Teenagers are renowned for being tired and moody, however before you dismiss their attitude as the usual teenage angst, be sure they are getting enough iron.

Insufficient intake of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which can cause irritability, moodiness, lethargy, loss of appetite, poor immune function, pale lips and gums, easy bruising and poor growth.

Within the body iron has many important functions including the transport of oxygen via blood which is essential for cellular function. For this reason it is particularly important to ensure adequate intake of iron during periods of rapid growth and development such as infancy, childhood, adolescence and pregnancy.

Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to iron deficiency (anaemia) not primarily because of their diet but the high iron losses that come with the onset of menarche (their first period). Of course fad dieting, due to perceived body weight issues, a means of asserting independence, or expressing ideologies such as animal rights through vegetarianism, can contribute to low iron levels too.

Iron is found in both plant and animal foods however animal sources such as red meat, liver, chicken and fish, are more readily absorbed then plant based sources. The rate of iron absorption from plant foods can be increased however by partnering them with good sources of vitamin C. This can increase the absorption rate of plant based iron (non-heme) six fold, making it quiet comparable with animal (heme) sources. Good plant based sources of iron include dried beans, lentils, peas, broccoli, spinach, kale and whole grains. Fortified breakfast cereals or breads can also be good options.

Between the age of 14 – 18 years (when iron needs are at their highest, with the exception of pregnancy) girls require about 15mg of iron per day.

By eating a range of foods from across the five food groups it should be possible to achieve an adequate intake of iron, however consult with your GP if you have any concerns.

The diet plan below deliberately excludes meat to demonstrate that it is still possible to meet iron requirements on a well-balanced plant based diet. Care has been taken to ensure adequate vitamin C is included at each meal to increase non-heme iron absorption. Recommended servings from each of the five food groups have also been met.

Breakfast: Wheat biscuits with raisins and milk

  • 3 Wheat biscuits (4 mg iron)
  • 1/4 cup raisin  (0.8mg iron)
  • 1 cup milk  (0.1mg iron)

Morning Snack: Almonds and watermelon

  • 2 slices Watermelon (1.4mg iron)
  • ¼ cup almonds (1.3mg iron)

Lunch: Split pea soup with a wholegrain roll and carrot sticks on the side

  • 1 whole grain bread roll (1.4mg iron)
  • 1.5 cup homemade split pea soup (3.5 mg iron)
  • ½ cup carrot sticks (0.1mg iron)

Afternoon Tea: Wholegrain and nut muesli bar and yoghurt

  • Oat and nut muesli bar (1.5mg iron)
  • 200g low fat yoghurt (0.2mg iron)

Dinner: Lentil Bolognese with hidden veggies

  • 1/2 cup brown lentils (3.3mg iron)
  • 1 cup spinach (1.8 mg iron)
  • ½  cup broccoli (0.5mg iron)
  • 100g of whole grain pasta (1.1mg iron)
  • Tomato based sauce (1.0mg iron)
  • 40g tasty cheese (0.3mg iron)

Total iron intake =22.3mg

tired and moody” image from Shutterstock
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  • Great article, but actually getting them to eat it is another battle


  • I may not have a teenager but my eldest is like this so these recipes will be good to try.


  • Lucky for me I don’t have to go through that for another 8 years


  • I was always a tired teenager. Lots of school work doesn’t help the situation.


  • sometimes it is hard to get teenagers to eat let alone eat healthy


  • Sounds like I might be able to benefit from a bit of iron myself!


  • Thanks for this article, it makes sense why girls need iron!


  • I dont have a teenage child, but at times around that moth i can get in to moods and sometimes hard to get out of them


  • I give my teenager iron supplements :) it’s so important for them


  • we all should have an iron level test done, when we are feeling down


  • Good article, if only our daughter liked half the food suggested.


  • I think we all need to check our iron intakes


  • great advice that is very easy to follow


  • Great advice from this article. I like the diet plan too :)


  • it can be so difficult when they just flatly refuse to eat what is being offered


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