12 Super Iron Rich Foods For Baby Led Weaning

By Penelope Henderson, MSc, RNutr/ 08/02/2023
a bambo plate of iron rich finger foods for baby led weaning. Includes salmon, asparagus, rice, berries and melon.

Confused about iron and how much your baby needs? Maybe you are worried they are not getting enough? Iron is an important mineral for everyone but as babies reach weaning age (around 6 months) their iron stores are quickly running out. Therefore you need to ensure they are getting enough iron rich foods for their baby led weaning journey.

This blog looks at why iron is so important for babies who are just starting baby led weaning (blw), how much iron they need and the best sources of iron rich foods for vegetarian and non vegetarian babies.  

Importance of iron

Iron is needed for helping the red blood cells transport oxygen around the blood. It is therefore important for healthy growth and brain development. 

Babies are born with a supply of iron from their mothers blood whilst in their womb and after they are born this lasts for around 6 – 8 months. The amount of iron in the baby’s stores will depend on the mothers iron levels during pregnancy and how much was put in reserve. Whether they were born at full term or not. If less than full term (premature) then they are likely to have less iron reserves, as it builds up over time. 

During the first six months babies are breast or formula fed and this milk contains some iron. When milk feeding is reduced around 6 months and solid food is introduced then it’s important to make sure your baby is getting enough iron in their diets. 

So if your baby is lacking iron then they could develop iron deficiency anaemia which can cause physical and mental problems. Iron deficiency anaemia affects around 25% of pre-school children worldwide (1)

Signs your baby may be iron deficient include:

  • Tiredness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • More frequent infections
  • Pale skin
  • slow weight gain

If you are worried about whether they are getting enough iron then you can request a blood test from your GP to check their levels.

Types of iron

There are two different types of iron called haem and non haem iron. The two types can be found in different sources of food and these types of iron are not absorbed equally. 

a plate of pasta and meatballs in tomato sauce as an example of a iron rich food for baby led weaning

Haem iron

Is typically found in dark red meat sources such as beef and lamb. Offal such as liver and kidney are good sources too. However, the liver contains too much vitamin A and is not recommended for young children. This type of iron (haem iron) is more easily absorbed than non haem iron. Haem iron absorption varies from between 35 – 40% (2).

Non haem iron

Is found in non meat sources and is less easily absorbed. Its absorption varies from 1 – 10% (2). It is found in the following foods;

  • leafy green vegetables
  • Tofu
  • lentils
  • Beans – chickpeas and kidney beans
  • Eggs – particularly the yok
  • Seeds – hemp, flaxseed, sesame and pumpkin
  • Nuts  – particularly almonds, cashews and pine nuts

If your baby is going to be weaned vegan or vegetarian then they won’t be eating meat so it’s even more important they are getting plenty of non haem iron. You can ensure they get increased absorption by including a vitamin C rich food or drink with the iron rich food.

Sources of vitamin C for babies (to increase non haem absorption)

These sources can include fresh, tinned or frozen.

  • berries such as raspberries and strawberries. Used in smoothies with green vegetables like spinach or with infant fortified cereal
  • tomatoes – works well in a sauce with pulses like lentils or beans
  • peppers – best used in a sauce
  • oranges – fresh orange juice or slices of fresh/canned oranges
  • kiwi – blended into a smoothie or with a spinach salad
  • grapefruit – fresh grapefruit juice
  • melon – slices of melon
  • mango
  • pineapple
  • plums
  • brussel sprouts
  • kale
  • peas – a great source of iron and vitamin C.
  • squash

a glass of orange juice with  a boiled egg and sliced bread

How much iron does my baby or toddler need?

The recommended amount of iron for a 6 – 12 month old is 7.8 mg a day according to (sacn, 2010) it is a high requirement at this age due to a period of rapid growth. 

From 1 – 3 years (toddlers) iron intake their doesn’t need to be as high. 6.9mg is the recommended daily amount but it is still an important nutrient in their diet.

In terms of what this looks like will depend on which iron sources you are giving to your baby. If you offer your baby an iron rich food at two meals or more a day then they should be getting enough iron.

How do you get iron rich foods for baby led weaning?

Baby led weaning can be described as self feeding or the baby leading the way with feeding themselves with whole food pieces that are graspable and easily break up in the mouth. Usually parents do a mixture of both baby led weaning and some purees because some foods are not easy to eat with hands and will require cutlery to eat. 

A baby eating some broccoli florets

You can get iron rich foods using finger foods. A great place to start is offering these green leafy vegetables as cooked soft finger pieces like broccoli in the first weeks of weaning. After vegetables have been introduced then you can start introducing other foods that contain lots of iron like whole egg strips, meat and so on. Below you will find a list of appropriate foods.

If you would like to know how to start baby led weaning or purees then I have created a week by week guide of which foods to start with and how to introduce first weaning foods. Check out my blog: What is stage 1 weaning and what does this look like week by week? 

What foods are high in iron for baby led weaning?

There are many sources of iron for babies. Some contain more iron than others and are more suitable for baby led weaning.

Here are my top Iron-rich foods for babies 6 months and upwards.

12 iron rich foods for baby led weaning
  1. Tofu

Also known as bean curd is made from soya beans and a great source of iron. Grate or cut tofu into strips which little ones can hold in their hands. It can also be stirred into sauces if they are not keen on the taste. 

  1. Whole eggs

The yolk contains the ironbut its easier to use the whole egg. Eggs made into an omlette strips are great finger foods for baby led weaning. Scrambled or boiled egg cut into strips work well too. 

  1. Broccoli

Florets need to be steamed until soft and can be held in their hands. 

  1. Spinach & other leafy greens

Can be blended into smoothies, soups, stews and casseroles. Or if you want to serve on their own as finger foods you can cook the spinach so its wilted and then chop into pieces for them to hold. 

  1. Beef  

Red meats contain the most iron and beef is a good iron rich meat, however beef strips are very chewy for babies. Minced beef made into meatballs or meatloaf and cut into strips will be easier for them to chew. Beef could also be slow cooked so it falls apart more easily and shredded into pieces. If they don’t take to this there are other iron rich meats like dark chicken meat or lamb you could try.

  1. Chickpeas  

made into a hummus and then spread on toast and cut into strips. Chickpea flour can be used in baking like pancakes and muffins too.

  1. Lentils

Use a variety of lentils from green, red and other types. They can be blended into sauces or casseroles. Tomato sauce works particularly well for extra absorption and vitamin C. 

  1. Peas

Peas are often easier to eat than bitter leafy vegetables because of their natural sweetness. They can be added into recipes or blended with cottage cheese to make a sauce for pasta. 

  1. Salmon

Strips or flakes of cooked salmon ensuring that bones are removed. You could also make it into a paste and spread on some toast strips.

  1. Iron fortified baby cereal 

Check the labelling to see if it’s fortified with iron. Many are fortified with iron but also contain a lot of sugar so make sure to opt for sugar free ones where possible. 

You can also sprinkle iron fortified infant cereal around slippery pieces of fruit and veg pieces so they are easier to hold. Crush the cereal into fine pieces and then coat them. Mango, banana and avocado work well. 

Iron fortified cereals can be used in baking too and are great made into finger foods like porridge fingers or weetabix cake slices.

  1. Dark chicken meat

The darker meat on chicken contains iron so cuts of meat like chicken legs and thighs are a good choice. Chicken drumsticks are the perfect size to hold for baby led weaning. 

  1. Tahini paste

Also known as sesame paste. This can be made into hummus with chickpeas or alternatively spread very thinly onto toast strips. 

Iron rich foods for babies that are vegetarian

Vegetarian babies can eat most of the above except meat and fish. Therefore make sure to include plenty of the other foods such as vegetables, lentils, beans, chickpeas and tofu to ensure they are getting enough because the non haem sources are not absorbed so well. To increase their absorption add some vitamin C friendly foods at the same time like berries, oranges or tomatoes.

Here are some more suggestions of vegetables including the ones listed above.

Iron rich vegetables

  • Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard and beet greens
  • Broccoli – tenderstem and other broccoli
  • Peas
  • asparagus
  • cabbage
  • mushrooms
  • tomato paste – more concentrated than fresh tomatoes so contain a good amount of iron.
  • baked potato
  • sweet potato – better with skin on.

Iron rich fruits

Fruits are not great sources of iron but the best choices would be dried fruits such as apricots, dates and figs.

Iron-rich foods for baby puree

If you decide to do some purees as well then there are plenty of foods that can be pureed. For example vegetables can be pureed with a little water. Recipes that have a sauce such as meatballs and tomato sauce easily puree. You will find most recipes can be blended up and may or may not require a little water to make it smooth and easy to blend.

Tips to get enough iron

Here are some tips on how to include foods and maximise iron intake.

  • Offer a iron rich food with every meal. Starting wtih one meal and building it up. Use the 12 examples listed above to include a variety of sources.
  • Combine the iron rich food with a vitamin C rich food. For example; infant fortified cereal with berries, tomato sauce with spinach or other leafy greens. A glass of orange juice with hommous and toast.
  • Include infant fortified cereal in baking finger foods like porridge fingers, muffins or pancakes. Simply substitute half the flour with the fortified cereal.
  • Use a cast iron pan for cooking meals like slow cooked beef, stews etc. Cast iron pans can add a little extra iron into the recipe during cooking.
  • If your baby is struggling with the texture of meat then blend it into a puree and spread some on some toast fingers. You could do the same with fish like salmon too.
  • Don’t serve milk with every meal as too much calcium from the milk can prevent absorption of iron.

Iron rich recipes for babies

These are my suggestions to get started with baby led weaning. They are also perfect for the whole family so you don’t need to be making extra meals.

tomato, pepper and chickpea dip in a bowl with some breadsticks next to it.

FAQ

Does your baby need an iron supplement?

It depends if they are eating enough iron rich foods. If you offer an iron rich food with every meal and continue with breastmilk or infant formula alongside their solids then they should be getting enough iron.

If your baby is not ready to start solids are 6 months or you have other concerns then it is best to speak to a health care professional. This may be particularly the case for premature babies, or has a health condition that affects iron absorption. Your GP will be able to offer a blood test to check your babies iron levels. It is best to get them checked before self administering iron supplements.

Can babies get enough iron from a vegetarian diet?

Babies can get enough iron from a vegetarian diet if they eat enough iron rich foods from non haem plant sources. There are also some compounds in plant foods that reduce iron absorption such as tannins and phytates. make sure they get plenty of iron rich foods with every meal and use the tips suggested above.

What is a good iron rich breakfast for a 6 month old?

A good iron rich breakfast for a 6 month old would be a wheat biscuit type cereal or ready brek which are fortified with iron. You could add some chopped or pureed fruits on top to increase iron absorption.

 

Conclusion

Ensuring adequate Iron rich foods during baby led weaning can feel like a huge task! If you are struggling with your baby’s diet and like some support to feel confident they are getting the right nutrition then you might like to get a free clarity call to see how I can help.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

MEET THE AUTHOR
Author Penelope Henderson

Hi I’m Penelope Henderson RNutr Registered Nutritionist specialising in children’s nutrition and responsive feeding therapy.

I am a mum of 2, with over 15 years of experience in nutrition. I support parents to feel confident in how and what to feed their child. I hope you find my recipes and nutrition posts useful, so you can enjoy stress free cooking and mealtimes.

More about me

VIEW CATEGORIES
DOWNLOAD MY FREE GUIDE
free guide to 6 steps to calm and happy mealtimes

6 steps to calm and happy mealtimes

Say goodbye to dreaded mealtimes and hello to stress-free meals, where you can enjoy family time without the fuss!

Inside, you’ll discover:

> How to set up successful mealtimes

> Easy ways to get them exploring and eating a wider variety of foods

> How to get them eating more, so you’re not throwing it away!

Yes I need this!

VIEW RECENT POSTS

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This