Q&A: iron supplements for babies

Jennifer writes:

"our peanut's iron was tested early at 9 months because she was not eating but a few baby spoons full of cereal a day... her iron was low at only 29%... she was then prescribed a vial-tasting liquid iron supplement... i haven't started her on it yet b/c i know this daily regimen will backfire on already difficult eating habits (she really resents the spoon, and isn't the most efficient self-eater to no surprise.) to cover all basis i had my iron tested (which has a history of being low), and surprisingly it was great at 42%... since peanut's iron was tested a month ago, i've started to cook some of my meals in cast iron and she eats a little bit better (i'm pushing the cereal with prunes)... for the meantime, i figured to remain diligent until her 12 month check up to see if her iron levels have changed...

what do you think? i'm sure you've heard of this nutritional problem before... anything else i can do, or do you think i'll have to succumb to the supplement?"

In my state (NY) there's a mandated lead test at 10 months (it used to be a year) that also includes an iron test, so I've had both my boys' iron levels tested. My older son* had a slightly low iron level, so we were also give the iron supplements.

While I'm sure that in 10 years there will be research showing the iron supplements aren't good for kids for some odd reason, I have no theoretical objections to them. My objection is purely practical--they taste like ass. I mean, really, really bad. Like licking a rusty nail (and not the good kind) mixed with cheap perfume.

More power to anyone who can get that stuff into their kid, but it was never going to happen in our household. I got enough bruises the first two times I tried it to think it would be worth it to keep trying. (As an added bonus, when your kid spits it out all over his shirt, it leaves a permanent stain. Hooray!) The only side effect of mildly low iron is low energy (not my son's problem), so I knew nothing really bad would happen if I didn't get the iron supplements into him.

Instead, we took a three-pronged approach to iron supplementation involving Floradix, cast iron, and Farina Stix.

Floradix is a liquid mixture of iron and a bunch of herbs (nettle wort, spinach, ocean kelp, etc.), plus juice concentrates and honey. It's not particularly delicious, but it's far more palatable than the iron drops, and you can mix it with juice to disguise it. (Most adults could just do a shot of it with no problem, but kids would probably need to have it mixed with juice. I think it tastes a lot like Jägermeister.) I could get it into my son once every day or every other day. Every little bit helps.

You've already mentioned cooking with cast iron pans. I did that, too, to try to get a little more iron into the foods we ate.

I also made my famous Farina Stix, which babies and toddlers seem to love to eat. They're made with either Cream of Wheat or Farina, both of which are high in iron. Here's the recipe:

Moxie's Famous Farina Stix

* 2 servings worth of dry Cream of Wheat or Farina
* enough canned/boxed chicken or vegetable broth to make the Farina (Read the label--many broths have MSG, which you don't want.)
* a couple of tablespoons of roasted red bell pepper, chopped into tiny pieces (very high in Vitamin C, to help with absorption of the iron)
* salt
* olive oil

Heat the broth to boiling in a saucepan and add a little salt for flavor (if the broth isn't already salted). Pour in the farina and stir as it cooks. Boil it until it's nice and thick, like polenta. Stir in the minced red bell pepper (not too much, or the farina won't hold together). Dump the hot farina out on a cookie sheet or piece of aluminum foil on the counter, and spread out so it's about a third of an inch thick or so. Let it cool and harden for around 15 minutes.

When you come back to it, heat a little olive oil in a saute pan (or cast iron skillet) while you cut the farina into strips. Make them the size an older baby or toddler could hold and bite into. Fry each piece of farina in the oil until it's nicely golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels or a cooling rack.

Let these cool before you give them to your baby to eat. They'll keep for a few days in the fridge, and can easily go along in a little container or baggie to eat on the run.

Does anyone else have any food suggestions to get more iron into babies and toddlers?

* My younger son's iron level was fine. I have no idea why, although I did introduce solids to them completely differently. With my older son I started with fortified rice cereal and all the other iron-fortified cereals, then moved on to mashed vegetables and fruits, etc. With my younger son I just fed him table food he could chew from the get-go. No fortified cereal. There's no way to tell with an n of 2, but this makes me think more about point #3 from my post about introducing solids, about our bodies losing the ability to process the iron in breastmilk once we start eating iron-fortified foods. I wish I could fast-forward 30 years to find out what the research is going to show.