Math Chefs

The application of mathematical concepts is an inescapable part of culinary activities. With a little thought and intention, I believe that we can foster really positive math experiences through cooking and baking projects. Kitchen work presents opportunities to meaningfully and purposefully build, exercise, and expand not only computational skills but also problem solving, predictive thinking, and logic.

I am not a math expert. I don’t feel particularly intimidated by the subject, but I also never studied it beyond my years in conventional secondary school. I don’t feel confident in instructing others in math curriculum as defined by education ministries, but I am versed in making available the ways that math is engaged in culinary activities. Measurement and conversions are the backbone of kitchen work, and when little ones come into the kitchen they are immersed in experiences of measuring, weighing, making comparisons, estimating, and counting. The key is to not do the work for them, but let the challenges be transparent and shared!

This is part of an amazing recipe found at:

Doubling or even multiplying a recipe by 3 or more is a great opportunity to engage with multiplication. The way that you model multiplication is through grouping. For example, we want to multiply by 3, well we want 3 groups of our recipe. We want 3 groups of 1 cup, how many does that equal? Participants might need that modelled, and this level is a just right challenge, or they might be up for the challenge of 3 groups of 1/2 cups. Even if the experience of learning is based on using the 1/2 cup measuring cup 3 times, this is showing comprehension of the concept, but there might also be room to model how to add or even multiply fractions.  And if your like me, and go whoa…how do you do that again? Have a look at Khan academy, an amazing online math resource, to answer those questions and review it yourself first…or when you’re in the middle of it and just can’t remember 🙂

I also find that there are a lot of reasons to convert measurements of cups and teaspoons to millilitres. A recipe that calls for 9 tablespoons and we are multiplying by 3 is a good example. In this case you are certainly welcome to measure it out 27 times…or convert to mL and measure 405mL.  Sometimes just modelling the concepts by doing the math is a good introduction. I have never been convinced that the method of showing then demanding a learner immediately do is always the best approach, sometimes we just want to observe several times before we do. Everyone is different, and has different needs at different times. The point is to provide the environment and the invitations to observe and jump in.

IMG_3361Reasons to engage computational challenges are also plentiful, for example calculating all of the kilometres that were travelled by the fruit in your fruit salad. In the example featured in the photo here, we were able to use this opportunity to also engage learning about place value, and how to add multi-digit numbers. It was a real question to ask where our fruit in the fruit salad comes from, how it gets to us, and how far it has to travel? Like so much of what we learn, we naturally learned and exercised computational skills here in order to answer the questions that curiosity raised.


I have myself experienced the necessity of applying numeracy concepts and computational formulas, for example cooking large community meals and working in a professional kitchens, it became an essential skill for me to be able to assess cost of ingredients, and calculate the amounts needed for purchase based on required quantities and budgets. Children love simulation play, creating a mock or even one time restaurant is a project that is real, really fun, and will engage a multitude of numeracy based skills.

Here are a couple of additional suggestions for where to observe and foster math learning in the kitchen:

  • following and comprehending sequences as demonstrated by the structure of a recipe
  • engaging in conversations and observations about numbers
  • explore pattern making, grouping similar and different objects, making comparisons
  • comparisons and creating grouping categories can also get more advanced, making venn diagrams, for example. I am particularly inspired to do a venn diagram baking class after watching this vihart video:
  • opportunities to cut and make different shapes, for example, using cookie cutters with melons is a great way to explore stars, squares, ovals and so on
  • using and reading scales and other measuring equipment
  • weighing and exploring weights, for example, how much does a handful of pasta weigh
  • more advanced calculations related to volume (how much does the pot hold….if were making soup for 50 people, do we have enough pots?)
  • reading nutrition labels and understanding percentages
  • arithmetic challenges such as doubling (multiplying) and halving (dividing) recipes
  • calculating area, diameter, and circumference
  • ratios! Ratio’s are the key to playful and experimental baking. Once you understand the ratios of fat, flour, liquid for example for muffins – the possibilities for play are amazing fun

Like a lot of learning, math learning happens everywhere all the time – we just need to know where to observe it in action and therefore where the opportunities are to enhance and engage its natural presence.