Whether you or someone in your family suffers from an iron deficiency or you are just in search of some healthy meal options, setting up an iron-rich menu plan can make a nutritional difference at the dinner table. Iron is a mineral that serves several functions in the body. For example, iron aids in digestion, helps the body transport oxygenated blood throughout the body, and helps muscles use and store oxygen.
Iron is a crucial mineral for just about everyone. During pregnancy, a lack of iron in the diet can increase the risk of delivering babies pre-term, which puts newborns at increased risk for health problems. Infants who do not consume enough iron in their diets are at increased risk for delayed mental function, as well as delayed motor function. With adults and teens, a lack of iron can result in fatigue and poor memory.
Seafood contains the most iron of any natural food. Two of the most iron-rich options include canned clams, a 3-ounce serving of which contains 23.8 mg of iron; and cooked oysters, a 3-ounce serving of which contains 10.2 mg of iron. If your children are wary of eating seafood, disguise clams and oysters -- and their somewhat briny taste -- by cooking them in soups, stews or hearty chowders full of herbs and vegetables.
Eye on the Innards
The organ meats -- such as the giblets or liver -- of chickens and other fowl are among the richest natural sources of iron. A single 3-ounce serving of organ meat can provide between 5.2 and 9.9 mg of iron. However, to most children, a large slab of liver is not the most appetizing food option. Dress up liver and other organ meats with some flavorful extras. For example, saute small chunks of liver with garlic and onions, then combine them with lemon, pepper and nuts like pecans or almond slices. Or coat strips of liver with bread crumbs and a salad dressing mix, then fry them in extra virgin olive oil.
While they contain less iron than organ meats, traditional meats also provide large quantities of iron. Moreover, kids will typically like traditional meats better and you probably already have ideas on how to prepare the meats. Examples include beef chuck, which has 3.1 mg of iron per 3-ounce serving; bottom round beef, which has 2.8 mg of iron per 3-ounce serving; and beef ribs, which have 2.3 mg of iron per 3-ounce serving. Roast or grill these meats with salt, pepper and other seasonings.
On the Side
If you're looking for iron-rich side dishes, spinach -- which provides 3.2 mg per half-cup serving -- is a great go-to option. Serve the spinach raw in a salad with a creamy ranch dressing, steam it or saute it in extra virgin olive oil. Cooked beans are another iron-rich food. Examples include soybeans, which have 4.4 mg of iron per half-cup serving, white beans, which have 3.9 mg of iron per half-cup serving, and kidney beans, which have 3.2 mg of iron per half-cup serving.