the dishes for your toddler. Add them to just about any dish: porridge, mee sua soup or simply stir fry with garlic, mushroom and tomatoes and serve with whole grains. A hearty bowl of spinach soup with ikan bilis soup base provides a comforting broth too. How about spinach or kale juice or smoothie for your toddler? Mix it up with orange for a dollop of Vitamin C to aid in iron absorption by the body!
Raisins, prunes and apricots
What’s good: Don’t belittle these fruits as they offer a good amount of iron needed for toddlers. They are conveniently available at our local supermarkets, and fresh prunes and apricots can be purchased from the fruit stalls too.
100 cup raisin = approx. 5mg iron, 10 large uncooked prunes = approx. 4mg iron, 17 halves dried apricot – approx. 5.5mg iron
How to serve your toddler: Replace unhealthy snacks of chocolates and biscuits with these dried fruits instead. Or simply add them to yoghurt or cereals for an additional source of iron and fibre.
What’s good: Some parents might frown upon the idea of offering liver to their children, so prepare this only if you are comfortable. Animal innards such as the liver is responsible for filtering and processing blood, and hence it provides high iron content when eaten. To avoid contamination, always ensure the liver is fully cooked before offering your toddler. Avoid overcooking as the liver would become stiff and slightly hard to chew.
100gram beef = approx. 8.5mg iron
How to serve your toddler: Liver is commonly cooked with congee in Chinese families, but they can also be served in pork soup or as a stir-fried dish with ginger and garlic sprouts and eaten with whole grains.
What’s good: Oysters are brimming with iron and zinc, which are essential minerals for healthy toddler development. Two tips to note about oysters: Choose fresh oysters and cook them thoroughly before serving your tot, and ensure your child does not have a seafood allergy before offering him.
100gram farmed, cooked oyster = approx. 7.8mg iron
How to serve your toddler: Baked oysters make delicious finger foods – top with cheese and bake away! Oysters can also be added to porridge for extra fresh and natural sweetness, or simply fry an oyster omelette, a homemade replica of Singapore’s popular Oyster Omelette available at the hawkers!
Parents, ensure that you don’t get over-zealous about your toddler’s iron intake and focus on a balanced diet for your toddler instead. Overconsumption of iron leads to poisoning, and it’s always essential to monitor your child because iron intake tends to lead to constipation and that can be a pain.
If you suspect that your toddler might be anaemic, seek medical advice before offering iron supplements that are available off-the-shelves.
Mums, what are some of your iron-rich food that your toddlers love? Do share them with us!
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