Color, Shape, and Size

Use snacks and mealtime to teach big ideas with taste and ease.

By Ellen Booth Church



Color, Shape, and Size

Your kitchen is filled with many wonderful foods and cooking tools in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. It is the perfect laboratory for exploring some of the first topics children learn in school: color, shape, and size. Understanding these concepts is important because your child uses them in observing, comparing, and discussing all she sees and encounters. The ability to notice, use, and voice similarities and differences are at the heart of beginning mathscience, and reading skills. So take a look around your kitchen and try the ideas below, or your own, to see how many different ways you and your child can celebrate these three basic concepts with food!


Have an orange meal. One way to focus on a particular color is to have a meal all in the same color. This will help your child to not only focus on learning the name of a particular color, but also it will help her see the many different shades of a particular color. For example, not all oranges are the exact same shade! As you and your child prepare the meal, discuss the differences she notices in the colors. Are some dark and some light? Which foods have other colors mixed in? For an orange meal, consider serving macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, carrot sticks, and orange juice.

Bake a rainbow cake. This cake has a surprising secret!

  1. Make your favorite angel-food cake mix, and divide the batter into three bowls.
  2. Add four drops of a single food color into each bowl. (Try using the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue.) 
  3. Randomly drop the colored batter by big spoonfuls into a prepared cake food pan, and bake according to package directions. 
  4. Ask a question: What will the cake will look like when it comes out of the oven? The surprise is that at first the cake looks brown (and thus a bit disappointing). But when you and your child carefully cut the cake (with a serrated knife, in a sawing movement), you both will see how the colors mixed to make a rainbow inside. Beautiful!

Make green eggs and ham. Add a few drops of green food coloring to scrambled eggs. Do the green scrambled eggs taste different than yellow scrambled eggs?

Be a color scientist. Compare the taste of brown rice versus white rice; orange sweet potato versus white potato; and red grapes versus green grapes. Do the different colors have different tastes?


Eat a square meal. We have all heard of the importance of eating a square meal of healthy foods, but why not have a really "square" meal? Serve waffles (big and little squares) with a side dish of pineapple chunks for breakfast. Have a snack of square cheese slices on square crackers placed on a square napkin. As you are preparing and enjoying your meals, ask your child to notice the similarities and differences between the different squares. Help her notice that all the squares have four sides, but can be various sizes. For a fun challenge, give your child a slice of pre-wrapped American cheese. As she unwraps it, ask her how she can fold her cheese square into a triangle (point to point).

Make shape kebobs. Patterning is an important part of learning how to use shapes mathematically. Experiences with patterns help your child understand the concept of a number line. You and your child can use stick skewers to make a repeating shape kebab pattern with square pineapple cubes, banana rounds, and triangles cut out of melon pieces. Ask your child to say the shape names as you skewer your fruit kebabs, repeating the "square-circle-triangle" pattern along the stick. Voicing the pattern helps your child hear and feel the pattern, as well as see it.

Use cookie cutters for tea sandwiches. Celebrate all shapes by using shaped cookie cutters (in a heart, circle, and so on) to make sandwiches for a dainty tea party. Spread bread with cream cheese, and use the cutters to cut the bread into different sandwich shapes. Try mixing shapes by topping the sandwiches with differently shaped toppings, such as a cucumber or tomato slice on square bread, or a triangle of cheese cut from a square on a round sandwich. Talk about the shape names as you prepare the sandwiches. How is a triangle different from a square? How is a circle different from both of them?


Bake little, medium, and big cookies. Use graduated-size (small, medium, large) star-shaped cookie cutters to make simple sugar cookies from your favorite recipe. Ask your child to line up the cookies for icing in the order of their size. You will be asking her to use the math skill of seriating — core to understanding the number line. Ask your child, "What size is this cookie? Which is the largest cookie?"

You bake big, she bakes small. When you bake cakes or breads, double your recipe so that you can use your regular-sized pan and your child can use mini tins or loaf pans. Invite her stuffed animal friends, and share a big and little meal together! Ask a question: Does food in different sizes taste different?

Have a taste test to compare foods in various sizes, such as regular and cherry tomatoes, miniature squash and normal-sized squash, or small, medium, and large pretzels. Ask, "How do they taste? Which do you like best?"

Eat by Color


  • tomatoes
  • red-skinned potatoes
  • ketchup
  • red peppers
  • strawberries
  • tomato sauce
  • baby beets


  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • acorn squash
  • oranges
  • cantaloupe
  • mango juice
  • crackers


  • yellow beans
  • yellow squash
  • tiny (Chinese) corn
  • bananas
  • corn muffins
  • eggs
  • cheese


  • salad greens
  • peas
  • broccoli flowers
  • celery
  • limes
  • olives


  • pasta
  • mashed potatoes
  • vanilla ice cream
  • bread
  • peeled apples
Age 5
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