At Lila’s routine one-year-old blood work, we got the news that she was anemic. She refused to eat any meat, baby cereal, eggs, or bread, so I can’t exactly say I was surprised with the results, but I still had to try to figure out what to do when your baby is anemic.
I took a beat to freak out (my baby! something is wrong with her blood! and now she’s ANEMIC!) and then I did my research. There are supplements your child can take, but you also need to address your baby’s nutrition. You’re going to have to find a way to add more iron-rich foods to your toddler’s diet.
Unfortunately, if your kid is anything like mine, they got themselves into this situation in the first place by being too dang picky to actually eat the iron-rich foods you’ve supplied. So how do you get a baby to get enough iron when they HATE all the iron-containing foods?
If you find yourself asking the same question, please don’t let your child’s blood test results scare you. There are lots of simple, easy ways to add more iron to your baby’s diet. Check out our tips below to get your child’s iron levels up to par in no time!
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Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to sneak in more of all the iron-rich goodness that your baby can’t stand (and in case you’re wondering, we’re talking about actual smoothies, not icees like last time). Create a smoothie mix that is filled with bananas, strawberries, and mangos- whatever it is that your little one DOES like- and then gradually add in the ingredients they are less fond of.
In particular, spinach, baked sweet potato, and white beans will add a lot of iron without affecting the taste and texture TOO much (Source). A good mix with the blender will help ensure that everything is mixed evenly. Add a little more with each recipe, until you find a balance your baby will tolerate.
Add Baby Cereal to EVERYTHING
And we mean, EVERYTHING. Lila refused to eat baby cereal on it’s own, so when we found she was anemic, one of my first strategies was to find a way to sneak that iron-fortified cereal in everywhere. Each morning, I measured out the recommended amount of baby cereal, and made it a goal to use it up creatively throughout the course of the day. When you’re looking for ways to sneak it in, I guarantee you’ll find them!
Anything semi-liquid had baby cereal added to it, and any finger foods were sprinkled with it. We added baby cereal to applesauce, purees, smoothies, red spaghetti sauce, and soups. We “dusted” bananas, diced peaches, diced pears, and mango with baby cereal (which, coincidentally, also makes them easier to pick up).
We’ve also got a DELICIOUS toddler muffin recipe that uses baby cereal and iron-fortified oats that toddlers gobble up (pretty much without exception). Consider making pancakes from baby cereal as well!
When it comes to your baby’s snacks, you need to make sure you are providing items that are high in iron. We’ve mentioned several good snack ideas above, but you should also be aware that Cheerios contain a high amount of iron. For snacks, serve 1/4 cup dry Cheerios, a small tangerine cut into pieces and dusted with baby cereal, and a few pieces of diced sweet potato, for example.
If you’re lucky, your little one will like eggs on their own. My daughter was always willing to at least nibble on some scrambled eggs, but we still needed to up the iron in them. Since egg yolks have more than twice as much iron as egg whites, we snuck in more iron by using two egg yolks for each egg white. It was an easy way to add more iron to a baby’s diet without making a huge change.
Serve More Meat
You’re likely in this situation because your kiddo wouldn’t consume much meat in the first place. That’s what happened to us, anyways! But we had to find a way to provide more iron-rich foods for a baby, so we had to get creative.
In order to do this, we continued to present Lila with bite-sized pieces of beef and chicken with lunch and dinner each day. We found that she would eat more chicken if it was mixed with mayo, similar to a chicken-salad. She would pick the meat out of her spaghetti with meat sauce, so we started to break the meat into smaller pieces with a fork before adding it to sauce. She was unable to pick out the pieces then, and we snuck a little ground beef into her that way.
I feel like I should also tell you that chicken liver and beef liver are the most iron-rich foods you can offer your baby. But I’m on the picky side myself, so I figured if I wouldn’t eat it, neither would she. If you feel differently, it’s a great way to help a baby who is anemic.
Pair with Citrus
Did you know that vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron? I didn’t until I was trying to find ways to treat anemia with diet. Once I knew, I made sure that her meals always included lots of vitamin C.
So serve that chicken salad with a tangerine, or pair your ground beef with a tomato sauce. Strawberries, red and green bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, and brussel sprouts are all also high in Vitamin C. (Source)
If you’ve got a toddler who drinks too much milk, it can contribute to iron-deficiency (aka anemia). Lila was a milk monster, and I had it in my head that there was no such thing as too much of a good thing. It turns out that too much dairy intake can actually inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron.
Our doctor recommended that we limit Lila to two 8-ounce servings of dairy each day. It was a struggle, but it was important to her health, so we decided to reduce the amount of milk she was drinking. Ask your doctor for a recommendation on how much milk your toddler should drink, and then stick to that number.
There are iron supplements available that can put more iron directly into your little one. However, these supplements are not without their side effects. Possible side effects can include constipation and teeth-staining, as well as general stomach upset. We talked to our doctor and decided that, in addition to hitting it hard with her diet, we would give half the recommended dose of iron supplements each day.
Finding out that your baby is anemic can be a scary thing, but it is also reversible and easily fixed. By making some adjustments, we found that a mixture of iron-rich foods for babies and iron supplements were enough to treat Lila’s anemia. By her six-month retest, her levels were back where they were supposed to be, and we were able to stop supplementing with iron drops.
Although I’m not gonna lie- I still sneak baby cereal into her applesauce once in a while. Old habits die hard!
This post is the final installment of a three part series. Check out our post on Ending Food Battles to encourage healthy eating habits (without the fuss). And you can read about the Dark Side of Having Good Eaters for some laughs (and grass-is-green perspective).
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