For our children, the excitement (and stress) of the first day of school quickly winds  down into routine. But as parents we continue to worry if they’re getting the nutrients they need. Parents often wonder if dietary supplements are a good thing for their children; many experts believe the answer is a firm “yes.” The next question is: Which nutrients does my kid need?

We asked children’s health expert and author of more than 15 books, Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., for advice on what children’s growing bodies need that they aren’t likely to get enough of through food alone. Here’s the scoop:

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is another fat-soluble vitamin found in fish, eggs, fortified milk and cod liver oil. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, not a vitamin, and it acts on more than 2,000 human genes (about 10 percent of the human genome). Vitamin D has gotten a lot of press lately, because research shows how vital it is for the immune system and bone health.

ZINC

During puberty and the teen years, zinc could be considered an essential mineral for kids. If they have asthma or allergies, get frequent colds and flu, and their cuts and scrapes seem to take too long to heal, it’s likely they are getting too little zinc. Zinc is required for sexual development and often becomes deficient at puberty, making zinc supplements necessary. White spots on the nails and a poor
sense of taste are signs of a zinc deficiency.

ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Omega-3 EFAs, specifically EPA and DHA, are necessary for physical, emotional and mental health. All the cells in the body have a cell membrane that’s partly made up of EFAs. They create flexible and naturally permeable cells that receive nutrients easily. EFAs can prevent and treat allergies and asthma and promote healthy brain function.

VITAMIN B COMPLEX

The B vitamins are important as cofactors for thousands of metabolic functions in the body, including complex brain functions. They also control mood swings at puberty. Methylated (partially metabolized) forms of the B vitamins are important in autism and ADHD to overcome specific enzyme blocks. And because they are the most bioavailable form, they are good for everyone.

VITAMIN A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin found in meat, liver, eggs, milk and cheese. It’s essential for the formation of healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes and skin. It’s also called retinol because it produces the natural coloration in the retina of the eye. It enhances good vision, especially in dim light.

TRACE MINERALS

Our bodies use up to 80 different minerals, including potassium, sodium, manganese, zinc, iron, copper, iodine, selenium, molybdenum and chromium. When we just focus on one mineral like calcium, we are throwing the whole body off balance. Trace minerals can be obtained from vegetables grown in enriched soil and from sea salt or Himalayan salt.

VITAMIN E

Vitamin E protects the body from free-radical damage. It defends the heart, lungs and brain. It also helps form red blood cells and process vitamin K, which is necessary for proper clot formation. Vitamin E is very low in the standard American diet, so it’s important to supplement. But make sure it’s a natural form. On a supplement label, natural vitamin E is listed as d-alpha tocopherol, whereas synthetic forms of vitamin E are labeled with a dl- prefix.

FAQs: MAKING SENSE OF KID SUPPLEMENTS CAN BE TRICKY. GET ANSWERS HERE FROM EXPERTS LAURIE STEELSMITH, N.D., AND CAROLYN DEAN, M.D., N.D.

WHEN SHOULD I BEGIN OFFERING MY CHILD SUPPLEMENTS?
Moms can actually begin giving their babies supplements when they are still in the womb by taking omega-3 fats like fish oil when pregnant. “Babies and children need the right omega-3 fats for their developing nervous systems. After children have been weaned, they should continue to take fish oils,” Steelsmith says. Kids as young as 3 can start taking a daily multivitamin, according to Dean.

HOW ARE KIDS SUPPLEMENTS DIFFERENT THAN THOSE FOR ADULTS?
They are much lower doses and often come in forms that are easier to ingest, like liquids, Steelsmith says.

I LIVE IN A PLACE THAT IS ALWAYS CLOUDY; DO I NEED TO SUPPLEMENT FOR THAT?
If you live in a cloudy northern climate, you should get your child tested to ensure his or her vitamin D levels are right; you may need to supplement, Steelsmith says. Dean suggests fermented cod liver oil as one option for vitamin D supplementation.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MULTIVITAMIN AND A SUPPLEMENT?
According to Steelsmith, they are the same but not all supplements are multivitamins; they could just be one nutrient like vitamin A or vitamin E.

WHAT DELIVERY METHOD IS BEST FOR MY KID: GUMMY, TABLET, CAPSULE OR LIQUID?
“Taking a supplement should be a positive experience for a child, not one that causes them to gag on a pill,” Steelsmith says. Dean believes that the body absorbs liquids best.