You already know nutrition is key for your child's well-being, but iron is especially important. Iron helps boost proper blood flow (which means it supplies your child's cells and tissues with essential oxygen!) and low iron levels can leave your child cranky and fatigued. And that's not the only issue — kids with low iron levels also tend to perform worse at school, a recent study found.
Thankfully, including just a few iron-rich foods a day makes it easy to meet the recommended iron intake, which is 10 mg for kids age 4 to 8, and 8 mg for kids age 9 to 13. Reach for these iron-packed staples at snack time and include them in your meals to supply your kids with iron.
1. Raisins and Dried Fruits
Dried fruit is ultra-portable and lunchbox-friendly, and it's also packed with iron. A half-cup of dried apricots, for example, has about 4 mg of iron, while raisins and dried pears offer about 2 mg of iron per half-cup. Dried fruit also supplies fiber to prevent hunger pangs — which might otherwise distract your child at school — plus vitamin A for healthy eyesight.
Limit your kid's sugar intake by picking up sugar-free dried fruits (check the ingredient list -- anything ending in "-ose" is sugar!).
Try this: Serve 'em on their own as an easy snack, or add dried fruits to homemade granola.
You already know spinach is great for your kids — but did you know it's loaded with iron? And spinach also supplies vitamin A for immunity and vitamin C for healthy bones. But, unfortunately, spinach doesn't have a reputation as kid-friendly. Let's change that!
Try this: Make spinach delicious by serving it with your child's favorite flavors, like cheese. Since spinach loses so much volume as it cooks, you can add several cups to your child's favorite pasta dishes without affecting the flavor. Try adding it to this delicious homemade mac and cheese recipe.
Or try this: Make easy, cheesy roll ups by stuffing a tortilla with spinach, cream cheese, ham and shredded cheddar. Or make "green monster" smoothies featuring spinach and your child's favorite fruits.
3. Roast Beef
Beef packs a serious one-two punch of iron — not only is the meat itself high in iron, but the iron is in a form that's easily absorbed by the body. Your child will also get protein for strong bones, vitamin B-12 for cognitive function and niacin for nerve health.
Try this: Pick up deli roast beef to make kid-friendly roll ups. Simply wrap thin slices of beef around a dill pickle spear and add a touch of mustard (or mayo). Each 3-ounce serving of beef has about 3 mg of iron — roughly one-third of your child's iron needs for the day!
4. Crackers and Cheese
This kid-friendly staple not only supplies calcium (thanks to the cheese) but it's also a great source of iron. The flour used to make wheat crackers typically contains added iron — sometimes enough to cover your child's entire daily iron needs in a single serving!
Keep this snack healthy by opting for whole wheat crackers paired with low-fat cheese, like low-fat cheddar or mozzarella.
Try this: Use the opportunity to sneak in fruits and veggies, too. Crackers and cheddar cheese works well with thinly-sliced apple, while mozzarella pairs perfectly with tomato or cucumber.
Mushrooms, like spinach, aren't typically thought of as kid-friendly — but that doesn't mean they can't be. They're among the best sources of plant-based iron, and supply about 2 mg per cup. Your kids will also get fiber to keep them full between meals, plus antioxidants to support healthy growth.
Try this: Make iron-rich mushroom "pizza" your kids will crave, using large portabello mushrooms as the "crust." After washing, use a spoon to remove the gills from the underside of the mushroom. Add a spoonful of tomato or pizza sauce, a sprinkle of cheese and your child's favorite pizza toppings, then bake until the cheese is melted and golden brown.
You might not think of edamame beans (green, immature soybeans) as kid-friendly, but their crunchy texture makes them totally lunchbox-friendly — as long as you add a bit of flavor. Each cup has about 5 mg of iron, and soybeans are also one of the best plant-based sources of protein around.
Try this: Make a crispy and satisfying snack by thawing hulled edamame and draining to remove excess moisture. Spread the beans on a baking pan and sprinkle with sea salt and malt vinegar, then bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, or until golden brown.
This one shouldn't be a hard sell! The same nutrients that make dark chocolate great for you — including copper, fiber and antioxidants — are great for your child, too. And opting for dark chocolate means your kid will get over 2 mg of iron per ounce. In general, the darker the chocolate, the more iron they'll get.
If your child doesn't like very dark chocolate, start with darker varieties of milk chocolate (it still has some benefits!) and gradually shop for darker versions to help your child get more iron.