Montessori Monday: Eat Your Vegetables

Montessori Monday is an advice column written by yours truly. If you have a question about Montessori philosophy, parenting or discipline, or anything else in that realm, contact me and your question could be the next Montessori Monday post!

Dear Lindsey, 

I know it's been asked a hundred times, but how do you get a 2.5 year old to eat vegetables? I'm not that concerned; I keep suggesting and providing them patiently. But, it really winds my husband up which makes meals more stressful than they need to be!


Dear Frazzled,

I can totally relate to your frustration with this issue because if I'm honest, my blood pressure is never higher at any point in the day than it is from dinner until our kids are asleep in bed! ;) But, don't fret! Your toddler can and will eat vegetables. First, we need to talk about getting wound up.

Toddlers love to flex their muscles and experiment in creating change and wresting control, particularly when that change and control have to do with the behavior of other people. The fact that your husband gets wound up at mealtimes is allowing your toddler to have all the power. Montessori said that once we get into a power struggle with a child, the only way we'll ever win is though our physical dominance. As adults, we know we're getting into a power struggle the moment we begin to feel wound up. Being bigger than our child means we can pick them up and remove them from a situation, but we can't make them eat a vegetable. We can't make them do anything! As long as your child is directing her energy toward holding her ground and frustrating your husband by not eating vegetables, the actual nutrition component remains a moot point.

The first thing you need to do is sit down with your husband - without your child - and establish this fact: Your toddler will grow and thrive whether he eats vegetables or not. It's true! If your husband is worried this isn't true, have him ask your pediatrician or a midwife, or another trusted advisor in that capacity. I'm certain they'll tell him the same thing.

Next, once that is agreed upon, release all cares about vegetables. At mealtimes, come together at the table, dish up with everyone getting vegetables on his or her plate, toddler included, and finally, eat.

Say nothing to your toddler about her vegetables. Do not look at them sideways.

Now here's where many people might say, "Ignore them altogether!" But ignoring means pretending something is not there, in this case frustration, irritation, anger, whatever it may be, when actually it is there. That's no good. Children are not fools. They know when the frustration is there, whether you're showing it or not, and they know they're in control because of it! So, the key is to genuinely not care. Repeat silently in your head: My child will eat vegetables when he is ready. Until then, he's just fine. Release all cares about vegetables.

Eventually, your toddler will eat her vegetables. One school I worked at had hot lunch provided. Meals were balanced with salad or vegetables beforehand and a main course. Most children would eat the main course, but many children did not want to eat the salad and vegetables. After three or four months, most kids were eating everything. There was just one child who still wouldn't touch anything and ate nothing each day. Finally, his mother confessed that she felt so guilty picking him up two hours later than his little sister that she had a fruit danish and cheese stick for him in the car every day. Well, there you go. If she hadn't done that, he would have eaten just like everyone else!

It might take months for your child to eat vegetables, but it will happen. Just last night, in fact, Theo finally ate his green beans. I can't tell you how many nights he's had green beans on his plate and tried one and refused the rest, or just not tried any at all. But, last night he gobbled them up.

You have the right idea in your approach: always provide vegetables, be patient and don't be that concerned. Rest easy! You're doing a great job.

Fellow parents, how do you get your children to eat their vegetables? What about picky eaters in general? I'd love to hear your tricks!


  1. Sigh. Still waiting. Months, you say. Waiting 3.5 years... He is 4.5 now. Every single lunch and dinner at home (99.5% of the time), he has at least two vegetables on his plate. We have progressed to the point where he is okay with them staying there, as long as they don't touch anything... The krippe was also astounded at how he would also refuse to eat 80-90% of the time, and was not influenced by the other kids at all. I do get very annoyed about food in general, now, after YEARS of being suave about it, but I really AM a very very very patient person. I started to lose the plot after two and a half years with not one vegetable whatsoever, and with apple as the absolute only fruit. The Doctor checked everything and he is fine... which I totally don't understand at all -- how!?

    I hope this isn't harsh, and I totally agree with everything you have written above there, but I think that so often the advice for parents with picky eaters comes from parents who have kids who eat well, and who think they have cracked it. I do ALLL of the right things I have tried ALLLL the tricks. I swear to god. Only once you've walked through the swamp of years and years of this can you really get it.

  2. Oh! More! My youngest, almost two, eats vegetables with no problem whatsoever. So that is definitely nice for my conscience -- it isn't me! :D He eats the most in the lead-up to dinner, when he is famished but it isn't quite ready yet, and I put out a little plate of chopped cucumber, capsicum, carrot, etc. He would happily eat a whole cucumber every day!

    1. Pat yourself on the back! Your little guy eats all the veg and that's rad. As for the older little guy, he is truly picky. I was like that, actually, which adds to my amazement at children eating even more. Haha! I didn't eat salad until I was 16 years old! And even then, it was romaine lettuce only, preferably with loads of creamy Caesar salad dressing and crutons and lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. Before that I would eat canned green beans and broccoli. That was pretty much it! I was a pasta with butter kind of kid. And meat and cheese and pickles. I loved meat. And lemon juice. Horrible diet, really. But now I have a great diet and those Caesar salads quickly were the gateway to a whole world of veggies and food. So don't get too desperate until he is at least 17. For real. :)

    2. Also, watermelon. I think I survived on watermelon alone through the summers of my youth.

  3. I found this book super super helpful - How to get your kid to eat, but not too much by Ellyn Satter. My three year old twins are my social experiment :) My girl will eat pretty much anything, my boy was quite anti vegetable but that is also reflected in their personalities. He is much more risk adverse than her. I've always made one meal for everyone and put it on all of our plates. I ask them to try it, make a non dramatic show of how much I enjoy it, then let it go. I often tell him if he doesn't like some thing, that one day he'll like it. And making it fun helps - I got him to try corn on the cob by showing him how 'hilarious' the crunching noise was, then getting him to eat a circle all the way around :) But it's all very very low pressure.

  4. I have not read Ellyn Satter's books (mentioned in Kylee's comment), but I have implemented her "Division of Responsibility" method of feeding and eating. I met a nanny at the park who shared all this wisdom with me, and it has made all the difference at dinner. No more battles. I wrote about on my blog, but basically, you don't put anything on their plates. The child is responsible for whether or not to eat and how much, so he serves himself. The adults decide when, where and what to eat (the menu). You try to serve healthy foods and put out at least one thing you know the child will serve himself and actually eat.

    Here is what it looks like at my house. On the dinner table are serving bowls/plates with serving spoons. Everyone grabs a plate and preferred utensil (or not -- my 3-year-old mostly uses his hands). I announce, "Tonight we're having W, X, Y, and Z, pointing to each bowl." Then we all dig in. For example, last night was one bowl of homemade pinto beans, another of rice, another of cantaloupe, and another of sliced cucumber with dip. My son put the foods on his plate one at a time and ate it all up. Other nights he has eaten only grapes, or only pickles (ahem, tonight), or only cucumbers with ranch. At lunch today he finally tried sugar snap peas. I have served them many times before, but today he was curious so he ate few.

    I love this method!!!

    1. This approach works well for us too. When I started feeling stressy about how much was (not) being eaten during the crazy appetite swings normal to toddlerhood, I made myself think of it like breastfeeding: My job is just to offer and they decide if they want some and how much. We also are clear that you don´t have to eat it if you don´t want to or don´t like it, but that things you don´t like now, you might like when you are older because our tastes change as we grow.


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