It’s time to get your baby pumping iron…but not the kind you find at the gym!

About 1.5 million American kids have iron deficiency (low iron levels), one of the most common nutrient deficiencies globally. When iron, an essential mineral, is in short supply, babies can be sleepier, more irritable, weaker, and less likely to explore the world around them. Low iron levels can also make babies more prone to getting sick. Iron deficiency often turns into anemia, which is when a lack of red blood cells lowers the body’s ability to transport oxygen. This condition can poorly influence a baby’s brain development, learning ability, and behaviors.

Starting around 6 months, babies should get 11 milligrams of iron daily to have a healthy start to learning, growing, and developing the way they should. Here are nine iron-rich foods to add to your baby’s plate.

White Beans 

Legumes are loaded with iron, and white beans give you a variety of ways to load up! Plus, they’re full of other must-have nutrients like protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates for brain fuel and growth support. Your baby will get lots of potassium and calcium to boot. In just one-quarter cup of white beans, there are two milligrams of iron, which is 18% of your baby’s daily iron needs.

Cannellini, navy, and great northern are all in the white bean family, so feel free to prep any type based on what’s available at your local market. Just remember to rinse off canned beans before using them and soak dry beans overnight in water. Simply puree the beans with a low-sodium veggie broth for a spoon-friendly blend, or serve whole but slightly smashed for babies who have a more developed pincer grasp.

Tofu 

Made from soy milk, tofu is probably best known for being protein-packed, but it tends to get overlooked when it comes to iron. A quarter cup of the soft vegan-friendly food brings your baby 1.7 milligrams of iron, offering 15% of their iron needs for the day. You can serve your baby with lightly pan-fried strips of soft-tofu or blend it with one-quarter cup of mashed avocado. Your baby's bones and muscles will thank you for the extra dose of calcium, as tofu has plenty!

Oatmeal Cereal 

Cereal is a go-to first food for new eaters because it’s easy to eat, easy to digest, and brimming with iron. You’ll find 2 milligrams in just one tablespoon of iron, 18% of the recommended iron daily intake. Did you know you can give your baby the best chance to absorb all that iron by mixing it with a vitamin C-rich puree? Blend the baby cereal with applesauce, pureed white potatoes, or pureed mandarin oranges. (See more amazing grains to feed your baby!)

Prunes

Prune puree contains 1 milligram of iron, bringing 9% of an infant’s daily recommended value, and it’s also full of potassium for fluid balance and vitamin A to support your baby’s eyes. Buy prune puree at the store, or make your own with two simple ingredients: pitted prunes and hot water. Blend until pasty, and watch your little muncher gobble it all up!

Sesame Seed Paste

Whole sesame seeds and sesame seed snack crackers aren’t the safest options for babies because they can be choking hazards. Instead, consider offering your little one sesame seed paste so they can enjoy sesame seeds in a more bub-friendly form. It doesn’t take much sesame seed paste to give your baby significant iron to help thwart iron deficiency anemia. Just 1.5 teaspoons of the paste give 1.5 milligrams of iron and 14% of your baby’s iron needs. Thin out the paste to make it safer to swallow by mixing it with something more fluid, like stage-one purees or vanilla yogurt. 

Spinach  

Leafy greens are chock-full of essential nutrients like potassium. They include choline and folate, two nutrients critical for brain and nerve health,  so there’s no need to delay introducing them to your tot. Just one-quarter cup of cooked spinach gives your baby 1.6 milligrams of iron, which is 15% of their daily recommended need for iron. Feel free to make spinach puree tastier by blending it with ripe pears or garlic and parmesan cheese for a yummy pasta sauce.

Sardines 

Sure, they may not look so mouthwatering upon opening the can, but don’t let that deter you from feeding them to your baby! Sardines are an underrated heart-healthy food that is affordable, ready to eat, and jam-packed with nutrients. Sardines contain omega-3 fats for vision support, protein to help your baby grow, choline for their developing noggin, and even vitamin D for bone support. A single-ounce serving of sardines has 0.8 milligrams of iron, which equals 7% of their daily iron needs. Mix fork-mashed sardines with scrambled eggs for a supercharged baby meal. 

Ground Beef

Babies can have meat after 6 months of age, and ground beef is an excellent iron-rich food that offers protein, vitamin B12 for healthy red blood cells, and zinc for your baby’s immune system. Your baby can benefit from as little as one ounce of ground beef because it contains 0.7 milligrams of iron, offering 6% of your baby’s iron needs. Beef up the iron content of your puree by blending it with lentils and low-sodium beef broth. Remember to cook beef to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it’s safe for your baby to eat. 

Cashew Butter

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies benefit from the early introduction of common allergens, such as nuts. Cashew butter is teeming with calories to keep your baby’s growth on track; plus, they’re a good source of potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. One tablespoon of cashew butter has 0.8 milligrams of iron, providing 7% of your baby’s daily iron requirements. Like sesame seed paste, it helps the baby’s feeding experience and prevents choking to thin cashew butter with breastmilk or formula. To add variety, puree your thin cashew blend with a ripe banana.  

More on Feeding Your Baby:

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REFERENCES

  • Iron, Anemia, and Iron Deficiency Anemia Among Young Children in the United States, Nutrients, May 2016
  • CDC’s Second Nutrition Report: A comprehensive biochemical assessment of the nutrition status of the U.S. nutrition status of the U.S. population
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Breastfeeding Diet and Micronutrients: Iron
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: White Beans
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: Tofu
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: Oatmeal
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: Sesame Seeds, Butter, Paste
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: Spinach
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: Sardine
  • US Department of Agriculture Food Data Central: Ground Beef
  • The Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Hydrolyzed Formulas, and Timing of Introduction of Allergenic Complementary Foods, Pediatrics, 2019

About Gabrielle McPherson

Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN, LDN is registered dietitian in Missouri who specializes in community and pediatric nutrition. Gaby is passionate about encouraging families to eat well in simple, practical ways that are realistic...and delicious! When not working, Gaby loves cooking, baking, and making messes and memories with her sous-chef/preschooler Charlotte.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.