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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Iron & your child

Te Whiringa kai rino o tāu tamaiti

Iron is essential for your child's growth and development. It helps to carry oxygen in their blood from their lungs to their brain and muscles. This helps keep them physically and mentally strong.

If children do not have enough iron in their blood (called iron deficiency), they may:

If you think your child is low in iron, talk to your GP or practice nurse, as the only way to diagnose iron deficiency is through a blood test.

You cannot treat iron deficiency just by changing what your child eats. So, if your child is low in iron, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement. But even if they're prescribed a supplement, it's still important that they get enough iron in their food. Your doctor will also treat whatever is causing their iron deficiency.

Foods containing iron

Many foods have small amounts of iron. We absorb the iron in animal foods such as meat and fish more easily than the iron in plant foods, such as cereals, nuts, vegetables and fruit.

Excellent sources of iron

The redder the meat, the higher the iron content.

Good sources of iron

Useful sources of iron

Tips to improve your child's iron intake

Offer a variety of foods

This is the best way to ensure your child gets enough iron. Every day, give your child food from all the main food groups:

Serve lean red meat regularly

Give your child a serving of lean red meat, chicken or fish, with vegetables every day. A serving is the size and thickness of the palm of your child's hand.

Meat, chicken and fish help your child's body absorb the iron in vegetables.

Give your child a variety of plant foods if your family is vegetarian

Give your child plenty of green leafy vegetables and wholegrains, and regularly include eggs, legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds.

Give your child plenty of vitamin C

Vitamin C helps us to absorb up to four times as much iron. You can get vitamin C from many fruits (berries, feijoas, kiwifruit, mandarin, orange, rock melon and tamarillo) and vegetables (broccoli, capsicum, cauliflower and tomato). Try to include fruit or vegetables with every meal, especially if your family is vegetarian.

Do not give your child tea or coffee

The tannin in tea and coffee stops your child's body from absorbing as much iron. Water, low-fat milk (green or yellow top) and reduced-fat milk (light blue top) are the best drinks for children. Children under 2 should have full-fat milk (dark blue top).

On the next page: Iron-rich meal ideas for children

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2021.


Images courtesy of Bread by Grant Cochrane, citrus fruit by xura.

Page reference: 80962

Review key: HIHEC-62690