Plan Thanksgiving Dinner Using Math Skills

In this post, I’m going over my favorite Thanksgiving math project: Plan Thanksgiving Dinner! 

Every year, our school puts on a Thanksgiving dinner for the students and their families during lunch time. I realized during this celebration that my students had no idea how much work it was for the staff to put this on. I then realized that my students had no idea how much work it was for their family to do Thanksgiving dinner at home. This led me to something that I did often: making a project-based learning activity out of it.

In grades 3-5, there are quite a few fraction and measurement standards that relate well to cooking. I also like to include life skills or business skills in all of my projects, so this was definitely a winning scenario for me.

Prepping Supplies

Before I begin, I always send out a letter to families letting them know what we’re working on. I also ask for parent volunteers, measuring cups, tablecloths, and anything else I think we will need to practice the scenario. If we’re doing the family plan (see the next section), then I tell parents what to expect and what I’d love for them to do to reinforce the math at home. Not every family participates due to schedules or other issues at home, but that’s ok. I’ve grown to be very flexible!

Skill Practice

We learn and/or practice the following skills during this project, depending on the grade level:

  1. Measurement skills using customary and metric
  2. Area & perimeter
  3. Money & decimal operations
  4. Fraction operations
  5. Planning & problem solving

And the best things is, students get a voice and choice in every step!

Thanksgiving Math Project


Option 1: Family Plan

What I do most of the time is have students work in conjunction with their families to make a plan for their individual Thanksgiving dinner. This creates a great home connection and also helps students see the relationship between the math they’re doing and real-life application.

Thanksgiving Math Project

They sit down and make a list of the guests their family has over for Thanksgiving. If another household usually hosts, we do it from their perspective. They take home their guest list for approval, as they do with every step of the process we do in class.

We then do a TON of math to plan our Thanksgiving dinner. We plan seating arrangements, food, calculate serving sizes, look at costs, and more.

Option 2: Class Plan

The class plan uses the same math, except we plan a class Thanksgiving luncheon. This is a great idea if you’re worried about parent buy-in with the family plan, or if you already plan a Thanksgiving luncheon and want your students to be more involved.

Thanksgiving Math Project

You’ll use the same plans and math, but the guest list will be a bit different. The cost may not be a factor if you’re asking families to bring in plates. So, there are a few differences, but it’s not a huge jump from the individual family project.

Alternative Scenario

If you have several students that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving for religious reasons, an easy alternative scenario is to have them plan a regular family dinner. This has worked well in the past with my class, and the families were happy to see their kids helping plan dinner using their math skills.