Have you ever looked at your child in the morning and thought they had grown overnight? Childhood is a period of rapid growth and development and good nutrition can play a vital role in ensuring your child remains healthy – now and as an adult.
- Between birth and two years, the human brain grows to 80% of its adult size.
- Iron is deposited in the brain - it is part of the brain structure and is therefore an essential nutrient for mental development.
- Iron is found in a number of foods, including red meat. In general, the redder the meat, the higher the iron content.
Healthy eating for children doesn’t need to be complicated; just make sure your child is eating food from all four of the food groups each day and they’ll be off to a great start i.e. fruit and vegetables, breads and cereals, milk and milk products and lean meat and alternatives.
Lean red meat like beef and lamb provide children with:
- Protein for energy and building strong muscles, hair, nails and vital organs.
- Some essential fatty acids for brain development.
- Essential minerals such as iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins.
Children need one serving of meat or alternatives each day. One serving of beef or lamb looks like:
- 2 slices of cooked lean meat (100 g) or
- 3⁄4 cup of mince or casserole (195 g)
Have you seen our baby and toddler recipes? We have something for everyone, from starting solids at six months to recipes even the tweens will enjoy. Check them out here
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What can happen if my baby is iron deficient?
Infants who are severely iron deficient may suffer from:
- Altered behaviour
- Reduced immunity and therefore more frequent infections
- Slower development of motor skills (like balance and coordination)
- Slower language development
- Intelligence / IQ (a few points)
Research has shown that even when the iron deficiency is treated, some of these effects can be permanent.
New Zealand data shows we have a problem with iron deficiency
. Some studies show up to 30% of infants are iron deficient; up to 20% have the more severe form of iron deficiency anaemia.
What iron stores does my baby have?
Providing babies are not premature, most are born with good iron stores
. When combined with an infant formula or breast milk, this iron is sufficient to last 4 to 6 months. Breast-fed babies rarely lack iron. Although the iron content of breast milk is not high, this iron is very well absorbed.
By around six months of age the baby's iron stores are beginning to run out, and iron needs are increasing.
Which are the best sources of iron?
Iron is found in a number of foods, including red meat. In general, the redder the meat,the higher the iron content.
But not all iron is the same. Haem iron (found in red meat, fish and poultry) is more easily absorbed, with about a quarter being used. Whereas only about 5% of non-haem iron (found in green vegetables, bread and cereals) is absorbed. Red meat can help increase the absorption of non-haem iron by up to four times. Vitamin C has a similar effect. Eating a combination of foods high in both haem and non-haem iron helps provide an iron-rich diet.
Haem Iron Food (easily absorbed)
- Liver*, kidney
- Lean beef, lamb
- Lean chicken, pork
- Fish, including canned fish
Non-Haem Iron Foods (poorly absorbed)
- Infant cereal with added iron, porridge**
- Peas, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, cauliflower
- Dried apricots, prunes, other dried fruit, finely chopped**
- Baked beans, cooked dried beans, lentils, split peas
- Puha, taro leaves
- Wholemeal bread (avoid coarse, grainy types)
** From 8 months
Could my baby be iron deficient?
If you can tick any of the boxes below, or are concerned about your baby’s iron level, talk to your
doctor or Plunket nurse.
- Recurrent infections
- Grumpy and irritable
- Tired and lethargic
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feels the cold
- Reduced appetite
- Reduced weight gain
- Digestive problems