After a long summer, there’s nothing quite like heading back to school. The anticipation. The shopping. That secret guilt you feel because junior is finally off your hands again. It’s okay. We’ve all been there.

Kidding aside, with all that the new school year brings, it’s important not to overlook your child’s health. If there’s any time that kids are susceptible to stress, this is it. Changes in environment, playmates, and daily routines add fresh challenges to young immune and nervous systems.

One way to support your kids as they head off to learn is to make sure they’re getting adequate amounts of nutrients like omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to help each of us keep up good health, and they can have a significant impact on children’s success with both social and academic tasks.*

A bit of background: Omega-3s are called “essential” fatty acids because they are needed for optimal health but our bodies can’t make them.* The only way to get enough is through diet. Ideally, this means routine consumption of omega-rich foods like cold-water fish, and taking a daily fish oil (or algae oil) supplement.

Omega-3s for childhood development

Childhood is a period of rapid growth, especially brain growth. From birth to age two kids’ brains double in size. Spurts of development also occur around ages 7, 8, and 9, and then again during mid-adolescence. And when it comes to brain health, science has pointed for a while now in a pretty clear direction toward the benefits of omega-3s across childhood.* These nutrients—particularly the major omega-3 fats EPA and DHA—are important to both the brain’s structure (DHA is a major component of the cerebral cortex) and its function (DHA and EPA are linked to mood and cognition).* Young eyes and developing nervous systems are also big beneficiaries of these essential fats.*

Recent research has focused on omega-3 status and children’s concentration, reading ability, behavior, intellectual development, and general academic performance. It’s probably safe to say that omega-3s influence kids’ ability to think and learn from conception right through adolescence.* And on top of the potential cognitive and neurological benefits, let’s not overlook the significance of academic success to a child’s self-esteem, motivation to learn, and overall social well-being. Any one of these is an excellent reason to prioritize good nutrition throughout the school year.

Important fats in short supply

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) most children do not eat enough oily, cold-water fish to get optimal amounts of omega-3s. This can be due to the limited availability of fresh fish in many places, or simply because of its cost. Even for families fortunate enough to make fish a common feature at mealtime, anyone with kids knows they can be pretty picky eaters.

On a societal level, the industrial food chain also puts omega-3s out of kids’ reach. The generally balanced intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fats that people got from foods of the past has been radically changed by factory farming and industrialization, which offers us processed foods and grain-fed meats that contain huge amounts of omega-6. This matters because omegas 3 and 6 compete for limited space in cells. When omega intake is imbalanced, the fat in shortest supply loses out.

All this adds up to a solid conclusion: Schoolchildren simply don’t get adequate omega-3s on a regular basis.

Nutritional wisdom for your scholastic superstar

This information should help you feel a bit more confident tackling your own child’s nutrition. But don’t be too confident—kids are still opportunists. Give them the choice between sweets and salmon and it’s no contest. Children have to learn how to make good food choices, and this starts at home. Here are a few things to try:

1) If possible, offer cold-water fish like salmon, cod, or halibut a few times a week. Kids often have to try a food many times before it takes. Packed lunches are another opportunity to try these in fish sandwich form (e.g. salmon can stand in for tuna salad).

2) First impressions really matter, so choose a top-quality fish oil product that tastes good to kids. I can tell you from experience, it is possible. Some kids like to bite into soft gels. Others like flavored liquids. For those who like neither, great-tasting alternatives exist in gummy and emulsion forms.

3) Make it a routine. Kids like consistency, and you can easily make a daily supplement part of that. If children see mom or dad taking a supplement, it’ll feel less burdensome (same goes for eating fish).

Every bit of good nutrition adds up, so even if you skip fish one week, or forget the omega-3s on busy days, feel good about the times you do give your kids these added nutrients. These small steps will help them make this school year one to remember.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.