Amanda Ursell, renowned TV nutritionist, answers questions for healthcare and nursery practitioners on toddler diets and the importance of early years nutrition
Why are iron-rich foods so important for toddlers?
When babies are born they have enough iron in their bodies to last for six months. After this, they need to get iron from the foods they eat. It is crucial they do this because iron is vital for making healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to cells and tissues throughout their whole bodies.
Not getting enough iron can affect the delivery of oxygen and in turn adversely affect the development of a toddler’s brain, impacting their ability to learn and concentrate. In addition low iron levels can leave toddler’s more exposed to infections.
Currently in the UK it is estimated that eight out of ten toddlers do not eat their recommended daily allowance of iron and that one in eight toddlers is actually anaemic.1,2 This means that they are really not eating enough iron-rich foods.
The good news is that with the right support and advice, parents and carers can ensure that their babies and toddlers do hit their recommended daily targets of this essential nutrient.
What’s the best way to help toddlers get enough iron?
The best way for toddlers to get the recommended amount of iron in their diets is to give them foods which are rich in this vital nutrient as part of their everyday meals and snacks.
Food which can boost daily iron intakes includes lean red meat, while other sources are green vegetables like broccoli and spring cabbage along with peas and other ‘pulses’ such as baked beans.
Incorporating foods like peanut butter and those fortified
with iron such as both white and brown bread, some breakfast cereals and toddler milks are also really helpful for boosting daily intakes of iron.
It is worth knowing that a daily 300 ml drink of toddler milk is not only an effective way of increasing iron on a regular basis, but other nutrients like bone building calcium as well as helping toddlers to meet their vitamin A and D needs.
Combining iron-rich foods with foods or drinks that are high in vitamin C can increase iron absorption. For example, some diluted orange juice with fortified cereal at breakfast, some satsuma with a small peanut butter sandwich as a snack, or some red pepper as a finger food with an evening meal containing baked beans.
Getting enough iron not only helps toddlers to feel good, but to grow and flourish in all areas of their little lives.
1. The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) of iron for a toddler 1–3 years is
6.9 mg per day based on RNIs for 1-3 years (DH, 1991).
2. Gregory JR, Collins DL, Davies PSW, Hughes JM, Clarke PC. National Diet and Nutrition Survey: children aged 1.5-4.5 years. Volume 1: Report of the Diet and Nutrition Survey. London: HMSO, 1995.
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