For the past year, the pandemic has affected many families' sleep routines and our children have had less normality then ever.
Maybe your toddler's bedtime has lacked consistency, mealtimes have become a fridge-raiding free-for-all, or the lack of consistency with on/off lockdowns has left your kids anxious. Endless factors can lead to a grumpy toddler at bedtime.
All of this falls hard on parents, who get a precious few hours alone at night to take a breath, clean the house, or cram in a little more work.
However, it's not too late to reinstate routine into your home or create simple rituals and leave your little one feeling more at ease.
We spoke to Haven - which produces a new New Zealand A2 protein toddler milk - and its team of experts about how to get back into a great routine and have a happier and healthier toddler.
Why is a routine so important for toddlers?
Our toddlers are busy little people who thrive on routine and consistency, so setting up good cues and a pattern for them to follow each day is invaluable.
According to Haven's sleep experts Little Ones, one of the main reasons routines are so important is because toddlers have no time reference for their day.
"They cannot tell the time, they don't know what you're planning for their day and by keeping key events like bath, bottle and book in the same order at the same time, it works like bookmarks in your toddler's day.
"This means that, when you're a small person in a big, big world, you feel like you've got a sense of direction and some anchors or predictability. This positively influences a toddler's behaviour and also their self-assuredness."
Keeping a consistent nap time and bedtime means your toddler's body clock will come to anticipate what comes next, making sleep come easier.
How important is nutrition to toddler sleep?
Good nutrition and good sleep go hand in hand, and Haven expert nutritionist Gina Rose, author of Tiny Human, What Do I Feed You states that parents can underestimate just how important this connection is.
So what can we do to ensure our toddler has the best chance of sleeping well? According to Rose, diets rich in vegetables and fish have been seen to promote better sleep, whereas diets high in processed foods and saturated fats lead to poor sleep.
"Toddlers are very busy; therefore, the need for adequate sleep and a nutrient-dense diet is crucial. Sleep is when we rest, digest, repair and although diet is not the only reason for deep delicious sleep it certainly plays a huge role," said Rose.
"Serving your little toddler a macronutrient-balanced meal is key; this means a serving of protein, complex carbs and good fats."
She recommends using the toddler's hand as a guide:
• The palm represents the size of the protein they should have with each meal (e.g. meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, Greek yoghurt).
• The size of their fist represents carbohydrates they should have with each meal (potato, kumara, pumpkin, quinoa, rice, pasta, fruit).
• The three middle fingers represent the size of fats they should have with each meal (olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut, butter, ghee, full-fat dairy).
• Then load the plate up with non-starchy vegetables – as many as you like (leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, cucumber, celery).
According to Rose, when it comes to sleepy foods, anything rich in sleep-promoting tryptophan is key. Think turkey, chicken, milk, eggs, nuts, bananas, beans, fish, cheese.
And although toddlers may turn their nose up at a green vegetable, parents who keep consistently offering their child a nutrient-dense meal full of whole foods, as bright and colourful as they can, will reap the benefits of a good night's sleep.
Easy wins for meal time
• Always offer safe food - something they love - with new food.
• Toddlers thrive on routines; offer meals around the same time each day and before they're tired.
• Offer foods with their favourite plate, cup or straw.
• Make the food fun; carrot hair, tomato eyes, broccoli ears and sausage mouth is very appetising to a toddler.
• Make mealtimes as relaxed as possible, sit down as a family, turn devices off and connect as a family.
• Get children involved in growing vegetables, preparing meals and serving their own plates, this really feeds their independence and involvement.
• Lastly, lead by example, our little toddlers are influenced by their significant others.
Chia seed pudding from Haven's nutrition expert Gina Rose
1⁄4 cup chia seeds
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup organic raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1. In a glass bowl or large jar, add chia seeds and coconut milk.
2. Mix well, place in the fridge then leave to soak overnight or for at least two hours.
3. Serve with fruit (stewed apple or fresh berries).
Serves two. Or double the recipe and store it in jars in the fridge. It will last for up to a week.