Health Canada and the Diet Dispensary recommend first introducing meat and alternatives along with iron-fortified cereals in order to reduce the risk of anemia.
Children need iron at around six months of age
During the last weeks of pregnancy, the fetus builds up its iron stores, which will serve for the first six months of life. After this period, the iron stores are nearly depleted, and the baby requires sources of iron from the diet. The child is more likely to develop anemia if their iron needs are not met through the diet.
Prioritize iron-rich foods
The first foods that should be offered to children are iron-rich foods, such as meat, meat alternatives (i.e., legumes and tofu) and iron-fortified cereals. From the time complementary foods are introduced, it is recommended that iron-rich foods be offered at least twice a day. By the age of 12 months, iron-rich foods should be included in every meal.
Apart from iron-rich foods, there is no specific order for introducing other types of foods. Even allergenic foods can be introduced right away! Only the introduction of cow’s milk should be delayed until between 9 and 12 months of age, when the child is eating iron-rich foods every day.
Iron absorption depends on the source
Iron from animal sources (meat, poultry, fish) is best absorbed by the human body. To meet the baby’s iron needs, meat, fish and poultry should be included regularly in the diet. Despite being young, the baby should be able to digest these foods if they showed signs of readiness to eat.
Foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as fruits and vegetables, increase iron absorption. So, it’s a great and tasty idea to pair iron-rich foods, such as iron-fortified cereals, with vitamin C-rich foods.