Struggling Learner: Play with Your Food!

I remember my Mom telling me as a child “Don’t play with your food.” Of course, she was trying to get me to eat something that I really didn’t want to eat! But did you know that you can blend math and kids playing with their food?

For me, this all started when my kids were very young. When I would introduce a new number or math fact strategy, I would show that it with icing on their Toaster Strudel. Here’s fractions shown with the icing!

pastry 1/3 pastry 2/3

Each morning, my kids would wake up to find out what the new topic of the day was going to be! Not only did this bring excitement into math, but they were learning!

This got me thinking.… How else can I use food to help my kids with their math?

So I ventured into carrot and celery sticks for lunches. Why not use them to create tally sticks? Oh, and to eat healthy too! We usually ate lunch after the math lesson, so we would use lunch time to review some of the math facts covered in the lesson.

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Lay out cherry tomatoes in twos.


Here’s orange slices laid out in twos. Apple slices will work too. This shows even and odds! And, to the delight of the children, when you eat one slice, the odd number becomes even. And the even number becomes odd! Until they’re all gone, that is…..

10 oranges 9 oranges 8 oranges 7 oranges 6 oranges 5 oranges

Can you play with food at meal time? Absolutely!!! Try peas and corn to create abacus beads on the background of some delicious mashed potatoes! My kids were able to demonstrate to their dad what they learned in math class that day.

Or do “ants on a log” with the strategies. Here’s 7 + 6. See the two fives? And the three more to make 13?


Another one we did with food was mental math. Do you struggle to get the children to eat so many bites of their broccoli or brussels spouts? I would create an equation and the end result was how many bites they had to eat. Directed at a 10-year-old child, a possible equation might go something like this: Your age plus 12 (pause for calculation time) plus 2 more (pause) divided by 6 (pause) times 2 (pause) plus 1 (pause) divided by 3. End result is 3 bites of that not-quite-so-bad thing on the plate!

These are simple ideas, but can really be effective in the reinforcement of math facts and concepts. So, go ahead and have your kids play with their food. It’s healthy for the body and the mind!



  1. Oh! I never thought about using food, but I’m all about learning as we go. I love to turn just about anything into a lesson. Though I will say that If we did the Toaster Strudel idea, my kids would gripe that the strudel would be cold by the time we were done. 🙂

  2. Lola Childs says:

    This would be really fun for my kids. They love food and now it would be easier for me to make them learn calculations.

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