Iron Rich Menus

Thanks for visiting! This is a follow-up to the “Iron Man” column, printed on page 4, in the NKC Tribune, January 24th, 2013. Copies available at the Cle Elum Tribune Offices: 807 W. Davis Street, suite A101, across from the new Taco Bell near Safeway. (509) 674-2511 or puchase online at

Balance is the Key, then add Vitamin C

Your goal: Daily, combine iron-rich foods with Vitamin C, to boost your absorption of iron. (studies have proven that by adding Vitamin C to your meals will increase your daily iron absorption… 20x times. And without the fear of iron-overload if you simply avoid meat and stick with plant based iron rich foods)

Remember there are two types of iron: one is from meats, and the other is from fruits & vegetables.

The meat kind builds itself in your blood and then stores it up in your muscles. Unfortunately, sometimes you can get too much iron build up and that can cause some serious health issues. (again, you’ll have to see your doctor for your specific iron needs, just know that an iron imbalance, too much or too little, can affect every organ in your body, including your brain).

Veggies (and more, refer to the lists below  )are a different form of iron; this type of iron is absorbed as you consume it, the body takes what it needs for the day and the rest is expelled. So you goal is to eat a daily balanced diet combining veggies & Vitamin C so you will not overload on too much iron. *see the non-meat, iron rich foods below

Iron Skillets

Don’t laugh, trace amounts of iron really do transfer into your food when you cook in an iron skillet.

The nice thing about these meals is you can start out by just taking small baby steps, enjoying a “good meal” here and there, or you can start right now, eating these healthy and nutritious meals every single day (which I highly recommend!)

Just to remind you of the basics, look over the lists below and let’s make something good to eat!

The Good Stuff

  • Dark leafy veggies: spinach, all greens like: kale, collards, mustard, turnip and beet
  • Tomatoes (#1 sun dried, then fresh toms & juice) “acids” like tomatoes, are high in iron
  • Potatoes! Baked, hash browns, etc, any style that are not deep fried or processed (instant)
  • Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi
  • Green & Red sweet bell peppers, onions, green hot/mild chili peppers
  • *Nuts & Seeds: sesame seeds, are #1 in iron. #1 in Vitamin E… are sunflower seeds!
  • Dried Fruits: apricot (#1), raisins, craisins, prunes, figs, etc
  • Cereals, many are fortified with iron and other nutrients, look at the labels
  • Whole Grains, breads, rice, pastas, etc… but you have to know, these also inhibit iron absorption, and must be combined with Vitamin C
  • Some Meats: beef & pork, including chicken & turkey (dark meats) (-see menus below)
  • Seafood: mollusks are best: clams (#1), mussels, scallops, oysters, followed by prawns and fish.
  • Egg Yolks

Dried Herbs have the #1 most amounts of Iron and many other healthy nutrients. Thyme is the highest, plus my faves like oregano, basil, parsley, black pepper and bay leaf…HEY! that’s my spaghetti sauce recipe! Others include: tarragon, dill, mint, sage, rosemary, and most other green herbs.

Go Nuts*

Dried seeds & nuts contain more iron than roasted. The Top 2 are Pumpkin & Squash seeds, so start saving them (also widely available in Middle Eastern sections and shops). Sesame seeds and Tahini (for making Hummus), excellent iron.

The Vitamin C Booster Club

  • Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes (whole, juices, marinades, cooking with any fruits/berries)
  • Cantaloupe & Honeydew (watermelon etc)
  • Strawberries, blueberries, Kiwi, Papaya (any and all fruits & berries)
  • All dried fruits, apricots, raisins, prunes, figs, etc (all high in iron AND Vitamin C, so for a healthy energy snack, enjoy them with roasted nuts, ‘granola style’)
  • Harvest Time: when fruits and berries are in season (as with every veggie too), they are at their peak of flavor, freshness and nutrition…even better, they are at their lowest price. Buy as much as you can and cook, preserve, dry/dehydrate or freeze them for later days when they are expensive and not grown locally.

Lets start out with some fun, easy, every-day foods:

Breakfasts (remember to keep glancing back up at the lists)

  • As often as you can: add a half a grapefruit, melons, or other fresh fruits & berries like peaches, strawberries, apples, oranges, etc to every breakfast.
  • Out of fruits? Just add a glass of OJ or another 100% fruit juice.
  • *Go nuts for … nuts! Try to add some whenever you can at breakfast and are great energy snacks for later in the day.  Sliced almonds on your cereal? You bet! Sliced Macadamia nuts, cranberries and oranges are great together. (Hint: make some muffins!)
  • Hot Oatmeal with some fresh or frozen fruits & berries. (“Laura’s” hint: add a little cinnamon and ‘it’s like eating a blueberry (or Peach) pie for breakfast!”) Dried fruits are good too, but can be a bit chewy, I just pour some hot water over them to plump them up, drain & serve.
  • (Please buy regular rolled oats, not the instant stuff in a packet, these often contain high sugars, and artificial flavors/ingredients. Rolled oats just take 5 minutes to cook, let stand covered for 5 minutes… then doll them up yourself with healthy, Vitamin C rich ingredients)
  •  Iron fortified cereals (and many are, just check out the labels). Again, just add the Vitamin C rich nuts, fruits & berries.
  •  Waffles or Pancakes, mmm with blueberries… try to make them with whole grains, like wheat, rice flour, buckwheat, oats, etc
  • 2 egg omelet with tomato slices (or other veggies), dried herbs for a flavor ‘zing’, and hash browns… just not everyday
  • “Huevos Rancheros”, just some scrambled eggs with salsa (there’s your tomatoes and herbs), with hash browns or whole wheat/grain tortillas
  • “Skillet” style breakfasts, where you combine a bunch of potatoes and veggies. (yes, you can add a little cheese and eggs if you like).
  • “Toast” …look for whole grains, multi grain and breads that contain nuts & seeds. To add some Vitamin C… just spread some marmalade or good jam/preserves.

Please try to avoid any heavy fat and high sodium breakfast meats like sausages, bacon and ham.

Lunches & Dinners

  • Classic: a spinach salad, then just add some mandarin orange segments. For dressings try using a little lemon juice and a good olive oil. Add a combination of all the fresh greens! Then add a sliced hard boiled egg and sliced nuts… and you’ve got a hearty iron-rich dinner.
  • Sun Dried Tomatoes, highest in iron and also contain Vitamin C, are best softened in warm olive oil or just a little hot water. (use that tomato infused olive oil for your dressings or cooking)
  • Cucumber Salads: wow, just combine all the iron-rich veggies and you have a great tasting salad: cukes, onions, tomatoes, red & green peppers, drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil and herbs.
  • Let’s see, what can we do with tomatoes, garlic, peppers, onions and herbs? Hello Spaghetti sauce! I’m not a big fan of ‘canned’ spaghetti sauces, with their high salt & sugar. So try just cooking up a bunch of tomatoes and fresh veggies, throw in some basil, oregano and thyme. Then pour over some fun pasta shapes. (whole wheat garlic bread and a big salad!)
  • Next, what to do with other iron rich foods like dried beans, tomatoes, peppers and onions? Chili soup! Again, please shy away from the canned stuff and make everything fresh. All you need to do is boil water… to cook some really nice beans.
  • Soups, are so easy to make healthy, just add tons of veggies and simmer away. What kind of soups can you make with the items listed above?
  • Stir Fry: tons of veggies, serve over brown or wild rice. Add sesame seeds – which have one of the highest levels of iron. Garnish with fresh oranges and lemons. Extra iron boost: add lots of ‘greens’ just before serving. (A great dish to make in your iron skillet)
  • Fajitas – which is basically a stir fry with spices and fresh squeezed limes. Serve with sliced avocados and thick Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. (until you get a handle on the spices needed, every grocer has dry “Fajita mix” packets) Don’t forget your iron skillet here too.
  • Mexican “Platter” meals: tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, etc… combined with (above), red or green fresh salsas, brown rice, slow simmered or refried beans and a small green salad. (wow, this has a majority of all the iron rich foods, in one meal!)
  • Spanish Rice Secret: just add onions & bell peppers, the secret ingredient is: tomato juice (iron & Vitamin C)
  • Cabbage rocks. It’s low cost, you get a lot of food for your dollar, and it lasts a long time. You can add it to just about any of the meals above. Try making stuffed cabbage rolls: mixing rice, tomatoes (or a good spaghetti sauce) and lots of fresh veggies. Use diced potatoes instead of rice.
  • Stuffed Bell Peppers… just like the cabbage rolls above!
  • Potatoes… baked, stuffed with veggies, hash browns, tater salad, and, and, it’s about time I stopped and let you put on your own thinking caps…
  • Seafood, especially mollusks: clams, mussels, oysters, scallops and then prawns and fish. One or more of these can be easily combined with most of the above menus. All of these pair very well with citrus, lemons, limes, oranges and fun stuff like mangoes and papaya. Add whole grain pastas or brown/wild rice… and lots of veggies. Try serving them chilled or warm over big salads.
  • The Meats… if you must, please do so in moderation and small portions (4 ounces or less)
  • Ok, Ok, I’ll say it, “Liver & Onions” this meal really does have a monstrous iron kick to it.
  • The “Elvis” – pork chops & applesauce. Although Elvis had “other” health issues, he was probably not iron deficient (it’s rumored he ate this everyday). Pork livers, like beef are very high in iron.
  • Chicken & Turkey, the dark meat has higher iron. The “Giblets” various internal organs of both, are the highest in iron.

Time to get Cooking!

Ok, I’ll end here and let you get into the kitchen. See how easy it is, see how so many of your simple every day foods are iron rich? So take another look at the “iron food” lists and make a nice meal out of them. Also, now that you are armed with iron rich knowledge, take it to the restaurants, when you find a creative high iron combination on a menu… Write to me and I will share the menu items and your own recipes.

Chef “Frankly” Frank Schuchman