Handling Iron Deficiency in Growing Kids

A famous line sums up the struggle behind feeding your kids –“I love being a mother but I hate feeding my kids”. This seems to be a common scenario every mother would encounter in their journey of parenting. Getting your kids to eat a healthy and balanced meal may sound like a daily routine but never a simple task for a parent. When kids are picky eaters things get worse. Our kids need to enjoy a healthy, balanced, and wholesome home-cooked meal to suit their bodies and nutritional requirements.  If your kids neglect food and fall short in their nutrition status they are at risk of developing certain deficiency diseases. 

Iron is an essential element in your child’s diet. It has a significant role in supplying oxygen to the body, muscle metabolism, physical growth, nerve functioning, and cell functioning and hence aids in overall child development. Growing kids require 10mg of iron in their daily requirement.

When there is not enough iron in the body to produce red blood cells it results in iron deficiency anemia. This causes less oxygen supply to the body making the kids look pale and weak. General causes of iron deficiency in kids are a diet poor in iron-containing foods, drinking a lot of milk, and blood loss. Subsequent treatment involves dietary modifications by providing iron-rich foods and iron supplements.

Tips to prevent iron deficiency anemia

  • Breastfeeding from birth until 6 months.
  • Iron-rich diet during pregnancy.
  • Introduction of solid foods to the baby only after six months.
  • Adequate intake of milk as per body requirements for growing kids.
  • Providing nutritious snacks. Milk should not be given as a snack as they fill up their body.
  • Include iron-rich foods in their diet like meat, mushrooms, spinach, peas, green beans, fortified cereals, nuts, eggs, and apricots.

How to improve anemia through iron-rich foods?

Dietary iron is available in two main forms – heme and non-heme. Plants are sources of non-heme iron. Meats and seafood contain both forms. Absorption of non-heme iron is difficult when compared to heme iron. If you are vegetarian aim for twice as much iron as the recommended amount. Iron is better absorbed by the body when it is consumed with Vitamin C sources ( Oranges, gooseberries, bell pepper, tomatoes, papaya, sweet potatoes) `. Some good sources of

  1. Lean meat: Meat and poultry are good sources of heme iron and are easy for the body to digest. Organ meats and liver are particular sources of high amounts of iron. A well-cooked soft lean meat in the form of stew or soup is a kid-friendly option. 
  1. Fortified cereals: Oats and other fortified cereals are good ways to include iron-rich foods. These can be cooked in the form of porridge and top it with your kid’s favorite fruits to make an interesting breakfast recipe. Consider fruits that are rich in vitamin C like berries to make them more nutritious.
  1. Spinach: Adding green color to your meal is one of the ways to introduce iron-rich foods. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli are a few vegetable iron sources. Though it is one of the things kids hate to eat try incorporating greens in their favorite meals like scrambled eggs, mac, cheese, etc.
  1. Beans: If your kid is not fond of meat, beans are an excellent substitute. Soybeans, Kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils contain iron, fiber, and essential nutrients too. A simple warm soup with little spice or a recipe of baked beans, or hummus using chickpeas serve as a good option for them to eat without any fuss.
  1. Eggs: Egg is a complete source of essential protein, vitamins, and minerals including iron. Kids can be offered eggs in many forms like hard-boiled, scrambled, omelet, or in rice dishes accompanied by their favorite vegetable making it wholesome and nutrient-rich. Check the eggs for their freshness and make sure it’s well-cooked. Opt for locally sourced organic, free-range eggs.
  1. Raisins and other dry fruits: Kids love to eat raisins for their taste as a snack. Try including other dry fruits like apricots as they are rich in iron and prevent constipation too. Dry fruits smoothie or dry fruits powder along with milk makes it more interesting to try and taste.
  1. Green peas: It is one of the loved vegetable by kids and a good source of protein, fiber, and iron. It is easy to cook and pairs with many vegetables. For infants, you can cook and mash them with another root vegetable. For grown-ups, it can be an added ingredient in soups, stews, and even in rice and curries too. Peas along with their pod can be procured in large quantities during the winter and stored in the freezer for later use.
  1.  Tofu: It is a type of cottage cheese obtained by the curdling of soy milk. It is a good plant-based food for vegans which provides complete protein, calcium, and iron. It is available in different forms like firm and silken ones. Firm tofu can be cut and added to curries and salads. While silken tofu has a smooth texture so can be added to smoothies and salad dressings.

We often become disappointed when our picky eaters do not eat what we offer. Do not be discouraged and offer healthy meals at all possible times. Try giving different sources and a wide variety of foods for them to enjoy and explore various tastes. Be a role model for healthy eating at home. As a child learns a new skill healthy eating also takes time. Our firm commitment towards healthy eating would help them enjoy a wide range of nutritious iron-rich foods.