Those that know me well have probably been wondering how long it will take for cooking to appear in one of my posts. I love cooking, mainly baking, and spend a lot of time creating things in the kitchen with the children, using the excuse that it's educational. So, in order to justify my claims, I thought I would look at how we can make cooking educational for this weeks activity.

I'm assuming many of you may do cooking with your children and already pull out the educational opportunities without realising it. Others of you may cook but, like me, are often  in a rush so don't manage to make it as educational as it could be and, I suspect, there are others out there that avoid the kitchen with the children.

For those that already cook with your children I'm sure you have lots of good recipes that you already use and have fun with. For those that don't get in the kitchen much or need some inspiration I will add two of my favourite 'cooking with children' recipes to the end of this post. We regularly make Shortbread biscuits, courtesy of Delia Smith, and the other 'go to' for us is a basic sponge cake. These recipes are simple, fun to do with all ages, have the flexibility to pull out all sorts of mathematical learning and produce tasty treats.

Living in the US I am slowly learning to cook with cups and finding the conversions very interesting! However, in the interest of mathematical learning I would like to encourage everyone to use scales for this exercise, if at all possible. There is a lot more maths involved in weighing ingredients out, multiplying recipes using the weights rather than the cups and understanding how capacity, weight and measure all work. I know this isn't always possible but if it can be done I would recommend it (I have spare scales if anyone local wants to borrow them). Please anyone that is using scales, weigh your ingredients in grams and kilograms. This is the standard measure recognised across the UK now and what children in the UK are taught at school.

Rather than break this weeks learning into age groups I am going to work through the process logically and discuss the different ways you can be mathematical as you work through your recipe.

Weighing - the most obvious activity with cooking is to weigh and measure the ingredients. This can be done right from little children up to big children with varying levels of expectation. My daughter (4 yrs old) spoons the ingredients in until I screech stop and then we talk about what the scales say. With older children, you can ask them to spoon in the ingredients and to monitor themselves how much they are putting in.

Measuring - a lot of recipes use liquids and this again is another great thing for the children to do. This can work from asking them to pour, while you monitor the amount or vice versa, asking them to monitor the quantity while you pour. Or they could do both. Sometimes only small quantities are used and you need measuring spoons. We have fun counting the number of spoonfuls that we need as we put them in. An older child could count the quantity that has gone in, rather than the number of spoonfuls. eg. 15ml, 30ml, 45ml.....

Converting Units - I mentioned above that all weighing should be done in grams and kilograms but if you have an older child (9, 10 or 11) they can really benefit from being aware of other units of measure, being able to work in them and converting the units. One day you could try cooking but using pounds and ounces. A step further would be to get them to convert a recipe from grams to ounces. This is difficult and will need support but can be fun. You could also convert between grams and cups. I have found this particularly interesting. If you're really keen and have lots of time then try cooking a recipe using grams and then cooking it again using cups and see if the results are the same. If they're not the same, a really fun extension of this would be to then play around with the conversions until you can get the two recipes to create the same product.

Filling the pans / tray - this is always fun time to get mathematical. When we put the shortbread onto the trays we always do some kind of counting / adding exercise. You could just count them. Or you could count them in twos or threes etc. Or, like we did today, we counted both baking trays and added together how may we had.

Time - When your product is cooking you can time it in various ways to help the maths. With little ones I would encourage them to set a digital timer, if you have one. This is fun for them and is starting to give them an awareness of time. With older children look at what time it is and ask them to calculate what time the cooking will be complete. With children not quite ready to do this on their own you could work it out with them.

Sharing out the finished product - this can be a great fractions activity, particularly with a cake. I'm assuming you're not going to eat the completed cake / shortbread / other tasty bites in one sitting but you could have a really good discussion on how you would divide it if you were going to and how many others were going to join you or if it was to be split between the same number of people but over two sittings........

Changing the recipe - once you have made your cake / cookies / something else there is much fun to be had in creating variations. I've mentioned some possibilities for these under each recipe but ask your child for ideas too. Once they've decided how they want to alter the product then they need to decide how much of the extra ingredient they need.  This could be as simple as you pouring and asking your child to call stop when they think there is enough and then weighing to see how much that was. Or you could make it really mathematical and ask your child to work out what quantity they think would be appropriate. You could even turn it into an experiment and make several batches to decide. Some fun mathematical thinking.

Sometimes an activity like this may not look particularly complicated or difficult and, as parents, you want something to challenge your child. This may not challenge in the way that number equations will but it will give them much needed practical experience with measure and capacity and throw in some good old life experience. Also, it will meet my aim, to make maths fun and enjoyable and to show children it can be this and not always working in a book. Please enjoy your cooking this week. I would love for you to share any recipes that you love to cook with your children or to see some photos of you doing some mathematical cooking added in the comments.

Shortbread Cookies

150g plain flour (For anyone American that is All Purpose!)
100g butter or marg
50g caster sugar (For anyone American that is granulated sugar)

  • Cream butter and sugar together.
  • Work in flour
  • Roll out mixture until ½ inch thick and cut out with cookie cutters
  • Place on a large baking tray.
  • Cook on 150°c / 300°f / gas mark 3 for about 30 minutes, until the cookies are turning golden

Once you've mastered the basics you can make these more interesting by adding chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, spices............

Basic Sponge Cake 

113g caster sugar (granulated sugar in the US)
113g butter or marg
2 eggs
113g self raising flour (self rising in the US)
(if you're living at altitude, like me, then you will need to add about 100ml of milk and cook for longer)

  • Cream butter and sugar together
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time
  • Fold in the flour
  • Divide the mixture between two small sandwich tins
  • Cook on 180°c / 350°f / gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes, until cake is golden, coming away from the edges of the tin and springs back when gently pressed.

Depending on the size of your tins you may need to increase this recipe. I do double this for my tins which are
Variations: chocolate (I add 100g melted chocolate  and 20g cocoa to my doubled recipe), coffee, orange, lemon......

Of course once you have made this cake you will need to ice it.......


113g butter / marg
225g icing sugar
drop of milk

  • Add all ingredients to a bowl and gently blend together.

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