Using Seasonal Cooking to Practice Math Skills

Students can use holiday recipes to practice measurement, conversion and other math skills.

By Rachel D


The air is crisp, and the leaves are turning; as the weather gets cooler, food-lovers begin dreaming of their favorite holiday dishes. One of my favorite things about being a teacher is learning about each student’s unique family traditions, especially during the holidays. I love hearing about their various celebrations and customs, whether it be a cultural tradition or exclusive to their own family. And, as a food-lover myself, I love learning about their favorite foods, but, most of all, I relish the opportunity to get a taste.

In many schools, it is commonplace to have a holiday feast. Teachers usually ask each family to bring their favorite, traditional dish for a deliciously eclectic meal that all can enjoy. The colors, textures, and different aromas could have me sitting there for hours, savoring each dish; but, of course, there is no time for that! Instead, I thought of a lesson that would allow me, and others, to enjoy these special dishes for a lifetime.

Share Family Traditions

As an in-class or at-home assignment prior to the big feast, have students bring in or write down the recipe for the dish they are going  to share. Hopefully, it is not a secret family recipe! Then give students time to prepare a word problem with their recipe. For example, students can have fun practicing their fractions by halving, doubling, or even quadrupling their measurements, which may be needed when it comes time to bring their dish in to share with the class. Students will have fun practicing their fraction skills and creating their own unique word problems. Provide them examples, and encourage students to be creative!

When their word problems are complete, and checked by a teacher for accuracy, give students time to write their word problems and recipes out neatly, or type them on the computer. Next create a packet for each student, with their word problem on the front and the full recipe on the back of each page. The packet could be the size of a half-sheet of paper or full-sheet, just make sure there will be enough room for students to solve each problem! 

On the day of the feast, have students complete the word problems in a group or individually. The students’ reward after completing the packet is - a feast. Now, not only will each student have participated in logical thinking and problem solving, but everyone will also have the recipes for all of the delectable dishes they are about to eat.

Here's an example of a word problem:

Marta is going to make her dad’s famous mashed potato recipe to share with the class. Her dad’s recipe is good for ten people and uses five pounds of potatoes. If there are twenty students in Marta’s class, plus their teacher and an aide, how many pounds of potatoes does Marta need?
Answer: Eleven pounds of potatoes

Some More Ways to Celebrate Food Traditions

You can be creative in how your class celebrates this season of feasts. You can have them make stone soup, with each child supplying an ingredient. Students could write instructions explaining how to make their favorite holiday cookies. They could even videotape a family food making experience. Whatever you decide to do, the important thing is to bring the holiday season into your classroom by linking activities to classroom curriculum.

Holiday Cooking Lesson Plans:

Cooking with the Sun

In this science lesson plan, students experiment with solar cooking, while learning about renewable energy, insulation, reflection, absorption, conduction and convection. This is a way to tie seasonal topics to scientific learning.

Fractions and Recipes

Students navigate the Internet to find recipes in order to practice changing recipes to accommodate different numbers of people. This lesson would be an appropriate prelude to activities involving family recipe conversions.

Measurement and Conversion of Units in a Recipe

Students practice converting units of measurement in the kitchen. Students should get a handle on conversions before adjusting their own recipes.