Recipes and word problems

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

Children and teens often struggle with math word problems due to reading comprehension issues or math anxiety. Parents can help by encouraging them to read and follow directions on recipes or assembling items such as shelving. Both typically involve reading and measurement in a low-stress environment. If they miss a step, the brownies might burn, but it won’t hurt their math grade. They will learn to attend to detail and double check their work.


Math comes into halving or doubling recipes as well.


Finally, cooking is a great context for explaining why in fraction division, you multiply by the reciprocal of the 2nd fraction. Here’s an example.


You are making peanut butter cookies which calls for 2 cups of flour, but the 1-cup measuring cup is in the dishwasher. How many half-cups would it take to make 2 cups?

The number sentence is 2 divided by (½) = 4. Solve by taking 2 cups times the reciprocal of (½). 2*(2/1) = 4. You multiply by the reciprocal of the 2nd fraction because it takes two halves for each cup.


I keep a white board in or near my kitchen so that when math learning opportunities such as these arise in cooking, I can quickly get in a word problem that will not cause math anxiety.


Sample crepes recipe to double:

Big Rolling Pancakes

1 c. flour

2 eggs

¼ tsp salt

½ T. sugar

1 cup milk or more until batter is thin

Beat together and fry in preheated, lightly greased black iron skillet. The skillet should be very hot. To each, thickened fruit can be rolled up in the pancake, or syrup. I like peaches best!

From A Taste of the Valley cookbook (Hager & Eberle).


When I make the recipe, I use 1 2/3 cups milk. I also double the recipe. To double 1 2/3 cups, you could take 1+1+2/3+2/3 = 2 4/3 which is 3 1/3 cups milk.



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