Preventing Toddler Iron Deficiency

By Nancy Gottesman

News flash: Despite what you might think, toddler iron deficiency is actually more common than iron deficiency in babies or older kids. What’s more, getting enough iron is especially important for tots, who need the mineral to fuel their rapidly developing brains and bodies.

One reason toddlers are at particular risk is that many stop drinking iron-fortified formula after their first birthday. If they don’t consume enough iron-rich foods to make up the difference, their bodies’ iron stores can run low. Drinking too much milk can also be a factor: Even though it’s a healthy food, milk is low in iron. Drinking more than one or two cups a day could make your child less hungry for other healthy foods that are iron-rich.

Children ages 1 to 3 need 7 milligrams of iron daily. But don’t too get bogged down tallying the numbers. “I tell parents not to be concerned with numbers and just give toddlers the healthy food they need,” says Jane Brotanek, M.P.H., M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Here’s what you can do to keep toddler iron deficiency at bay.

  • Offer lots of iron-rich foods: Iron-fortified cereal or pasta, beef, dark meat, salmon, eggs, tofu, beans and peas, dried fruits, and leafy greens are all good choices.
  • Serve iron-rich foods with those that contain vitamin C (like oranges and strawberries) to boost absorption of iron.
  • To help limit milk consumption to no more than 16 ounces daily, wean your child from the bottle at 12 to 15 months.
  • Steer clear of no-nutrient, sugary juice drinks, which keep your child from consuming the healthy foods she needs to eat to avoid deficiencies.

One last thing: Too much iron can be toxic. It’s unlikely your little one will overload on the mineral from food alone, but if you’re considering adding a supplement to your toddler’s diet, talk to her pediatrician first.