When I speak to parents of picky eaters, the worry that their child is iron deficient is often front of mind.
Not eating meat is common for young children. It’s a lot of chewing for very little reward. This is also part of the reason nuggets are so popular, the meat just mushes in the mouth without a lot of effort!
No meat? What next? How to not be iron deficient.
Although meat sources are an easy way to obtain bio-available iron, we can of course get it from other foods.
Let’s look at some of the places where our child can obtain some iron and then, before you panic, look at some fussy eater friendly ways to add these to the diet:
1. Fortified cereals, rice, wheat and oats
2. Legumes – beans, peas and lentils
3. Tofu, tempeh and soybeans
4. Nuts and seeds. Pumpkin, sesame, hemp, flaxseeds/linseeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, macadamias
5. Vegetables especially green leafy ones. Broccoli, cabbage, avocado and Brussels too.
6. Tomato paste.
7. Potatoes and sweet potatoes (kumara)
9. Whole grains – amaranth, spelt, oats, quinoa
11. Fruit. Especially dried fruit like prunes, raisins and apricots. Olives, which are technically a fruit!
12. Coconut milk
13. Dark chocolate
16. Cooking in a cast iron pan
Tips to help absorption
Eating iron-rich foods alongside those with Vitamin C aids absorption. Dark chocolate orange anyone? 😉
Calcium-rich foods can impede uptake so it’s best to eat these separately, if possible.
How to present foods for your picky eater
You may be looking down the list and freaking out because none of them are on your child’s list of foods they will eat. But sometimes, thinking outside of the square can make them easier to add in than you’re expecting.
1. Finding products that have it added is one way to increase the iron eaten. Many commercial cereals, for example, are fortified with iron.
2. Peas, beans and lentils are often not top of a picky eaters list! Hummus though is frequently accepted and made from chickpeas and tahini (sesame seeds) so is perfect. Beans can be added to baking (black bean brownies – yummm). Orange lentils mush down to nothing so can be mixed in to sauces.
3. Tofu. There are choc mousse recipes using tofu. There are also a fair number of children who will accept crumbed tofu nuggets. Very easy to eat!
4. Nuts and seeds are often accepted by fussy eaters as they are crunchy and dry. If they’re not accepted on their own can we dip in chocolate? What about nut butters? Bliss balls? Or sunflower and pumpkin seeds easily replace flour in baking. I grind first to make a flour. You can swap a small percentage to start.
5. Vegetables. Green leafy veg like spinach can be added to smoothies or baking. Baby spinach leaves though are surprisingly often an OK food for picky children.
6. Tomato paste. I listed this separately as for those children who like tomato sauce it can be a fairly easy sell. Use on pizza, in sauces etc.
7. Potatoes, especially in the skins. Crispy potato skins – yum!!
8. Rice. If regular rice is not on the menu what about rice pudding?
9. Whole grains. Porridge, baking or bread made from wholegrains. What about eggs (iron rich), milk and wholemeal flour for a pancake. Wholemeal spelt pasta is very soft and not like the other wholemeal pastas which can be very chewy and off-putting for a less confident eater. Oats can be perfect for anything from Anzac cookies to thickening up sauces (I put in a spice/coffee grinder to turn into flour).
10. Mushrooms. Agreed, these are a tough sell if you’re not a mushroom lover. But if you are …
11. Dried fruit can be added to baking instead of sugar. If you soften and blitz them first you can even remove the textural element for children that find that challenging. Adding fried fruit to porridge or pancakes is a great way to start the day.
12. Coconut milk is a good swap for milk for popsicles, baking, pancakes etc.
13. Dark chocolate may not be as readily accepted as milk but can be broken up and added as choc chips to all sorts of foods.
14. Molasses is a great bioavailable source of many vitamins. I add to baking, to desserts, to soups, stews, pies!! It does have a strong flavour so proceed with caution. Please also make sure you’re buying real molasses and not the cheaper version which is just coloured sugar ☹
15. Marmite, which you either love or don’t! You can, however, use instead of salt in some dishes (eg. in meatballs).
16. Cooking in cast iron, especially moist, acidic foods does transfer iron into the system. Yeah, something that doesn’t require eating a new food!
Our children not getting all the nutrients they need can be a constant worry. But, thinking outside of the box can be really helpful.
If you still feel your child is not eating enough of the foods that fuel them feel free to get in touch for a chat about how we can help. There are some very effective and proven strategies for supporting even the most hesitant or stubborn of eaters to add new foods.
Judith is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.