Math in the Kitchen: Cooking and Baking to Teach Elementary Math


Math in the kitchen – you’ve probably heard about it before. But if you’re like me, you won’t really know where to start.

Math in the Kitchen

Let’s be honest: math scares a lot of people, homeschoolers included. It’s not an easy subject to teach unless your kids love math and you’re good at it, too. 

As we all know, the best way for kids to learn is by doing. Fortunately, doing math in the kitchen is pretty easy and this article is full of ideas for doing math in your kitchen, suitable for all elementary ages.

You have all you need in your kitchen already. And since eating and food preparation takes a big chunk of our day, the kitchen is the perfect scene for math to happen. 

Keep an eye out for other subjects that can be taught in the kitchen as well. Aside from math, your kids can also learn life skills, problem-solving, science, geography, history, writing, reading, and more. You can find out more about these in this article.

Benefits of Math in the Kitchen

For elementary-aged children, kitchen math is pretty simple and it’s easy to just get to it, no prep work required. You could even bring young children in and have a day of math-cooking or baking.

By cooking together and explaining to the children how you measure and calculate things in the kitchen, they will learn to think mathematically early on.

Doing math in the kitchen is perfect for homeschool families that are child-led, but also for all the types of learners out there, which makes it a perfect hands-on environment for everyone. You can use all your senses in the kitchen:

  1. Auditory – listening to and understanding the recipe and following the steps.
  2. Visual – you have so many colors and textures in the kitchen – in every ingredient.
  3. Kinesthetic – hands are a big part of cooking; kneading, grating, mixing, rolling are all activities that will appeal to this type of learner.
  4. Verbal – kids could retell the recipe or explain the steps they are taking as they are doing them.
  5. Logical – these learners will find joy in the repetitiveness and patterns of instructions, lists, and exact quantities
  6. Interpersonal – baking and cooking can be social activities. Use this time to bond with your child or even call friends over for a baking afternoon.
  7. Solitary – at the same time, for these types of learners, cooking can become a time of introspection and learning to do an independent activity. 

Math in the Kitchen: Concepts

There are so many math concepts that can be reinforced or introduced in the kitchen. With a little imagination, these can all be adapted to suit your family. And these will work for busy families as well. 

I tried to list them in order of their difficulty and they can easily cover all ages from 3 to 11. Read until the end of the article to find out in what situations you could apply these concepts and how you can adapt them to different ages.

  • Colors
  • Shapes and geometry
  • Patterns
  • Counting and number sense
  • Comparison
  • Operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Graphing
  • Fractions and decimals
  • Time
  • Money
  • Measuring (volume, weight, temperature, conversions between them)
  • Ratio
  • Percentage
  • Using tools like a scale or a calculator

Math in the Kitchen: Language

Try to use explicit math language while you are cooking. You can start with these ideas:

  • How many____?
  • If I add ___ more, how many pieces do I have in all?
  • Let’s halve the recipe.
  • Let’s double the recipe.
  • What if I eat _____ pieces, how many are left?
  • How many cups make ____ liters?
  • How much time did this meal take in all if preparation took us ____ minutes and cooking took ____ minutes?
  • What percent of this pizza is left after we each ate a slice?
  • What fraction of this pie did you eat?
  • How can we share this pack of biscuits equally among ____ people?

This way of discussing food is a great way to teach mathematical thinking and language. Start using these with young kids to get them used to this type of thinking.

Kitchen homeschooling can be overwhelming for some parents, but there are ways to keep things simple while teaching kids in the kitchen for both of you.

And don’t forget the most important ingredient of all: have fun!

Some Math in the Kitchen Ideas for Elementary

Here are 15 concept ideas to get you started. While I don’t rely on kitchen math alone, this method can be successfully used to reinforce or introduce math concepts in a fun way. The kids won’t even realize they did math while learning how to cook and bake. 

Take each of these ideas, adapt it to your family and you will be doing kitchen math in no time.

Colors in Your Food

Little children love playing with food! Use this opportunity to start rehearsing colors with them. Bring out a plate of colorful veggies or fruits for your kindergartner and aside from naming them, associate them each with a color. Let them explore texture and flavor and learning will happen naturally. 

This is an activity that can be done with toddlers as well, and in the end, everyone will have a tasty, healthy treat.

Young children could sort different colored beans, cheerios, or pieces of fruit by color. Throw in some colored plastic cups or bowls and have fun.

Food Shapes and Geometry

Pancakes are round, cheese can be cut into triangles, a sandwich is square, and what about that star cookie cutter? You can let kids have fun, creating shaped sandwiches, pancakes, or even baking cookies. 

Start explaining more complex concepts like what a trapezoid is and how all squares are rhombuses but not all rhombuses are squares or how the properties of a square will categorize it under a rectangle. 

This will introduce the complex concepts for later, in a gentle way, so that when you get to teaching that concept in your curriculum, they already heard about it before it and tie that to that positive experience with you in the kitchen.

For older kids, in 4th and 5th grade, you can use shapes to demonstrate how the area of a triangle is half of that of a rectangle. Get a piece of cheese that’s rectangular, square, or parallelogram, and cut it in half on one diagonal. You should get 2 triangles. Let kids make various size rectangle sandwiches then ask them to cut them on one diagonal, mix them up and let them find the missing pairs. 

To find the area, supply them with values for height and base then explain to them the formula of the area (A=h*b/2). You can even use mayo or ketchup to trace lines on the sandwiches to illustrate this. If you need help with this, I created a free printable that explains the area of a triangle and how it relates to a rectangle here.  

Take it even further and cut pieces of fruit into various small triangles and go ahead and explain the properties of different triangles: right, acute, obtuse. Make kids categorize them. If they get it right, they get to eat it. 

Patterns and Meals

Kindergartners can easily make patterns by stringing colored cereal, following certain patterns. 

Challenge them to make a piled sandwich by using some patterns like these in their sandwich: cheese, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. See if they remember the pattern on their own, then let them challenge you into making your own piled sandwich by using a pattern they created.

You could also use skewers to arrange fruit in a certain pattern on them: banana, kiwi, strawberry, grape.

Or go ahead and tell them the steps in creating a smoothie, then make them repeat the steps while they are creating it.

Counting with Kitchen Math

You can count everything in the kitchen and counting in the kitchen is fun! Count beans, cereal, pretzels, lettuce leaves, cups, spoons, or even the number of plates you need to set out for your family or for a party.

Make smoothies and count the little blueberries as you toss them in.

When they are ready to learn digits, just get a set of number cookie cutters and make tiny number biscuits or even cut their snacks as numbers. It’s fun to eat the numbers as you read them. 

You can also use carrot sticks to teach them how to tally mark. 

Comparison with Kitchen Tools

Pull out all your measuring instruments and let kids arrange them from greatest to least or least to greatest. Let them stack measuring spoons.

They can also compare different types of eggs if an orange is greater than or smaller than a grapefruit. What about their slices? Let them make predictions about it.

Bring on the comparison crocodile made of 2 pretzel sticks. His open mouth will always choose to eat the greater value. 

Operations While Cooking or Eating

Operations are another easy and obvious math-in-the-kitchen topic. Here are some ideas, but the combinations are limitless, just take advantage of every moment you can to introduce this kind of vocabulary.

You can add food or subtract it as you eat it and you can divide portions between kids or multiply a recipe to make a bigger batch. By using egg cartons, you can explain arrays or division by dividing the batter into muffin tins.

  • Adding one more spoonful of cocoa to the cupcake batter makes it 2 spoons in total. 
  • One more blueberry in the smoothie makes 10. We now have a 10-blueberries-smoothie!
  • What if you add 3 more orange slices to the 4 you already have on your plate? If you eat 2 of these, how many are left?
  • I have 2 peanuts on this plate and 3 on the other plate. If we add them together how many will I have in all?
  • Let’s divide the apple slices between us, how many parts do we each get?
  • To make a double batch of muffins, we need to multiply everything by how much? Exactly! We need to multiply everything by 2! Instead of 2 eggs, we will add 2X2 eggs. Can you figure out the rest of the ingredients?
  • Let’s see how many biscuits there are in this pack. Now divide them equally so that you each get 2 biscuits every day for a week. Are there any remainders?

Graphing: Math in the Kitchen

Get your colored pens, a graph paper, and start interviewing family members on what they want for dinner. How about their favorite fruit? Or their least favorite seasoning?

You could also make graphs for what ingredients you use the most in your kitchen and even keep track of your stocks this way. 

Collect all data and transform it into simple or complex graphs. There’s no limit to this activity. Older kids could do it by learning how to use Excel sheets. 

Fractions and Decimals

Aside from dividing that pizza equally among 4 people, which is great for lower elementary students, why don’t you challenge your 4th and 5th graders to find what fraction or decimal of the pizza they ate? 

You could also challenge them to find equivalent fractions by asking them to find out how many 1/4 cups fit into 1/2 cups.

Take out some of the measuring spoons from your set and get their brains working to find equivalent fractions if you only have a 1/4 spoon find out how many of these would they need to add for a recipe. 

You could also challenge them to try and find ways to divide a round pie into 3 equal parts. How about a lasagna tray in 5 portions?

Time: Elementary Math in the Kitchen

Time is very important in the kitchen. Help kids understand this by boiling eggs. Boil them for various times and learn to use a timer to see how this affects cooking. They can get a soft or hard-boiled egg. Usually, for a soft-boiled egg it’s 3 minutes and for a hard-boiled egg from 5 minutes up.

How much time does that recipe call for baking cupcakes? How about a cake? Would a cake be baked in the same amount of time? Why or why not? 

Add the time it takes to prepare various stages of a meal and make the kids find the total time from start to finish. Then convert that from minutes to hours.

Teach them how to read the clock (even the analog clock). What better way to learn the meaning of 45 minutes than while baking?

Learning Money

Let the kids make lists and purchase the ingredients for a meal. What if you call friends over and you want to cook the same meal? How much money would you need to pay for all the ingredients if they double them?

Kids can also be tasked with calculating meal budgets and seeing how much money goes into meals each week or month. How much would this be in a year?

You could even go beyond and let them create the shopping lists and be in charge of them if they are older. Teach them how to budget and find the best offers.

Measuring: the Kitchen Haven

Oh, the kitchen is the perfect environment for measuring. You can do weight, volume, temperature, and even conversions.

You can seamlessly combine and convert all types of measurements while cooking or baking with your children.

  • How many grams is one cup?  You can find out by measuring and using a kitchen scale.
  • Is there any difference between a cup of milk and a cup of flour when it comes to weight or volume?
  • How about a cup of honey? Is that heavier or the same as a cup of water?
  • Why is temperature important when cooking certain foods? What happens when you cook the food at a higher temperature? What’s the ideal temperature to bake the perfect cookie and for how long?
  • Can we find out how many grams 15 ounces is? How?

Ratios While Cooking

Ratios are a hard concept to understand, but it’s all made easier by doing it in the kitchen.

Pull out your favorite recipes and see if you can find the ratios in them. For example, maybe your favorite hot chocolate is one cup of milk to 2 teaspoons of cocoa. That makes a ratio of 1:2. Can you find the ratio in your favorite pancake recipe?

What if you want to make a bigger batch of something? How would the ratio increase then?

Percentages for Elementary Math in the Kitchen

Have older kids try and transform fractions into percentages. How much is a slice of a pizza in percentages if the pizza is split into 4? Can they find it out if you split it in 6?

Or go beyond and teach them how to calculate the yield of a meal. You can find the formulas for this online and a lot of other information if you search: yield testing for food.

With children that like cooking, ask them to pretend they are restaurant owners. Help them understand what percentage food should cost in a restaurant. Many restaurants have this between 28% and 35%. How much would a portion of mashed potato cost in your children’s restaurant?

If you’ve already allowed kids to do the shopping, help them figure out what percentage of the allowance for food they spent this week.

Estimate Your Favorite Recipes

Since my son found it very hard to relate to estimates, every year, when we get to estimates he complains he doesn’t see the point of them. 

The kitchen is the perfect scene to use estimation. Choose recipes that aren’t so sensitive to exact quantities and let the kids estimate how much 20 g of butter is if the whole block is 200g. 

Or how much is 200 ml of milk if you have no measuring cup? We use a standard mug of 250 ml to try and guess.

This is a fun game that can be adapted for little ones too: how many cups would fill the flour container? How many spoons would fill half of the sugar jar? Let them guess and then test if their guessing was right.

Math in the Kitchen: Using a Calculator, Timer, Thermometer, and Scale

What better way to learn how to use all the measuring tools than in the kitchen?

Take out your calculator to calculate how much money you would spend on a meal, or how much yield you would get from a recipe.

Maybe even see how much money you’d pay for an ingredient after a coupon is applied. Or what’s the best deal on those vegetables on the shopping list. 

A timer is useful when baking or boiling and preparing a meal is the perfect occasion to learn how to use and read one.

Baking is impossible without scales. Since kids love measuring things anyway, a scale will provide a lot of fun for even the younger ones.

Get a child-safe kitchen thermometer and teach kids how to read it correctly while you bake or cook. Teach them why temperature is important and let them measure cold ingredients versus hot meals.

Enriching Your Math in the Kitchen

Here are some other ways that you can enrich and celebrate math in the kitchen. Furthermore, for the math holidays throughout the year, you could make a special kitchen calendar and learn about the math concepts before applying them in the kitchen.

Check this Pinterest board for more math in the kitchen ideas for elementary-aged children.

  • bake a pie on PI-Day and use the occasion to start talking about a circle’s circumference.
  • Buy books likeThe Math Chef: Over 60 Math Activities and Recipes for Kids * or Eat Your Math Homework* and have fun doing math in the kitchen. (*This is an affiliate link)
  • Find Fibonacci number patterns in your fruit or vegetables, for example in a cucumber. Or try this recipe for Fibonacci baked beans or this one for Fibonacci lemonade.
  • Use geometry and symmetry for food presentation.
  • Make your own recipe book and encourage your children to write down the measurements and all the steps in order.

I hope this post has shed some light on the many ways you could use your kitchen to do math!

Laura

About the author

Laura is a homeschool mom from Europe, raising a STEM-gifted boy.
Homeschooling a gifted kid is sometimes difficult, but seeing her son flourish in this environment is worth it.
Over at Monkey and Mom she wants to help homeschool families from around the world find the best materials by testing them out in her homeschool.

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