Get Kids in the Kitchen: Teach Reading through Cooking

I will start with admitting to you that until the age of 25, I was pretty useless in the kitchen.  I was never interested in cooking, and certainly did not take the time to learn.  This changed when I moved overseas to Turkmenistan (Central Asia) to teach abroad.  I had no Trader Joes, Safeway, Costco, or 7-11 to bail me out.  There was no convenience food and certainly nothing was labeled “quick cooking”.  When friends from overseas visit the United States,  they take pictures of “absurd” things in American grocery stores such as chopped vegetables and pre-packaged salads.  They are always fascinated by the amazing short cuts that Americans take with their food.

Get Kids in the Kitchen: Teach Reading through Cooking

After returning to the States after living as an ex-pat for the last 8 years, I admit I adore being able to go to the store and pick up a rotisserie chicken. I relish walking into Costco and getting my daughter a huge pack of string cheese for her school lunches.   I am thankful to say the least.  However, I have learned quite a few things overseas about cooking, and one of them being an extraordinary opportunity for learning to read through cooking.

Every time I included cooking in a lesson for my students or my own daughter based on a book we were reading, it became a clear favorite.  Every time they picked up the book again, they would tell me “remember when we made ____”.  It was a phenomenon that I wanted to capitalize on since there are many times it is a struggle to have children engaged in reading with so many other distractions (i.e. technology, after school activities, etc.)

Read around the World by Mapping Your Food

ChickenSundayOne of the first experiments I tried in my class with cooking was to map the ingredients.  We read a book called Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco. In this book, the plot shows a beautiful inter-racial friendship between a Russian girl and 2 African American neighbors who are brothers.  The story line also includes racism and stereotyping by a shop keeper to accuse the African American boys of violence. However, the story ends with both the shop keeper and the children learning something new about each other as well as being able to appreciate the diversity in cultures. In my classroom, I had 9 different nationalities represented, so this book was an excellent choice for many reasons.

I took the book a step further and decided to emulate making a “Sunday dinner” with my class (culturally done in African American families). With no Carolina BBQ joint to save me, I had to make everything from scratch.  We made chicken, string beans, creamed corn, biscuits and gravy, and peach cobbler for dessert.  Before we made this amazing meal (yes, it turned out as mouth watering as it sounds), we put the ingredients on the map in our classroom.  I talked to my students about their home countries and what food was made there. We put the peaches in America, Australia, and Spain.  The kids helped to place corn on Ukraine, and biscuits on Germany. We put chicken on everyone’s home country! 🙂

My students had now built their vocabulary, engaged with the plot elements, made text to world connections, used kinesthetic learning, and created a scaffold of learning though geography.  I would say this was a successful lesson indeed. I could not believe it had never occurred to me before to use cooking in my classroom. It was definitely outside my comfort zone to cook everything from scratch.  However, I was able to immediately see the amazing benefits.

Try your own food mapping adventure for fruits and vegetables HERE.

Dazzle Children with Food Shapes

roundisatortillaAnother class project I tried with my International Baccalaureate class of 2nd graders was to connect their cultures with similar food during math.  The IB program is dedicated to subject integration where you do not teach subjects independently, rather the lessons are built simultaneously. For our unit on Where we are in Place and Time, we were studying the interconnectedness of civilizations. Thanks to the help of my wonderful colleagues from all over the world, we decided to make round shaped bread from different parts of the globe.

We started by reading Round is a Tortilla, A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong, and Friendshape by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  I had parents and teachers come in to help us make tortillas, injera bread, bagels, crepes, and brioche. It was quite the food festival with to-die-for smells coming from our classroom.  This project fostered conversations at home as well as at school.  Students continued bringing in different shapes of bread as we continued our 2D/3D shape comparison study without prompting. One of my favorite teaching days of all time was during our study on rectangles/rectangular prisms. I had a student bring in delicious homemade biscotti.  This was a moment of epiphany for me as a teacher to continue to think outside the box as well as take risks.

World’s Best Chore for Kids: Food

ApplePie.SeetheWorldSome of you may incorporate chores into your child’s daily routine. I am all for teaching children responsibility through chores.  The most fabulous advice I ever received about chores was to teach kids how to cook for themselves.  Again, reading books; definitely in my comfort zone. Teaching a child to cook and giving up control to a messy 3-year-old who was sure to break eggs on the floor, not so comfortable.

I took the plunge with my own daughter, we started with pancakes and pizza. Two phenomenal books I recommend reading: Pizza at Sally’s by Monica Wellington and Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle. Two books with vivid illustrations and wonderful step-by-step instructions to make it easy to connect in your own kitchen.  For a wordless book option, I recommend Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie de Paola. This can be a great choice for very young or reluctant readers.

What started as a “chore” for my daughter has turned into a favorite activity.  The moment I suggest for her to help me cook, she cheers with excitement!  I would have never guessed from my own reluctance in cooking as a child that it could be so fun as well as an extremely useful educational tool.  Cooking has become my favorite way to teach her about fractions, measurement, as well as reading expository text.

In my family, apple pie is a revered holiday tradition. The first time my daughter helped, we chose How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. The whimsical story is about a girl who travels around the world in search of ingredients. As a follow up, Where is the Apple Pie? by Valeri Gorbachev became my daughter’s favorite book to read with her dad.  They have memorized the book and will quote it to anyone who will listen.

If you are searching for inspiration, a great resource of food based books organized by age, click HERE.


Young children especially do not need much to make what they read magical. Reading through cooking can become a favorite pastime for the children in your lives.  Choose a goal such as learning about another country, vocabulary, or math skills for literacy.  I highly encourage you to take a few risks and reap great rewards starting today!

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