Toddlers are busy little humans, always moving and learning and exploring. Sticky fingers tend to get into everything, busy bodies fall and get bumps and scrapes, and picky eaters shun the foods that are best for them. The idea of healthy toddlers can seem like an oxymoron!
On the other hand, they are incredibly resilient, adapting to all of the changes their bodies and world endure. So which battles do you choose? Here are some goals for raising happy and healthy toddlers
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A Day in the Life of Healthy Toddlers
The biggest part of a healthy toddler’s day is going to be exploration. Unfortunately, that comes with a lot of boundary pushing, mess making, and accidents. Or, we can look at it as butterfly chasing, sensory input, and learning opportunities.
Sleep habits may still include some night waking. It’s completely normal to still not be sleeping through the night until well into toddlerhood. Adjusting daytime naps around this age may help them to sleep more reliably at night. If you’re struggling with sleep, consider a Sleep Tincture to help.
Food is important, though it can be hard to make that shift from primarily nursing to primarily eating foods for full bellies. Don’t forget to offer good snacks, including protein. Sometimes a meltdown is just the result of being hungry and unable to verbalize it. Hydrating tea popsicles are fun herbal nutrient boosts, especially for summertime.
Toddlers can still breastfeed frequently – phases where they are feeling separation anxiety may see a burst in the need to nurse. Even if they are primarily eating food, breastfeeding still provides hydration, nutrients, cuddles and closeness. Nursing may end anywhere from a year or two old until the preschool range, depending on you and your child. The WHO recommends at least two years as a baseline goal. So nurse those toddlers proudly! You’re keeping them healthy and happy.
Playtime and exploration are the toddler’s “work,” and healthy toddlers will spend lots of time playing. Interaction with siblings, you, and playdate or daycare friends is great for them to discover healthy social interactions.
Underlying all of those basic needs is that of routine. A basic structure – wake up, eat breakfast, playtime, etc – can help your toddler base their exploration around predictability. It gives them something to hang onto as a baseline of familiarity.
Getting Around Picky Habits
By far, the biggest obstacle standing between our ideals for our healthy toddlers and reality is what we typically call “pickiness.” We need to reframe some of that.
Outside of all of the frustrations we may have trying to get through the day with a busy and sometimes strong-willed toddler, they are working hard too. Unfamiliar foods can be scary. Strange textures can be a lot for their brain to process. It’s a lot for a little mind and body to take in!
It takes far more experience with a new food for a toddler and even older child to become familiar with it enough to even try it. So the last thing you want to do is take away the foods they don’t like. But you also don’t have to force it.
Ideally, they will have already eaten cooked soft veggies, sweet potatoes, and avocados, and fruits. But even if they didn’t have the best start with food, it’s never too late to start presenting them with new foods.
While they are learning to like new and healthy foods, it doesn’t hurt to hide nutrients in what they already like. If they like to dip real grain crackers and veggies, make a hummus or white bean dip dyed hot pink with beet juice. If they are on a spaghetti kick, cook some veggies up and puree them into the sauce. Make green smoothies into popsicles, or stick some in a straw-sippie cup.
If the pickiness seems to be beyond your ability to help them or you can’t get them to eat well at all (even sneaky nutrition), there may be something more at play that you and or pediatrician can evaluate.
Parenting throws us into the day to day realization that “normal” can encompass a wide range of events. What’s normal for your little one now may not be true for your next toddler or for your neighbor’s. This gives us some grace to get to know our children and work with their preferences, needs, and strengths.
Raising a healthy toddler sometimes takes an outside perspective and help to understand how they tick. Once we tune out unrealistic expectations – for things like sleep, for example – we can listen to our instincts and what our little one needs. When something seems off, we can listen to it. If you ever feel like your little one is outside of that range of normal, it doesn’t hurt to check with your pediatrician.