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Best Omega 3s For Kids

Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important in the diet! But they’re not always easy to get, especially in the typical American diet.

omega 3 for kids food sources

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So what is Omega-3?

Omega-3 is a type of essential fatty acid. It’s “essential” because we have to consume it; our bodies don’t make it on their own. And it’s a fatty acid because it shares the chemical structure of other fatty acids. It is one of the building blocks of fats in our bodies.

Wait, but do we WANT to build fat in our bodies?

YES!

Fat is a crucial part of the body’s ability to function. We’ll take a look at some of the ways that these fatty acid building blocks support the brain and other organs.

3 Main Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are 3 main types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You’ll most commonly see them abbreviated as ALA, EPA, and DHA.

You don’t need to remember the names of them!

Just know that we need to consume all three types. I’ll talk about what foods contain the different types in a minute.

Why do we Need Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3s are so important in the human body. From pregnancy and lactation to early childhood and into adulthood, getting adequate amounts of omega-3 supports vital body processes.

Omega-3 in Infancy and Childhood

Omega-3 is one of the building blocks of fetal brain development in utero. Studies show it also helps with fetal retinal development, promotes safe gestational lengths in pregnancy, and has even been shown to have a positive effect on perinatal depression.

brain lifting weights

It helps with central nervous system development outside of the womb as well. There is a special emphasis on adequate omega-3 consumption in the first two years of life as this is when so much crucial brain development takes place.

Omega-3 in Adolescence and Adulthood

The benefits don’t stop after infancy and childhood.

In fact, “studies have shown that increasing the intake of certain essential fatty acids, either alone or in combination with other fats and compounds, can increase health, help in treating certain diseases, and even improve body composition, mental and physical performance.”

Omega-3s play many functional roles in the body that include cell and tissue metabolism, and responsiveness to hormonal signals.

Some studies even suggest omega-3s may help with focus and short-term memory. There may even be a use for omega-3s in the treatment of ADHD in children, adolescents, and adults.

It’s a pretty incredible component of our diet, yet many of us- children and adults- aren’t getting enough!

Let’s start from the beginning and take a look at all the life stages and their omega-3 needs.

How much omega-3s does a baby need?

The good news is that DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is naturally occurring in breastmilk. DHA is also in some formulas- we’ll touch on that in a second.

DHA is always found in breast milk and is recommended for addition to commercial infant formula. Use of these fatty acids is safe and supports growth along with providing support for the developing visual and neurological systems.”

Many popular baby formulas are fortified with DHA to help meet the needs of babies who are exclusively formula-fed.

The EU recently passed a law regarding the amount of DHA required in infant formulas. This change prompted many European companies to change their formulations to comply with the new regulations. That law said that the DHA content of infant formulas had to be at least 20 mg per 100 kcal (calories).

Now, that’s an EU law, so it doesn’t apply to US formulas. It’s not a required ingredient in the US, although most brands do have at least some in their formulas.

DHA fortified baby formula

“The average DHA content of all formula purchased was: 12.6 mg/100 kcal. This DHA concentration is far below the minimum required DHA concentrations of infant formula (Stage 1) and follow-on formula (Stage 2) set by the European Commission of 20 mg/100 kcal.”

The World Health Organization recommends omega-3s should account for 0.32% of fatty acids in formula (which is similar to the average quantity found in breast milk).

Before you panic and think your only option is to start importing formula from overseas, I have some good news.

Some US formulas actually do meet this mark! There are plenty of readily available, DHA-fortified formulas that have adequate amounts. From Enfamil to Kendamil to Bobbie– there are plenty of good options.

Which is better: European formulas or American formulas?

If you are formula feeding, I do recommend looking for a DHA-fortified formula that meets these minimum criteria.

And if you are breastfeeding, make sure that you are not deficient in DHA while you are breastfeeding. We’ll touch more on those needs later on.

How much omega-3s does a child need?

There isn’t an exact consensus on how much of each sub-type of omega-3 a child needs. If you want the hard numbers: here is a chart that outlines the recommendations from different global organizations.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations lays out these numbers for DHA and EPA:

6-24 months: DHA: 10-12 milligrams per kilogram of body weight
2-4 years: EPA + DHA: 100-150 milligrams
4-6 years: EPA + DHA: 150-200 milligrams
6-10 years: EPA + DHA: 200-250 milligrams

For ALA, here is the breakdown:

1-3 years: 0.7 grams of ALA (700 mg)
4-8 years: 0.9 grams of ALA (900 mg)
9-13 years: 1 gram of ALA for girls (1000 mg) and 1.2 grams for boys (1200 mg)
14-18: 1.1 grams of ALA for girls (1100 mg) and 1.6 grams for boys (1600 mg)

Don’t worry. I do not expect you to be getting into the weeds of tallying this in your child’s diet, worrying about which food has which omega-3, etc.

But for the sake of being thorough, I wanted to include the breakdown.

Basically, the bottom line is that we need to make sure our kids are regularly eating foods that are rich in omega-3s. If they eat a variety of those foods, they’ll likely cover their bases of DHA, EPA, and ALA.

We’ll talk more in depth about omega-3 foods below, but here are just some quick glances for reference:

  • 1 cup of DHA fortified milk (like Horizon milk) has 32 mg DHA
  • 3.5 oz of salmon has 2150 mg of EPA and DHA (combined)
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds has 2000 mg of ALA
  • 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil has 7000 mg of ALA
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds has 2500 mg of ALA

If your kid doesn’t currently eat any of these foods, keep reading! I’ll show you how to incorporate them into their diet.

Also see this post I wrote on the best vitamins for kids.

Listen to the podcast: how to know if your child needs a multivitamin

podcast cover art are multivitamins necessary for kids

How much omega-3s does a pregnant person need?

“To optimize pregnancy outcomes and fetal health, consensus guidelines have recommended that pregnant women consume at least 200 mg of DHA per day.”

There are lots of ways to get omega-3s in the diet, and we’ll cover all of them in this post. But for pregnant women, there are a few special considerations.

First of all, I recommend choosing a prenatal vitamin that has DHA in it. More and more of them are adding DHA in, but it’s still not standard. So when you’re choosing a prenatal, pay attention to if it has DHA in it, and if so, how much!

Prenatals with DHA

Here are a few I’ve come to like and recommend that have DHA in them. Some are prenatal vitamins with all the necessary vitamins and minerals, and some are just add-on DHA products. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a great start if you’re looking for a prenatal.

If your current prenatal doesn’t have DHA, definitely consider one of these add-on prenatal DHA supplements from Thorne or Nordic Naturals. You’ll find them and all of my prenatal favorites on this Amazon list.

prenatals with DHA omega 3

Beyond your prenatal, you can also get DHA from several food sources. One of the best food sources of omega-3s is fish. However, as you probably know, fish can be a double-edged sword in pregnancy.

On one hand, it’s a wonderful source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. But on the other hand, we want to be mindful of the types of fish we consume during pregnancy.

It’s recommended to consume only fish that have low levels of mercury (like salmon, tilapia, and trout). We want to avoid high-mercury fish like swordfish and some tuna.

1-3 servings of fish a week is a great goal for pregnant women to help meet their omega-3 needs.

I also like to recommend the brand Safe Catch, as they monitor the levels of mercury in their products to ensure they’re safe.

plated salmon omega 3 for kids food source

How much omega-3s does a breastfeeding person need?

“Current dietary recommendations for nursing mothers is 250 to 375 mg daily of DHA plus EPA.”

This value is slightly higher than for the general population, because DHA is an important component of breast milk.

If a breastfeeding person is deficient in DHA, then breast milk will also be deficient. And since the first 24 months of life are so significant for brain development, it’s important to make sure there is enough DHA in the breast milk infants receive.

You can take a prenatal vitamin with DHA while breastfeeding, or a DHA supplement. Find my recommended products here.

Where are omega-3s found?

So that’s a lot of talk about what omega-3 is and how much we need. Now let’s talk about where we can get them in our kids’ diets.

As we’ve touched on above, omega-3s are present in food and supplement form. And omega-3s can be a common deficiency in the diet, so we have to work harder to get them in.

I always embrace a “food first” approach, meaning I’d rather our kids get their nutrition from actual whole foods versus supplements, when possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of supplements. They can absolutely be a useful tool in many instances! But whole foods have lots of other intangible and functional benefits besides just their micronutrient content. So whenever we can get our kids eating the foods that are rich in x, y, or z, that’s plan A!

ALA is mainly in certain plant oils like flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. DHA and EPA are primarily in fish- especially cold water fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring.

Other great sources of omega-3s include certain nuts (like walnuts) and eggs.

Okay, you might be laughing at these lists thinking, “yeah right Kacie, my kid doesn’t eat mackerel and flaxseed.”

I know, I know. I wish it was in berries!

But, this is where some strategizing can come in. I’m going to share my best tips and tricks for how to weave some of these foods into your child’s diet without asking them to chow down on pickled herring.

Omega-3S in kids’ diets

omega 3 foods for kids

This is where I’m going to give you some of my favorite kid-approved, omega-3 containing foods.

  • Eggs. Scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, whatever way your child likes them. You can also use eggs in other dishes like fried rice, or as an ingredient in pancakes, muffins, or even stirred into oatmeal (trust me, it works!). Here is a whole post I wrote on eggs for toddlers! I personally love buying my eggs from Happy Egg! They’re not only a great source of Omega-3’s, but they’re also sourced from small family farms where the hens are free to roam!
  • Walnuts or walnut butter. It works just like other nut butters- spread it or dollop it on whatever you want. Toast, oatmeal, fruit! I like this brand, but you can also make your own in a food processor if you buy whole walnuts. If they like to snack on walnuts, then yay! That’s easy. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I used to finely grind walnuts (like you’re making nut butter, but stop before it changes to butter consistency). I would keep it in the freezer (stays fresher longer) and mix it into some meals.
  • DHA fortified milk. Several brands have DHA + EPA added. Horizon and Organic Valley are two nationwide brands selling DHA fortified milk.
Horizon DHA omega 3 for kids milk
  • Cook with plant oils. Canola oil gets a bad rap, but it’s actually a great source of omegas. Soybean oil is another good source.
  • My go-to canned salmon salad. My kids love this and it’s a really easy thing to eat as a sandwich, as a wrap, or on crackers. It has a milder taste than tuna so it’s worth a try if they haven’t liked tuna!
omega 3 for kids meals

How to give your kids flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are another great source of omega-3s. The good news is that they need to be ground up to be digested. And I have a few tried and true ways to add them to well-liked foods that my kids don’t even notice.

But the key is the type you buy! I’ve found that finely milled is the way to go if you don’t want your picky eater to complain. This is my favorite kind, hands down. It has so much goodness for your kids, it’s worth every penny!

How to serve ground flaxseed:

  1. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons to their favorite smoothie (grab my favorite kids’ smoothie cups here)
  2. Stir 1 teaspoon into their bowl of oatmeal
  3. Sprinkle into their PB&J (my kids have NEVER noticed it in there)

This post has more ways to add flaxseed to their foods and recipes to add flax to!

You can also add it into batters like muffins and pancakes. Flax is so rich in omega-3s that every little bit counts! My goal is to mix it into at least 1 meal or snack daily.

It’s also PERFECT to add to no bake energy bites!

peanut butter and jelly

How to Give Your Kids Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a little more textured than ground flaxseeds, so they may not be your first go-to if you have a picky eater. But if your little one doesn’t mind a little texture, they’re another great source of Omega-3, fiber, and protein!

Similar to flaxseed, you can also sprinkle them on/blend them into smoothies. I like to throw them in this healthy chocolate smoothie for a nutrition boost.

You can sprinkle them on top of your oatmeal bowl or as a topping on a yogurt parfait. You can use them as an ingredient in homemade popsicles with some Greek yogurt and your child’s favorite fruit/fruit juice.

Try a chia seed pudding recipe! It comes out a bit like a tapioca pudding and you can use your favorite milk/alternative milk, sweetener, and flavors to customize it to your liking.

Or, buy them pre-ground to avoid the texture. That’s how I prefer them! These are the ones I use. I use them the same way I use ground flax.

smoothie with chia seed omega 3 for kids

What is the best omega-3 supplement for kids?

Like I mentioned before, I do prefer a food first approach to getting these nutrients in. However, there are certainly times where a supplement can be helpful.

We really want to prioritize omega-3s for kids 2 and under. If your child doesn’t eat any fish, doesn’t eat nuts and seeds daily, or doesn’t consume any of the omega-3 fortified products I mentioned in this post, then a supplement may be indicated.

The best one I’ve tried is this one in the strawberry flavor from Nordic Naturals. I trust this brand and this one can easily be snuck into a smoothie or juice!

Others I’ve tried have a distinctly fishy taste or smell. Yes, even the flavored ones.

Bottom line on best omega-3s

Kids need omega-3s for healthy growth, development, and brain function. It’s important in pregnancy, breastfeeding, and beyond.

I hope some of these tips and tricks can make it easy for you to fill your child’s plate with foods that will help them meet their nutritional needs! And if all else fails, supplements are there when you need them!

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Kacie Barnes holding an apple
Hi, I’m Kacie!

I’m a mom of two and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I offer e-guides and e-books (go to my Shop page), workshops, brand partnerships, and nutrition counseling. Check out my blog for nutrition and feeding tips for your little ones.

Disclaimer:

This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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