Iron is a crucial component of the growth and development of our little ones. Without conscious planning, it’s all too easy for our kids to become iron deficient, which is the most common cause of anaemia for kids in Australia. But with the simple addition of iron-rich foods to their diets, you can ensure this part of their development is being fully supported.
For adults, iron is often associated with a big slab of red meat, such as steak. But needless to say, this isn’t a suitable option for young kids - especially if you’re raising them on a plant-based diet! However, there are plenty of nutritious plant foods that you can add to your kids’ lunchboxes or cook with in family meals to help boost their daily iron intake.
In this blog, we talk all about the ins and outs of kids’ iron needs and go over some of our favourite plant-based foods that are rich in this mineral.
Iron deficiency highlights a nutritional gap that many children have, regardless of what diet they follow. But this is no cause for concern - just as with adults, being aware of the nutritional differences that a plant-based diet presents is important in order to bridge these gaps with different but just as (if not more) nourishing foods!
There are a number of factors that come into play for iron levels in plant-based kids, such as how absorbable the iron from plant foods are.
However, you’re probably feeding your little sprouts more iron-rich foods than you may think! And if not, it’s a simple addition to make. But first, let’s look into why it’s so important for them…
Iron is an essential mineral found in the blood with the job of transporting oxygen throughout the body. For toddlers, iron requirements are high due to their rapid growth rate. It also plays a crucial role in cognitive and motor development, as well as fortifying the immune system.
If your little ones aren’t eating enough iron-rich foods in their diet, they face the possibility of becoming iron deficient, which affects their growth and development.
Some signs of iron deficiency to look out for include:
Whilst meeting their iron needs are important, this isn’t too difficult a task. Below are the recommended daily intake of iron for kids:
Below are some of our favourite iron-rich plant-based foods to sneak into our kids’ diets!
Brimming with iron, soybeans themselves contain around 8.8 mg of it per cup, with 150grams of tofu containing around 8.1 mg. Tofu chunks are a great staple when it comes to colourful Buddha bowls or stir-fries, and when crumbed can also be a handy ‘swap-out’ for chicken nuggets!
Lentils are another versatile iron-filled food, providing 6.6 mg per cup cooked. Try adding lentils when cooking homemade marinara sauce to go over chickpea pasta.
As your little one becomes more capable with their hands, chickpeas beans such as lima, red kidney beans and navy beans make excellent finger food, offering 4.4–6.6 mg of iron per cup cooked. For a tasty snack, try serving organic hummus on whole-grain toast or sliced capsicum.
Regular oats - even those that aren’t iron-fortified - are a great source of this mineral for kids. Served as porridge with fresh citrus fruit, this is a tasty and easy way to give your little sprout their kick of iron and vitamin C.
Rich in a range of nutrients such as complete protein, fibre and complex carbs, quinoa offers around 1.5 mg of iron per half-cup. Swap rice for quinoa and serve with a range of colourful veggies for extra-healthy fried rice, or add to a delicious banana smoothie with a scoop of our Junior Plant Protein Shake.
Spinach, kale, swiss chard, collard and beet greens contain between 2.5–6.4 mg of iron per cooked cup. If these leafy greens are met with a scrunched nose and tantrums (understandably), try blending them into the marinara sauce we mentioned early to go on your chickpea pasta.They’ll be none the wiser!
Jam-packed with essential nutrients including iron, our Toddler Drink and Junior Plant Protein Shake are fantastic options to boost your kids’ nutrition between meals. Our Toddler Drink provides 36% of your little ones’ daily intake (1 - 3 years old). Our Junior Plant Protein Shake contains 45% of the iron RDI for kids aged 1 - 3 years old and 54% iron RDI for kids aged 4 - 13 years old.
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Vitamin C is well renowned for its absorbing capabilities and is luckily rich in an abundance of plant foods that are easy additions to home-cooked meals.
To ensure your kids are reaping the full benefits of the iron-rich foods above, pair them with a squeeze of lemon juice, a handful of berries, or a serving of citrus fruits for dessert.
The amino acid lysine is another key player in iron absorption. Plant sources of lysine include avocado, tomatoes, most beans and legumes, and quinoa.
Ensuring our kids receive enough iron in their diet each day is essential to ensure they are growing up healthy and nourished. With the addition of these foods alongside vitamin C to boost absorption, reaching their recommended daily intake is simple - made even easier with a daily dose of our Toddler Drink or Junior Plant Protein Shake!
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