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Iron For Vegans: How Vegan Kids Get The Nutrients They Need!
In this article you will learn about iron for vegans, specifically needs for children, a brief overview to why we need it in our diet, along with vegan sources for iron that kids will actually eat!
This guide, that you’re currently reading, for raising vegan kids is a bit lengthy, grab the PDF version so you can download & refer to it anytime!
This article is a continuation of Dietary Guidelines For Kids: How Vegan Kids Get The Nutrients They Need! If you find yourself wanting to continue reading this guide for Raising Vegan Kids but don’t have the time now, you can sign up to receive the PDF version in your inbox HERE, or at the bottom of any page in this guide!
*Please note that I am not a doctor or registered dietitian and am not liable for what you do with the information I provide. The following is for informational purposes only. If you or you child has a medical condition or you have concerns about raising vegan kids, please consult your pediatrician or a registered dietitian familiar with a vegan diet.
“In the United States, the prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia is estimated at 2 to 5 percent among females and 1 to 2 percent among males.”²
That quote from the book Becoming Vegan; The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition (Comprehensive Edition) is not referring solely to vegans. This iron deficiency is just as prevalent in non-vegans as vegans.
So, why is this one of the minerals that every non-vegan brings up when we tell them that we’re going to raise vegan kids? Or what our children’s doctors may bring up?
It could have something to do with old knowledge. Whether your non-vegan friends who turned into dieticians at the flip of a switch know it or not!
If you don’t know, there are actually two types of iron available in food; non-heme iron and heme iron.
Honestly, if you never took a college level course in nutrition or read tons of health books that concern nutrition, it’s very likely you didn’t know that; and if I hadn’t done those things, I probably wouldn’t know either.
It used to be thought that heme iron (which comes from meat/ animal products) was superior to nonheme iron (iron from plant foods). When in fact, it’s the opposite!
The difference is that nonheme iron is regulated by the body better than heme iron, so not as much will be absorbed through plants when your body knows your iron stores are good; with heme iron, your body would just continue to absorb it, which actually leads to issues later on in life.
Why Do We Need Iron?
Iron transports oxygen to red blood cells to be used.
Without the red blood cells getting sufficient oxygen, they get tired and don’t work as well.
What happens if kids get too much or not enough iron?
On a plant based/vegan diet, you don’t have to worry about your child getting too much iron, as plant sources of iron are nonheme and the body absorbs only as much as it needs from those sources.
However, everyone, vegans and non-vegans, should make sure they are getting enough iron, as not getting enough can cause iron-deficiency anemia.
Iron-deficiency anemia results in fatigue (and other symptoms) due to red blood cells not getting enough oxygen.
Infants, teens, and women of child-bearing age, should take extra care in making sure they get enough iron in their diets. Specifically for infants 7-12 months, as their requirements are quite high for their size; teens because they tend to have horrible diets to begin with; and women of child-bearing age because of monthly blood loss.
If you are currently pregnant and dealing with anemia, you can read how I dealt with being anemic during my third pregnancy HERE.
How much Iron do kids need
Kids need different amounts of iron depending on their age.
|Mineral||0-6 months||7-12 months||1-3 years||4-8 years||9-13 male||9-13 female||14-18 male||14-18 female|
Infants up to 6 months of age will be able to get all the iron they need from breastmilk or formula.
Once they start eating food, whether purees or baby led weaning, you should introduce iron rich foods into their diets, as their need for iron is greatly increased!
If you were anemic during pregnancy, then talk to your child’s pediatrician and see if they recommend an iron supplement for your infant. At least until they turn a year, which is when iron needs slightly decrease, and your child will be eating a lot more of a variety of foods.
The next time they’ll need as much iron in their diet, as they do between 7-12 months, will be when they are teenagers, specifically teenage girls.
Teenage girls need 15 mg of iron a day. Luckily, for us and them, a 2 oz piece of dark chocolate (using 70-85% cacao) might be able to provide them almost half the iron they need for a day (at around 7.1 mg)! ²
Now, let’s get into some other good sources of iron for kids, as they can’t just be eating dark chocolate all day everyday for their iron needs!
Good Sources of Iron for Kids
In Minerals for Vegan Kids: Raising Healthy Vegan Kids I mentioned that some good vegan sources of iron are dried fruit and legumes, and that is correct. However there are so many more options, and not just chocolate either!!
- A quarter cup of whole sesame seeds provides 5.3 mg of iron
- A quarter cup of hemp seeds contains 4.9 mg
- A cup of parsley contains 4 mg (though I’m not sure how you would get anyone to eat a full cup of this in a day!)
- A half cup of tofu contains between 2.1 and 3.5 mg
- A half cup of white beans contains 3.5 mg
- A half cup of lentils provides 3.5 mg
- A half cup of cooked spinach contains 3.4 mg
- A quarter cup of ground flaxseeds contains 3.2 mg
- A quarter cup of chia seeds provides 3.3 mg
- A half cup of canned black olives contains 2.3 mg
- A baked potato even provides 1.9 mg!
There are many more sources of iron, but those are some of the most kid friendly with the highest amount of mg of irons there are.
Maybe you’re thinking, what about molasses? I’m always told to make my kids those cookies when trying to get more iron in them.
Well, you can give them molasses cookies if you can’t get them to eat enough of any other source. One tablespoon of molasses will provide 0.9 mg of iron. So then the question becomes, how much molasses are you putting in the recipe and how many cookies are they eating?
If your kids like oatmeal, a half cup of oatmeal can provide 1.4 mg. Just be sure not to use calcium rich dairy free milk with it, as calcium can interfere with iron absorption. Also, try adding some strawberries or other fruit high in vitamin C to up the absorption of iron!
If your kids are big quinoa fans, a half cup of quinoa will give them 1.4 mg of iron. Just watch out if feeding it to a toddler who likes to throw!
Most beans (at ½ cup) will provide between 1 and 3 mg of iron!
Nuts and seeds (at ¼ cup) generally between 1 and 5 mg. Though I don’t recommend giving toddlers or infants nuts or seeds due to the choking hazard. However, nut and seed butters (at 2 tablespoons) will provide around the same amount!
There are other various veggies than will provide somewhat high amounts of iron, such as
- Kale (1 cup) at 2.7 mg
- Cooked sweet potato (½ cup) at 1.2 mg
- Cooked peas (½ cup) at 1.3 mg
- And more!
With all of the options of where to get iron from, the options and combinations of foods to give your kids each day are almost endless!
And, those foods not only provide iron, but other vitamins and minerals as well, which is why a varied diet is so important for everyone!
Kid Friendly Recipes with High Iron ingredients
Now you know some foods that contain iron and approximately how much, now how do you get your kids to actually eat them?
One of the easiest ways I’ve found is by giving my kids a smoothie everyday as a snack, or their drink with breakfast.
To get a smoothie high in iron, it’s as simple as throwing together the ingredients below and blending til smooth;
- 1-2 cups orange juice
- 1 cup kale
- 1-2 bananas
- ¼ cup hemp seeds and/or flaxseeds and/or chia seeds
- 1-2 cups frozen fruit (preferably fruit high in vitamin C, like strawberries)
Depending on if one child drinks the whole smoothie themselves or it’s split among 2 or 3 kids, will determine how much iron the smoothie provides.
If one child were to drink that entire smoothie, you’d be looking at about 7-8 mg of iron, just from a smoothie! (1 banana plus 1 cup of strawberries contain about 1 mg of iron, as well!)
If your child doesn’t like some of the ingredients in the smoothie above, no problem!
That’s the wonderful thing about smoothies, they are customizable; just be sure to add in some seeds and other foods high in iron if possible!
Dishes that use Tofu Ricotta
One special dish that I love to make my family, with the help of my 4 and 7 year olds, is vegan stuffed shells.
The tofu ricotta in that recipe is stuffed full of foods high in iron!
That recipe is a winner! Kid approved, husband approved, picky eater approved, even toddler approved! My youngest daughter started eating it before she was a year old, as she did baby led weaning.
The ‘ricotta’ uses tofu, cooked spinach, and a cashew cream that includes cashews (12 mg of iron from just the cashews for the full recipe), lemon juice (high in vitamin C), and more!
Lentil Sloppy Joes
This recipe doesn’t take much time, but is cooked from scratch.
Simply cook a cup of lentils in 2 cups of water, or veggie broth til there’s no more liquid; keep the pot covered, like you would for rice.
Saute a diced onion and a clove or two of minced garlic.
Add the cooked ingredients in the smaller pot/pan on the stove into the bigger pot/pan with the other ingredients.
Then add in about a cup of tomato sauce, a diced green pepper, and any spices you’d like. I sometimes add in a few shakes of cumin and/or garlic.
Let it cook til it’s thick like sloppy joe filling. Then add to a bun and enjoy!
This dish is super simple!
All it is is white beans cooked in marinara sauce or tomato sauce with your spices of choice, may I recommend parsley!
- Sliced banana
- Sliced strawberries
- Sliced kiwi
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Flax meal
- Dried fruit (cranberries and/or raisins)
- Dark chocolate chips
- And any other nut/seed your child enjoys
Pour a bit of non-dairy milk over it, like it’s cereal and enjoy!
Obviously, there are many more combinations of foods and many more recipes with high iron ingredients in them, but those should get you started and help you feel a little less stressed about being able to get enough iron in your vegan child’s diet!
*Notes about Iron: to make sure as much iron is absorbed from the food your children eat, make sure they are not consuming it within an hour of foods higher in calcium, or drinking tea/coffee. To help increase absorption, make sure you add in foods high in vitamin C when serving your child iron rich foods.
If you have any other specific questions regarding iron and your child specifically, I’d recommend you speak with their pediatrician or a dietitian who can look over their medical/food history.
Didn’t start from the beginning? Start Here!
Need some inspiration for being or raising vegan? Check out the vegan quotes in Vegan Quotes: For Health, the Planet, & the Animals!
¹Dietary Guidelines of 2015-2020 ²Becoming Vegan: The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition (Comprehensive Edition), by Branda Davis, RD & Vesanto Melina, MS, RD