Level 2+: Cooking + Favorite Foods

We love when we can let our children’s interests guide their learning—and this week is packed with opportunities to do that! You may notice that this unit study has more book suggestions than you normally see in our units. That’s because, this week, we want you to take the opportunity to really let your child and their favorites sit in the driver’s seat. We’ll explore a number of popular foods (like peanut butter and jelly, fries and potato chips, pizza, and ice cream!), but we know that your child might have a different favorite food (like doughnuts…or dumplings!). As you collect your books for the week, and even as you prepare which activities you’ll do, look for opportunities to weave their personal interests in by selecting literature that will appeal to them or modifying activities to work those interests in. (We’ve included a few extra suggestions below to get you started!)

We hope this unit will demonstrate how virtually anything can become a springboard for academic and life skill learning—and how you and your child can work together designing their academic experience for years to come.

Have we whet your appetite for learning? Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.

Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional books:

Optional chapter book:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the phonics rules that create the long /i/ sound, as in fry, high, and tie. In lesson four, we will explore this rule more thoroughly, along with other phonics rules we have learned for creating the long /i/ sound.

For your reference, there are five other spelling generalizations for long /i/:

  • Just I: In open syllables, the long i sound is represented by just the letter i by itself. Most of these will be 2 or more syllable words, such as silent and idea. I alone can also make the long i sound when it comes before two consonants, as in the words pint and kind.
  • I_E: (Silent E rule) The vowel says its name because of the E (kite, spike).
  • IGH: The -igh spelling pattern is another common representation of the long i sound (high, sight).
  • IE Vowel Team and Y_E: Both ie and y_e are less common ways to spell the long i sound (pie and type).
Lesson 1:

Before we dive into specific favorite foods, let’s work on some culinary basics and vocabulary with the following activities! But first, let’s get to know a world-famous chef who overcame some pretty big odds to get respect in the culinary world—and inspired thousands of home chefs in the process—in the book Born Hungry: Julia Child Becomes the “French Chef.”

Activity 1: Julia Child was a truly fascinating and inspiring person who pushed her audience to embrace their mistakes and simply enjoy cooking and food! You can read more about her life in this article. While she never called herself a “chef,” Julia Child did attend culinary school in France before writing her first cook book. What kinds of things do you learn in culinary school? Let’s watch this brief video for an overview of the types of things culinary students learn.

Did you notice that term at the beginning of the video, mise en place? Mise en place is a French term that means “putting in place” and is used for prepping kitchen equipment and food before serving to save time when cooking. To properly use mise en place, follow these simple guidelines.

  1. Have your recipe handy and develop a plan.
  2. Gather all of your ingredients, utensils, and equipment needed.
  3. One by one, wash, cut, dice, chop, and measure all of your ingredients.
  4. Place them into appropriately sized dishes, bowls, and containers for easy grabbing.
  5. Set your ingredients around your cooking station for better accessibility. (source)

Let’s do some mise en place of our own, beginning with culinary knife arts! Share this article and photos with your child to teach them about some of the most common cutting styles. Next, let’s put what we’ve learned into practice by learning how to cut an onion! Follow the steps in this article. (Nervous about knives? Try this kid-friendly knife set and cut-resistant glove.)

Activity 2: Did you notice something funny happening when you were cutting your onion? You may have felt your eyes start to sting…and even tear up! It’s not just you—onions are famous for making people cry! Here’s why:

Onions are considered to be root vegetables as the entire bulb is grown in the ground. When onions are growing, they are also drawing in sulfur (as well as moisture and other minerals) from the soil. When you start to slice an onion, you are cutting and separating the cell walls of the onion. Until that moment, some enzymes in the onion have not mixed with each other or the surrounding air. Now that it’s sliced, the enzymes and chemicals are free to mix together and form a gas. This mixture is what produces the potent smell of an onion. The gas created from this mixture slowly starts to waft up and reach the eyes of the person cutting the onion, and the resulting gas mixes with the water in your eyes to create a stinging sensation.

The tears formed when slicing an onion are a kind of reactive tear. The lachrymal glands, located near the tear ducts in the eye, produce tears to flush out any irritant like dust or smoke. In this case, the irritant is the gas created from the enzymatic reaction of slicing an onion. The tears are the body’s natural defense to flush out the irritant once the gas reaches the eyes. (source) You can also watch this video for a visual explanation.

Is there any way to prevent this from happening? Let’s try four different methods to see which best impacts the chemical change:

  • Putting an onion in the refrigerator for 10 minutes prior to cutting
  • Boiling an onion for 5 minutes prior to cutting (note that the onion will be hot after boiling, so you may want to wear an oven mitt while cutting)
  • Cutting an onion under water/running water
  • Cutting an onion while wearing goggles

After each method, record the results in this printable lab sheet. Discuss with your child how changing the temperature or introducing a kind of barrier impacts the effects of the onion. Why does this happen? What are their final conclusions about the best method to avoid crying while cutting an onion?

Activity 3: Another important step of mise en place is measuring out your ingredients for a recipe. Let’s learn how to measure in cooking with this video. Before playing the video, give your child measuring spoons, and dry and wet measuring cups that they can reference as they watch. Afterwards, practice measuring some dry and wet measurements to see if they’ve grasped how to use each tool. You can also print our kitchen measurement conversion chart here for easy reference in the future. (Tape it inside a cabinet door to keep it handy when your child is cooking!)

Activity 4: Now, let’s put all these skills into action with some cooking of our own! First, print these pages so your child can start their own cookbook. (You can start by printing just one of the second page—we’ll be adding recipes throughout the week.) For our first recipe, let’s make one of the five “mother sauces” from French cooking. These five sauces are considered to be the most important in this style of cooking. In honor of Julie Child, let your child pick the sauce that sounds most delicious or interesting to them and make it! Click their desired recipe below for a recipe.

  • Béchamel: a white sauce that is often used as a base for many cheese sauces.
  • Espagnole: a brown sauce that works as a base for many sauces, such as demi-glace.
  • Hollandaise: an emulsion of melted butter with egg yolk and lemon juice.
  • Velouté: a white sauce that has wide number of derivative sauces, such as white wine sauce.
  • Sauce tomate: or tomato sauce, that can be combined with a variety of ingredients to make condiments such as ketchup and hot sauce.

Once they’re done, they can add the recipe to their cookbook.

Lesson 2:

French cooking involves some fairly tricky techniques, but not all cooking has to be complicated! Today, we’ll explore a classic favorite food of many children—a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! We’ll being with a charming picture book, The Giant Jam Sandwich. If your child would like to read more about how peanut butter is created, you could also read or listen to From Peanuts to Peanut Butter.

Activity 1: It has been said that nothing goes together like peanut butter and jelly! Let’s let that phrase guide some sight word recognition practice today. Print and cut out these sight word “sandwich slices” and spread them on a table in front of your child. First, read through each peanut butter side with your child, and then have them find the matching jelly side and read it again. (Note: You may want to start with 2-3 pages at first.) When they’ve found all the pairs, you can add more words (or use the blank slices to add your own words!).
(-) Working with a younger sibling? Use the blank slices to create upper- and lower-case letter matches for them to practice on!

Activity 2: Next, let’s try a new way of understanding place value with this PB&J activity. Turn it into a game by timing how quickly your child can build their numbers, then see if they can beat their time!

Activity 3: Of course, the day isn’t complete without making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! This recipe is extremely simple—which makes it perfect for building your child’s confidence and independence in the kitchen. See if they want to make sandwiches for the whole family for lunch! (And don’t forget to add their recipe to their cookbook!)
(+) Looking for more of a culinary challenge? Try these peanut butter and jelly crescent rolls!

Here’s a funny poem to share with your child while they cook or eat:

“A peanut sat on a railroad track …”

A peanut sat on a railroad track,
His heart was all a-flutter.
The five-fifteen came rushing by–
Toot toot! Peanut butter!


Activity 4: Being a chef isn’t only about cooking—it’s also about taking care of your workspace, the kitchen! Encourage your child to clean as they cook to maintain space to work and prevent the spread of germs, and then use this printable checklist to teach them how to clean the kitchen after cooking.

Lesson 3:

Today, we’ll explore two popular food options with similar ingredients and a similar cooking style: french fries and potato chips! We have two recommended books to start today’s lessons—read or listen to both or whichever one you think will most interest your child. The French Fry King is a clever story about a sausage dog who dreams of becoming a French Fry King…only to discover that happiness involves more than just success in business. Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament is a fictional picture book tale based on a real man named George Crum, a cook in Saratoga Springs, New York in the 1850s, who is purported to have created the first potato chip in response to a demanding customer.

Activity 1: Before we get into the real spuds, let’s let some french fries inspire our phonics activity for the week! This activity will help your child sort different variations of the long /i/ sound, using three of the phonics rules we have learned about so far: I_E (I followed by a silent E), -igh, and this week’s rule, Y says /i/ at the end of a single syllable word.

Begin by making three of these fries pockets and labeling each one with one of the above rules. Next, label popsicle sticks with all or some of the below words:







Present your child with their popsicle stick “fries” and the pockets and let them sort the words by rule, reading them as they do.

Activity 2: Time to spice things up—literally! Both fries and potato chips have gotten a major gourmet glow-up in the last few years, and delicious spices get a lot of the credit for their fancy flavors. Let’s work on broadening your child’s recognition of spices with a simple activity. Start by putting small amounts of spices in small plastic bags or glass jars. (You might want to label the bottoms or backs of the jars or bags so you can tell them apart later.) Use whatever spices your family enjoys, or try adding in some new ones!

Next, let your child smell and taste one spice at a time. Ask them to describe it using as many words as they need. Finally, identify the spice and talk about what kind of recipes might use it.

Activity 3: Ever wondered where french fries come from? Let’s read more about their origins in this article. Next, let’s learn about the technique and science needed to make the perfect french fry in this awesome video.

Activity 4: Ready to get cooking? Use the steps in the above video to make your own batch of fries. (Or you can make some in the oven or air fryer—we won’t tell!) You can also make this delicious special fry dipping sauce. (Don’t forget to add your recipes to your cookbook!)

Lesson 4:

Personally, we never get tired of pizza! Today, we’ll use our favorite cheesy treat to inspire our books and activities. Start by reading the book Nobody Knows How to Make Pizza.

Activity 1: Is there anything better than a pizza to teach fractions? Let’s try a little pizza fraction gameschooling with this printable game. (We recommend printing on cardstock or other thicker paper to make the pieces more durable.)

Activity 2: Even the best pizza is only as good as its dough. So, how do pizza chefs get that fluffy, chewy crust? The secret lies in yeast! First, watch this video to learn how yeast makes dough rise. Next, bring the science to life with this experiment.

Activity 3: Next, let’s bring our dough-tally awesome yeast knowledge into the kitchen by making our own pizzas, starting with some homemade dough using this recipe.
(-) Short on time? You can use break apart biscuit dough instead—simply flatten each round to make a personal sized pizza.

Activity 4: Pizza can be a great vehicle to introduce your child to new kinds of veggies, cheeses, and more. Create a toppings tasting bar by putting a spoonful of different fresh veggies, shredded cheeses, herbs, meats, and whatever else you think they’d be open to trying. Then, let them create the pizza of their dreams with their favorites. (And don’t stress if they end up baking only cheese—it’s a classic for a reason!) Add your child’s pizza recipe to their cookbook.

(-) Activity 5: Working with a younger sibling? Print and laminate these pizza-themed alphabet placemats and give them some extra dough (or playdough) to work on letter recognition while your older child does their lessons.

Lesson 5:

Let’s end the week on a sweet note—ice cream! We’ve included two book suggestions around ice cream, so you can read them both or choose the book you think will most interest your child. First, we have Ice Cream Cones For Sale, which tells about the true-life controversy over who invented the world’s first ice cream cone. Looking for a story about how food can help change the world? Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop tells the inspiring true story of Italian ice cream maker Francesco Tirelli, who moves to Hungary to open his own shop. When his shop is closed during World War II, however, Francesco uses it for an even more important purpose: to help hide his persecuted Jewish neighbors.

Activity 1: Ice cream has been a beloved dessert for centuries (no, really!), and it has even made its way into fine art! Let’s begin our lessons by learning about artist Wayne Thiebaud, a realism painter who often featured desserts in his work. You can read this page to learn more about his life. Next, let’s look at his painting “Four Ice Cream Cones.

To make his desserts stand out, Wayne Thiebaud uses an illustrational technique he called “halation,” or halos of complementary colors that outline the individual object to make them stand out on the canvas. (source) Complementary colors are colors found on opposite ends of the color wheel. They can be used next to each other to make each other appear brighter, they can be mixed to create effective neutral hues, or they can be blended together for shadows. (source)

Let’s try it for ourselves! First, use this video for basic instructions on how to draw a cone and create your own ice cream drawing or painting. When the ice cream cone is done, use this color wheel to determine a complementary color and use it to outline your scoops of ice cream. How does the complementary color change the look of your painting?

Activity 2: Did you know you can make ice cream without a freezer with a little bit of science? First, watch this video to explain how it works. Next, make your own ice cream in a bag with this recipe. Top your sundae as desired—and don’t forget to add your creation to your cookbook!

Activity 3: Have you ever noticed how if you eat something cold like ice cream too quickly, you get a headache? This phenomenon is sometimes called a brain freeze. This video explains why it happens. When you’re done with the video (and your treat) let’s get up and move with this silly freeze dance song!

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.