Good sources of essential nutrients
Here you will find examples of food combinations that when taken throughout the day will provide your child with the iron, calcium and zinc they need according to their age.
They don’t have to eat the exact foods and combinations shown here; in many cases another food from the same food group provides a similar amount of nutrients.
The important thing is to learn which food groups should be included in your child’s daily diet. As you can see, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains are good sources of all three nutrients and therefore they should be part of their meals every day.
Calcium-fortified plant milks and yoghurts, as well as calcium-set tofu, can provide 50% of the daily calcium requirements, and are a good way to ensure an adequate calcium intake.
Between the ages of 2 and 6 years, children need 6-7 mg of iron per day.
This amount of iron can be found in:
- One slice of wholemeal bread (0.8mg) + one tablespoon tahini (1.1mg) + half a bowl of cooked peas (1.1mg) + a glass of soya milk (1.3mg) + four tablespoons of oat flakes (1mg) + two falafels (1.1mg) = 6.4 mg.
- Half a bowl of cooked quinoa (1.4mg) + 3-4 tablespoons of hummus (1.2 mg) + 10 olives (0.8mg) + 50g of tofu (1.4 mg) + one small sweet potato (1.4mg) = 6.2 mg
Between 7-10 years, children need 8.5-9 mg of iron. This amount can be found in:
- A handful of toasted sunflower seeds (1.1 mg) + half a bowl of steamed spinach (3.2mg) + half a bowl of cooked lentils (3.3mg) + two slices of wholemeal bread (1.6mg) = 9.2 mg
- 100 g of tofu (2.8mg) + a bowl of brown cooked rice (1.4mg) + a small plate (80g) of Brussels sprouts (1mg) + a handful of pistachios (1.1mg) + half a bowl of cooked beans (2.4 mg) = 8.7 mg
Female teenagers need 14.5-15 mg of iron every day. This amount can be found in:
- Two glasses of soya milk (2.6mg) + three spoonfuls of chia seeds (2.7 mg) + two slices of wholemeal bread (1.6mg) + one bowl of cooked broccoli (1mg) + half a bowl of chickpeas (2.6mg) + one handful of cashew nuts (2mg) + 4-5 dried apricots (2mg) = 14.5 mg
- Half a bowl of cooked lentils (3.3mg) + a handful of sunflower seeds (1.1mg) + one bowl of cooked wholemeal pasta (1.7mg) + half a bowl of steamed spinach (3.2mg) + 100g of tempeh (2.7mg) + 15-20g of dark chocolate (80-85% cacao) (2.5mg) = 14.5 mg
Remember that vitamin C improves iron absorption so it’s a good idea to include a serving of fruit (strawberries, orange, pineapple, mango, kiwifruit, papaya) or vegetables (broccoli, bell peppers, kale, cabbage, peas, cauliflower…) in each meal.
Between the ages of 2 and 10 years, children need 350-550 mg of calcium per day.
This amount of calcium can be found in:
- One glass of fortified soya milk, or other fortified plant milk (240mg) + one tablespoon of almond butter (55mg) + ¼ bowl of steamed kale (45mg) + 4 tablespoons of baked beans (40mg) + four tablespoons of oats (25mg) = 405 mg
- 80g of calcium-set tofu (320mg) + two slices of wholemeal bread (60mg) + one medium orange (50mg) + two tablespoons of chia seeds (80mg) + half a bowl of broccoli (30mg) = 540 mg
- 150g of fortified soya yoghurt (180mg) + 80g of tempeh (90mg) + one tablespoon of whole tahini (65mg) + half bowl of pak choi (80mg) = 415 mg
At 11-18 years, males need 1000 mg of calcium per day and females need 800 mg; this can be found in:
- Two glasses of fortified soya milk, or other fortified plant milk (480-500 mg) + half bowl of steamed kale (90mg) + a handful of almonds (75mg) + one large orange (75mg) + 4-5 dried figs (75mg) = 800 mg
- One glass of fortified soya milk, or other fortified plant milk (240mg) + 150g of fortified soya yoghurt (180mg) + 100 g of calcium-set tofu (300-400mg) + 1 bowl of pak choi (160mg) = 880-980 mg
- 300g of fortified soya yoghurt (360mg) + three tablespoons of chia seeds (120mg) + one bowl of broccoli (60mg) + 100g of tempeh (110mg) + small rocket salad (40mg) + two tablespoons of whole tahini (130mg) = 820 mg
Zinc is found in small amounts in many foods, mainly seeds, nuts, pulses and whole grains.
Between 1 and 3 years, children need 5 mg per day, at 4-6 years, 6.5 mg, between 7 and 10 years 7 mg and after 11 years, 9 mg.
The following food portions provide between 1.2 and 1.5 mg of zinc:
- One handful of sunflower seeds
- One handful of cashew nuts
- Half handful of pumpkin seeds
- Half bowl of cooked chickpeas or lentils
- Two slices of wholemeal bread
- Half bowl of edamame
- Five tablespoons of oats
A simple way to boost the zinc content of your child’s diet is to add a teaspoon of nutritional yeast to their meals 3-4 times a week.