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Don't Tell Them Your'e Doing Math: Make a Tuna Boat

Updated on June 27, 2011

In the waiting room of our family vet, my daughter and I sat next to a mother with her two children. The oldest boy was reading a book, and the youngest was asking, “Do I have to do the whole next page?” He was working on a summer bridge activity workbook—math from what I could glimpse. I wanted to tell him no. Of course, I also secretly applauded the mother for being concerned enough with her children’s well being that she encouraged them to keep up on their skills. The problem, however, was the whine in the young boy’s voice. Forcing more worksheets on our already over-worksheeted kids may not be the best approach. Marcia Tate, a 30 year education veteran, echoes this feeling in her book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites: “Thousands of years of history support one major concept. When students are actively engaged in experiences with content, they stand a much better chance of learning and remembering what we want them to know.”

If you have the luxury of being home with your kids during the summer, lunchtime is the perfect time to “Do Math.” Any recipe will work—but kid-friendly food art seems to work best with my own eight year old. In this particular case, we had to “flavor-to-taste” before she could bring herself to enjoy eating it. I found the recipe in Disney’s the Magic Kitchen Cookbook.



Bell Peppers (determine amount by how many you are serving and whether each person can eat a half or two halves of a boat)

Cucumber (one half cucumber per one pepper)


2 tablespoons mayonnaise per 1 batch (again, may need to be more or less generous)

1 teaspoon of mustard (optional of course)

Salt and Pepper (optional)

Baked Pita Wedges


  1. Pre-heat oven to 375ºF. Cut Pita Wedges into fours and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with seasoning of your choice (lemon-pepper is recommended). Bake sprinkle side up for 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, halve and de-seed the bell peppers
  3. Cut cucumbers into small chunks (may want to de-seed to prevent over-mushiness)
  4. Mix tuna, cucumbers, mayonnaise, mustard
  5. Spoon tuna mixture into each pepper half, and when your Pita Wedges are ready—add the sail.

Doing the Math:

How much math to incorporate into the process can be determined by the age of your child. The first thing we did was get ourselves excited by looking at the picture. Once she was on board, we took out pencil and paper to determine how much we would need of everything. She and I both wanted one, and we thought we would each be able to eat two halves, but her sister only wanted the sail. Each tuna boat calls for ½ bell pepper. If mom wants two and Isa wants two . . . and two halves make a whole . . . you get the idea.

You can also do basic adding and subtracting. How many ingredients do we need? How many utensils will we need?

Or, estimating: How many cubes do we think we can cut the cucumber into?

Algebraic thinking: We started with four halves, and one is left over. How many were eaten?:

4 - ___ = 1. Three are gone, and Isa ate one. How many did mom eat?: 1+____= 3.

Imagine if every lunchtime, every trip to the grocery store, were also math time. How many worksheets would that cover?

Brief Bio

Jenn Gutiérrez holds an M.F.A in English and Writing. Previous work has appeared in journals such as The Texas Review, The Writer’s Journal, The Acentos Review, Antique Children, and Verdad Magazine. Her 2005 debut collection of poems titled Weightless is available through most online book outlets.She currently teaches composition at Pikes Peak Community college in Colorado Springs and is working on a doctoral degree in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Denver.


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