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Culinary arts in the arts?

Culinary arts integration offers a path to project-based learning. Get nine lesson plan ideas.

6 min read

Voice of the Educator



This is the second installment in a three-part series on culinary arts integration. See also Culinary Arts Integration: STEM to STEAM.

Since many fields under the umbrella of the humanities are already considered “the arts”, some may question whether arts integration is necessary in these fields. However, educational research suggests that arts integration can increase engagement, motivation and retention of subject content in any field. Essentially, the arts can strengthen the arts. 

The challenge for humanities teachers is to develop lessons that authentically incorporate the arts. We recommend culinary arts integration as one of the most flexible and engaging strategies. It combines project-based and personalized learning with heightened engagement and intrinsic motivation to naturally enhance content retention. As anyone who fondly remembers the smell of their grandmother’s cooking can attest to, food can generate an important emotional link to memories.

Culinary arts integration contributes to a much broader learning experience than studying content alone. For example, students on our campus in a multicultural literature class recently read “Gate 4-A” by Naomi Shihab Nye, where Arabic mamool cookies play a prominent role. A student in the class happened to own the molds used to making the cookies, so the class gathered in the culinary arts classroom and made them together. One student said of the activity, “We had fun making and eating the cookies, of course, but it also made me feel more culturally aware. It helped me to see the Middle East in a different light. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that story.”

In effective arts integration, student effort and research connects subject area knowledge to an art form, deepening the knowledge of both. The following are a few other examples of culinary arts integrated activities within the humanities:                   

Book report meals

In this book report activity, students make a significant dish or meal specifically mentioned in their book. Students write a rationale discussing the food’s importance in the book and then present and serve the food to their classmates.

Time-period meals

In this history or language arts activity, students explore foods from a particular time period. They then bring various dishes to present and eat with their classmates. For example, in a Shakespeare course, students could hold a whole-class renaissance meal. They could research English renaissance food, make dishes and then present them to their classmates. 

Restaurant small business projects

In this economics project, students create small restaurant businesses such as bakeries, coffee shops or pizza shops. Students present their business plans to their classmates, providing samples of the food their shops would sell.

Food in every country

In this social science activity, students research cultural influences of various countries and make a representative dish to present and discuss with their classmates. The website is an excellent resource for learning about how a country’s food is determined by economic, geographic and historical influences.

Recipe challenge

In this foreign language activity, students pair up with ingredients and a recipe. One student translates the recipe into the studied language as the other student attempts to follow the instructions and make the dish. Since the test is eating the created dish, students are highly motivated to translate accurately.

Cultural meals

In this foreign language class activity, students research the food of the country whose language they are studying and present a dish speaking only in that language.

This can also be used as a cultural-awareness activity where students bring their family’s favorite dish to class to present and share. This could be used in health classes to study the family unit, language arts classes as part of a cultural identity project or social science classes to introduce cultural differences. This strategy can help build a sense of community and respect within the classroom.

Food paintings

In this history or art activity, students can study the traditional substances of paint used by different cultures, which often include regional food items. Students could bring examples of these items to present or actually paint with. This can take the study of cultural and ethnic foods to a new level.

Food photography

In this activity, students learn the art of food photography. They can make dishes and learn study various ways to stage, light and photograph their dishes. Additional study of the history of food photography could also be added.

Cultural food in theater class

In theater arts, students are often taught to explore the life of a character. Researching the food of a character’s life is an excellent way to truly understand a specific culture, time period or experience. Students could bring a dish to share with the rest of the cast defending how and why it would be important in the life of that character.

Culinary arts integration is a fun and engaging project-based learning activity that can be incorporated into any grade level.

Sarah Henderson  is a high-school English teacher at Loma Linda Academy, SMARTBrief award-winning author, and recent neuro-education graduate, Sarah Henderson, combines recent research from the cognitive sciences with nearly 20 years of teaching experience to offer practical insights into how the brain learns. Recent publications include Edutopia articles on humor in the classroom and culinary arts integration.  Her current research involves the advantages of arts integration for struggling students. For more, see

Lori Holm has taught students from preschool through college and loves learning at any age (hers and theirs)! She currently teaches culinary arts and religion courses at Loma Linda Academy in Southern California.  Previous positions include resource coordinator and peer leadership coordinator. Recent contributions include articles and webinars on culinary arts integration for Education Closet and Edutopia.  She is passionate about food, cooking and encouraging others to use food as a learning and relationship-building tool.

Check out our Edutopia article for more ideas or Education Closet for all things arts integration, including culinary arts integration.


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