Iron rich foods are the most important first foods for infants starting solids. Breast milk can no longer meet a babies nutritional requirements and a baby needs iron to support the physiological processes that are taking place at a rapid rate.
Iron requirements for toddlers
|Age||Iron requirement (mg/day)|
|1-3 years old||9mg/day|
|4-8 years old||10mg/ day|
National health and Medical Research Council 
If sources are mostly vegetarian then requirements will be slightly higher due to the lower rate of absorption. Absorption of iron is approximately 18% from a mixed diet of meat and plant foods and 10% from a diet including only plant based-sources of iron .
Best sources of iron
- Red meat
Good plant- based sources of iron
If your child is set on avoiding meat, you will need to take extra care to ensure they are getting iron in their diet. The below foods are good plant based sources of iron. Your child will need some of these each day.
|Food||Iron (mg) per 100g|
|Dried red kidney beans||5.6|
|Boiled English spinach||3.91(Will be partly inhibited by the oxalic acid content which binds to iron and inhibits absorption)|
|Dried split pea||3.8|
|Wholemeal, multigrain bread||2.36|
|Canned red kidney beans||2.1|
|Haricot beans, boiled||2|
|Cooked split pea||1|
|Heinz Nutricrisps or Nutrios||Fortified with iron to meet toddler’s requirements|
The above values were sourced from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (NUTTAB) 
*Nuts and seeds should not be given to children before the age of three, due to the risk of choking – they should first be made in to a paste. Nut pastes can now be introduced to children any time onwards from 6 months of age.
Tips to enhance iron absorption
Include vitamin C rich foods at each meal – vitamin C increases the absorption of non-haem iron when eaten together.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruit – pineapple, oranges, mandarin
- Kiwi fruit
- Brussel sprouts
Foods that inhibit iron absorption
- Tea/ coffee – these should not be given to an infant anyway
- Calcium rich foods – calcium also decreases iron absorption
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values: Iron [Internet]. National Health and Medical Research Council [cited on Dec 03 2014].
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand. NUTTAB 2010 Online Searchable Database [Internet]. Food Standards Australia New Zealand [cited on Dec 03 2014]. Available from:
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
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