Fussy eaters tool kit – The learning plate

Do you have a child that just simply refuses to eat certain foods? To the point where there is a full scale blow out tantrum if it is even on the table? Trust me you are not alone! Some kiddies just don’t like trying new foods. If you have been worried about your child’s eating you are probably having a bit of a focus on what they are eating when at the dinner table too. It’s okay we all do it, but unfortunately kids, and especially some fussy eaters, hate it when we focus on what they are eating, and worse yet, hassle (even well meaning) them to eat something. Some kids go that extra mile and don’t even like the food to be not just on their plate but on the table itself.


There are many reasons for this, but today I am going to focus on when that reason is that the food is unfamiliar to your child, or that your child takes a while to familiarise themselves with foods. If this is the case (as it is for many little ones I see), then it’s a good idea to take a step back and let your child become acceptable of foods at their own pace (even when it seems to be absolute snail’s pace to us). I have a tool for you to use at home to help familiarise your child with new foods. I didn’t make this activity up, I learnt it in professional development from another dietitian, but it’s something I have used with good success in some of the kids I have seen.


There is an approach to dealing with fussy eating called SOS practices. This can only be delivered by practitioners trained in this area (which is not me, yet) but something that I find useful is the way they describe the levels of “fussiness” within different kids. The describe 6 areas of sensitivity by kids which include tolerating, interacting with the food, smelling the food, touching the food, tasting the food and eating the food. Within each area, there are different levels that your child may be at, ie whether they tolerate the food in the room, tolerate it at the table, or tolerate it on their plate.


Your child may be at varying stages of the scale, and it’s important to know where they are at before trying to progress with dealing with their fussiness. It would probably be too much for your little one to try tasting a food straight away if they have previously not even tolerated it on their plate. With fussy eating it’s always about small but progressive steps. So guage where your child is at, to know where you start with this activity.


So the learning plate. It is a way that is not confronting for your child, to introduce a new or previously refused food. You use the learning plate to display the new food there is no expectation for the child to touch, taste or eat the food, just that it is there for them to learn about the food. Depending on your child, the learning plate may start on the opposite side of the table to them, and it may gradually move towards them as they become more familiar with it. If they are happy with the food being close to them, they can start to do things at their own pace with the food on that plate, they may touch it, prod it with their fork, lick it, smell it, bite it and hopefully one day eat it.


Introduce it to your child. Tell them it will be on the table, but they don’t have to eat from it unless they want to. Explain to them that the plate is about learning about the food. For some, it might help just introducing the plate first without anything on it. When you are going to move the plate closer, check with your child first “is it okay if I move this closer?”.


The key is with this activity is to keep it non-confrontational. So basically mums and dads, no asking your child to try the food. No telling them to put it in their mouth. No hassling. I know it’s HARD, I even catch myself doing this every now and then but try not to ask them to try the food, talk instead about the food. What colour it is, is it crunchy, how it can be cooked and eaten. What is in it and what that will do in their body. Keep it fun, light and educational.


Some examples

“ohh do you know what’s on the learning plate today?”

“what does it look like?”

“does it look crunchy or soft” “mummies got some on her plate, ohh it’s crunchy, did you hear that crunch?”

“who do you think eats that vegetable/food”

“did you know that carrots have vitamins in them that help your eyes?”

“this apple is sweet like watermelon”


Over time, your little one will become more familiar with that food and will (in most cases) let you put it on their plate. You might have to do foods separately, or together. You might need to take it really slow for one food, and it progresses much more quickly with another. Just use your child as a guide.


Oh and a hot tip, plates with cool pictures or characters on them, work a treat 🙂


Comment below if you have any questions!


Happy learning,


The Dietitian Mummy.


4 thoughts on “Fussy eaters tool kit – The learning plate

  1. jo says:

    my new way of dealing with my 3yo and 6yo when they ‘don’t like’ a vegie (even when they ate it 2 nights ago and loved it). They must try one bite. If they still don’t like it then they can leave it, but then they must choose a different vegie to eat ALL of it. No more is said about eating the food on their plate. They happily choose to eat their one and then without even thinking continue eating the rest as well. 18mo following from their good example and eats everything too.


    • That’s a good in-between solution Jo, sounds like it’s working well! I love that your toddler is following along. Teaches them negotiation skills too 🙂


  2. Great information. I can often get my daughter to lick something new, but when she won’t even do that I’ve given up- so the learning plate will be my new strategy. Thanks so much 🙂


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