Sam is the mother of two young boys, Juju and Blaze. Their family enjoys going on trips, crafting, learning, and exploring.
I have always had trouble keep my iron up. It's for this reason I was never allowed to participate in blood drives. It was no surprise that throughout both my pregnancies I struggled to keep my iron levels up and even had to take supplements when I was pregnant with my second son.
When is was discovered that my first son had the sickle cell trait, from my husband, with Beta Thalassemia from me, at last I had a reason for why I had always been borderline anemic.
Recently it's been discovered that both my son's have mild anemia and had to be put on iron supplements. Their doctor says the supplements helped, but could not be a long term solution. Our diet needs to change.
So I've decided to do research, test things out on the boys, and share my findings here.
If you have any information, questions, or suggestions--please share!
Heme VS Non-heme Iron
There are two types of iron. Heme and non-heme. Non-heme iron is in all plants, meats, fish, and poultry. Heme iron is only found in meat, poultry, and fish. Heme iron is easier for the body to absorb than non-heme iron. Iron absorption is also increased when combining the two types of iron together. This is why meat eating is encouraged when trying to increase iron levels. However, it is possible for a vegetarian or vegan to maintain healthy iron levels if they are mindful of what they are eating.
Iron and Calcium
Iron and calcium are a bad combination because they end up cancelling each other out. For this reason, while my sons were on their supplements, we were advised not to give them milk until at least two hours before or after they've take their supplement. I was nervous that by increasing my son's iron in take, I would end up decreasing their calcium intake, but it turns out, there are foods that contain both calcium and iron! There are even foods that contain iron, calcium, and vitamin C--such as dark leafy greens!
Iron and Vitamin C
When my sons were prescribed their iron supplements, my doctor encouraged us to give it to them with orange juice. That is because vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. So if you want to maximize your iron intake, pair your iron-fortified meals with a healthy dose of vitamin C. This could come in the form of a glass of orange juice or pineapple juice, a spritz of lemon, some chopped up fruit like strawberries, oranges, or kiwi.
1. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of iron, as when as other nutrients such as protein. Genrally, getting kids to eat nuts and seeds in some shape or form is not too difficult--especially if they like peanut butter!
Tips and suggestions:
- Encourage kids to eat mixed nuts or trail mixes with various types of nuts and seeds in them; such as cashews, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios and walnuts. If buying the packaged kind, try to steer clear of salted nuts which will increase sodium intake.
- When making trail mixes add semi-sweet dark chocolate chips and granola to add more iron and variety to your snack.
- Try different types of nut butters such as sunflower butter or almond butter. Or check out Peanut Butter & Co.'s various takes on peanut butter. So yummy!
- Ground flax seed or buy it ground and add it to everything; smoothies, pancakes, cereals, cookies, bread, you name it! It's untraceable and gives your food a nice nutritional boost.
- Make roasted pumpkin seeds together. The kids will have fun working with you in the kitchen, and they will benefit from the nutritional value of the pumpkin seeds.
Black Bean Brownies
Beans are another great source of iron and protein, among other things. If you do not eat meat, you may have to rely on beans often for the nutrients you would otherwise get from meat.
Tips and suggestions:
- I don't know about other kids, but my boys could seriously live off of rice and beans. They live both red beans and rice and black beans and rice. You can try using brown rice instead of white rice too.
- Give black bean burgers a try to try and work black beans into other beef like meals, such as meatballs.
- Add beans to burritos.
- Add unseasoned red beans to smoothies.
There's a reason beef is one of the only meats I'll actually eat and that's because it's one of the best sources of iron and the most versatile to work with.
Tips and suggestions:
- Spaghetti and meatballs, meatball subs, meatball kebabs.
- Hamburgers, hamburgers shaped like hot dogs (my oldest loves this), hamburgers cut into other shapes by using cookie cutters (we have a star shaped cookie cutter we cut all our sons' sandwiches with. It makes it easier for them to hold it, it's the perfect proportion, and they like it because it's cute and fun)
- Ground beef; tacos, burritos, lasagna, pasta sauce, chili, etc.
4. Whole Grains
Whole grains consist of whole grain bread, whole grain pastas, brown rice, oats, quinoa, and bulgar. In addition to iron, whole grains contain a lot of fiber and help you feel full. They have not been over processed like white bread and white rice.
- Trade white bread for whole grain bread. Or at least try using one slice whole grain and one slice white.
- Mix whole grain and regular pasta together to get the benefits of the whole grain pasta with more of the taste of regular pasta.
- Brown rice and white rice vary in time to cook (brown rice takes longer), so if you would like to mix them together, cook them separately first, then combine them.
- In general, read the directions when making whole grain foods if you are not used to cooking with them. It usually takes longer for them to cook.
- Cheesy Quinoa
- Brown Rice Porridge - I first had this when I went to Australia. It's so good and so full of things that are good for you!
Chances are, you don't have to try particularly hard to get your little ones to eat cereal. Here are some cereal suggestions with iron that your kids will enjoy:
- Cheerios, Team Cheerios
- Corn Flakes
- Special K
- Grape Nuts
- Honey Bunches of Oats
- Rice Krispies
- Raisin Bran
- Rice Chex
Tips and Suggestions:
- Add cereal to your trail and snack mixes.
- Use almond milk instead of regular milk from time to time. Blue Diamond's vanilla almond milk is pretty good, but does have added sugars.
- Make rice krispies treats and Chex mixes together.
6. Dark Leafy Greens
There's a reason everyone has gone crazy for kale in the recent years. Dark leafy greens are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K and minerals like iron and calcium. Spinach, kale, collards, arugula, broccoli, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, and other dark leafy greens can easily be incorporated into your diet.
Tips and Suggestions
- Make sandwich wraps or tacos using large leaves from romaine lettuce or other leafy greens as the wrap or taco.
- Add unexpected toppings to make salads more fun and tasty such as apple slices, strawberries, orange slices, almonds, walnuts, raisins, and craisins.
- Blend kale or spinach into pineapple smoothies. The taste of the pineapple overpowers the taste of the green, so other than the green colour, there's no evidence of vegetables!
- Mix kale or spinach into scrambled eggs to make green eggs. Great for Dr. Suess fans!
- Add kale to cookies or brownies.
- In general, if you dry out kale or other dark leafies and ground them into powder you can mix them into almost any recipe that calls for cocoa powder. The chocolate flavor overpowers the bitterness of the green making it almost untraceable.
- Kale chips - be careful. These are addictive.
7. Dark Chocolate & Cocoa Powder
This is probably the easiest item on the list to get kids to like--chocolate! Not only does dark chocolate have iron but it also contains antioxidants that lower blood pressure and relieve stress (much like green tea!). One square of quality dark chocolate a day is enough to reap the benefits of this tasty superfood.
Tips and Suggestions
- Avoid processed chocolates, which have little to no nutritional value.
- Invest in quality chocolate. This may actually do good for your local communities as well if there are chocolatiers nearby.
- Pair chocolate recipes with dark leafy greens for an added nutritional boost.
- Add dark chocolate chips to cereals and trail mixes.
- Make your own hot chocolate rather than using the instant hot chocolate packets.
Tofu is made of fermented soy beans. As such it contains many of the benefits of beans, such as high protein as well as being a good source of iron. Many people are turned off by the idea of tofu, but that is more than likely because they have not had it prepared well.
Tofu varies in firmness; extra soft, soft, medium, medium firm, firm, extra firm, and super firm. Selecting the correct firmness for the recipe you would like to use your tofu in helps a lot. Softer tofu is good for smoothies, other drinks, soups, sauces, and anything else with a liquid like substance. Firmer tofu is good for meat alternatives, crunchy textures, chewy textures, and general fuller textures.
Tofu doesn't really have a flavor of its own but is able to soak up the flavors of whatever its been seasoned with.
- The longer you marinate your tofu, the more flavor it will have. So if possible, marinate your tofu for at least four hours or overnight before cooking it.
- Be gentle when stir frying tofu. If you're too aggressive it will all fall apart.
- Good tofu is smooth, submerged in water, has no particular scent, and is a creamy white colour.
- Bad tofu looks and feels spongy and takes on an off-white color, sort of like the inside of a cake.
- Tofu Jerky - Cut slices of firm tofu thick enough that they won't break, but thin enough that they'll get crispy. Marinate. Cover and place in fridge. Leave overnight or for at least 4 hours. Put aluminum foil on a baking sheet and lightly oil foil so jerky doesn't stick. Bake at 425(F) until they are crispy around the edges with a firm center (around 15 minutes).
- Firm tofu tastes great in stir fry!
- Tofu Smoothies - Soft tofu can be used as an alternative to yogurt in smoothie recipes.
- Tofu Teriyaki Bowl
- Tofu Burgers
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on September 17, 2015:
Samantha, great tips for kids and adults would like. One nitpick: son's should be sons for both of my sons. I'll try your suggestions too.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 26, 2015:
Very valuable information here. Thanks for pointing out the advantage of iron and Vitamin C, also the disadvantage of iron and calcium. Great source suggestions, and Voted Up!
Samantha Harris (author) from New York on March 26, 2015:
That sounds really yummy!
sallieannluvslife from Eastern Shore on March 24, 2015:
Hahaha! Good point...maybe gingerbread - that uses molasses and the kids might like it...I also have a great molasses quick bread recipe that your kids might like...oysters and clams....yes, they might be more difficult to introduce to kids, for sure!!!
Samantha Harris (author) from New York on March 24, 2015:
Yes! I did find that both molasses (and vegemite) and oysters/clams are high in iron as well. I just couldn't think of a good way to introduce them to kids haha. But I should add another section to this highlighting some other sources of iron. Thanks!
sallieannluvslife from Eastern Shore on March 24, 2015:
Hi Samantha....very informative article...I got into the habit of giving blood and a couple times I was rejected due to low iron levels in my blood...I researched low iron and found that organic natural blackstrap molasses has quite a bit of iron in it and so two or three days before I gave blood, I would take a Tablespoon or two, 2 times a day, once in the morning and once at night....after I started that, I had no trouble at all giving blood. I think I recall that clams and/or oysters are also high in iron as well. Voted up and Interesting!