For many babies, iron-fortified rice cereal is the first introduction to solid foods. One big reason for this is that iron-fortified cereal helps reduce the chances of iron deficiency, since iron stores start to become depleted about the same time a baby begins to eat solid foods. However, there are plenty of other options to consider that can ease your baby's way into solids without risking an iron deficiency. Speak with your baby's pediatrician to determine the best foods for your child's needs.
Breast Milk and Formula
If your baby is formula fed and still gets 24 to 36 ounces of iron-fortified formula a day, he should not need any extra iron in his diet, so you can start him on any age-appropriate solid foods you like. Likewise, breast milk contains enough iron to sustain an exclusively breastfed baby, so if your child is still primarily breastfed, he may be getting sufficient iron from your milk. As you increase the level of solids and decrease the amount of breast milk or formula, you will have to add other iron-rich foods to your infant's diet.
Meat and Eggs
Some parents start a baby directly onto whole or pureed foods, skipping the baby cereal entirely. Meat and poultry are excellent sources of iron and can be pureed to suit a toothless baby’s feeding ability. Egg yolks are another good iron source, and they are easy to mash with a fork when hard boiled.
Vegetables and Fruits
Plenty of vegetables and fruits have iron and are suitable for babies. Mashed sweet potato is a high-iron vegetable that is frequently served as a first baby food. Broccoli, spinach, kale and asparagus also contain iron and can be cooked and pureed along with a small amount of rice. Dried fruits aren’t usually safe for a baby when served whole because they are a choking hazard, but you can puree stewed prunes or apricots with brown rice and a small amount of blackstrap molasses for a homemade baby food with plenty of iron. If your baby’s primary iron consumption comes from fruits and vegetables, make sure to also include foods high in vitamin C in her diet because vitamin C helps the body better absorb plant-based iron.
Iron supplements are another option for babies who can't get enough iron, but they are rarely necessary in full-term, healthy infants. Giving a child an iron supplement when he doesn't need one can increase iron levels to a dangerous level, so give iron supplements only if your baby's doctor has prescribed them.