Food Science

STEM Tuesday– Food Science — Interview with Author Carla Mooney

The Chemistry of Food book



Today we have a special interview for you. It’s with one of our own STEM Tuesday crew!!

I get to interview author Carla Mooney about her awesome book, The Chemistry of Food

Carla Mooney           The Chemistry of Food book


Meet Carla: 

Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. She is an award-winning author of numerous nonfiction and fiction books and magazine articles for children and teens. Carla has her BS in Economics and is a former certified public accountant. Now she loves writing about science and technology, nature and the environment, history, biography, business, current issues, health and medicine, and sports. She is also a regular STEM Tuesday contributor on the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog. When not writing, Carla is the Pittsburgh chapter director for Flashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides professional portraits of kids with cancer and other life-threatening conditions and raises money for childhood cancer research.


Thanks so much for answering a few questions about your book, Carla!
The chemistry of food — How do you think these two topics go together? 
Chemistry and food. It’s not a pair that you would think go together. But food is matter, like any other matter you study in chemistry class. And what’s really interesting to me is how the chemistry you learned in school can be applied to food to explain what happens when you mix, cook, bake, and more. I had never really thought about food in that way before I researched and wrote this book and it was fascinating to make those connections.


What are some fun facts that you learned while writing this book? 
1. When you add baking soda (a base) to cupcake batter, it causes a chemical reaction that produces gas bubbles that make the cupcakes light and airy. (I always thought stirring put the airy bubbles into the batter!)
2. Different flours have different amounts of protein in them. (I always thought all flour was basically the same!)
3. Your nose and mouth work together to perceive flavor and aroma – its not just your nose smells or your tongue tastes.


Can you give us three things that you hope kids will learn from your book? 
In general, I hope they learn the “why” of what happens to food in cooking and baking and it will help them become better chefs. (I also hope that it is helping me cook a little better too!)
I also hope this book helps kids realize that chemistry and science and general can be fun and accessible. 
And I want kids to be excited to investigate the world around them and use science to better understand it – from the food they eat, the games they play, and much more!


You’ve written a lot of series for different publishers. Do you get to pick the topics in those series or are they assigned?
Most of my books are with educational publishers who come up with a series idea and a list of titles. They send me the list and I usually get to pick which series and titles sound interesting to me. A few times, I’ve suggested a title to a publisher.


Can you give any tips to writers who want to break into nonfiction children’s books? Should they start with educational publishers or go straight to trade? 
I think everyone’s path is different, so it depends on what you like to do! For myself, I actually started writing for magazines, newspapers, and an online website. Then, I decided to send in an introductory packet to a few educational publishers and landed my first assignments. I’ve done most of my work with educational publishers. I really like researching and learning about new topics all the time, which is something that I get with educational publishers. I have a few ideas for potential trade books, but they are in the early stages.


What are you working on now? 
I have a few projects going on – one that I’m really excited about is also about food in a way – it is looking at how the history of humans and certain staple foods are connected and have influenced each other. So stay tuned!


If you could spend the day with any scientist or engineer, who would it be and why? 
There are a lot of choices out there, but I think I’d  like to spend the day with paleontologist Mary Anning. Going on a dinosaur dig with her would be a lot of fun!


Thanks for all of your great responses, Carla. I learned something new about food today!
Please check out Carla’s other awesome books at her website


The Human Genome Book         Physics Fun book      Climate in Crisis book


Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 45 books for kids, mostly about STEM. She is also the creator and cohost of the award-winning podcast, Solve It! for Kids. You can find Jennifer walking along the beach looking for sea turtles or looking up into the sky watching rockets launch. 

STEM Tuesday– Food Science — Writing Tips & Resources

Shaping Delicious Stories With Nut Grafs

This month’s tasty Food Science books have me going a bit nutty for nut graphs, a term that comes from journalism. What’s a nut graph? I’m glad you asked…

A nut graf answers “so what”

A nut graph (or nut graf as journalists sometimes spell it) is a paragraph that tells your reader why they should care about your piece of nonfiction writing. It explains why the piece matters and why the reader should keep reading it. In other words, the nut graf answers “so what?”

The nut graph usually appears a few paragraphs into the nonfiction piece after the hook. The hook is how you open the piece, perhaps with an exciting anecdote or surprising statement that tugs your reader in. I talked about how to hook your reader in this STEM Tuesday post about starting stories. Once you have the reader’s interest, you have to keep it by telling them why your story matters.

So what’s my nut graf for this post? Students should learn to read for nut grafs, not just in news stories, but books and other writing too. That’s because nut grafs help reveal an author’s purpose. And, for student writers, the practice of writing a nut graf at the beginning of a writing assignment will help them structure their nonfiction writing.

Let’s explore nut grafs with a couple of samples from this month’s books.

Nut graf example – The Story of Seeds

Nancy Castaldo begins THE STORY OF SEEDS by having the reader imagine spitting out watermelon seeds. Then she challenges us to consider how we’d react if those were the last watermelon seeds in the world. Finally, she asks: what if instead those seeds were the last seeds of a staple crop like wheat or rice?

After that two-paragraph opening hook comes Castaldo’s nut graf:
“We’re in the midst of a seed crisis. Every day new headlines jump at us. Seeds are facing many threats. And when they are threatened, our food supply is at risk.”

And continuing into the next paragraph, “It may sound crazy, even improbably, but there are scientists who are risking their lives every day for seeds.”

Wow! I’m all in for this Indiana Jones-style adventure of scientists racing to save seeds so we have something to eat in the future. Nancy has shown us exactly why this story should matter to a young reader. If I had to summarize her purpose it would be to persuade the reader about the important work of saving seeds.

Nut graf example – Bugs for Breakfast

Bugs for Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet : Boone, Mary: BooksIn BUGS FOR BREAKFAST, Mary Boone opens by having the reader imagine eating crickets and other bugs. After her two paragraph hook, she writes her nut graf:

“This isn’t a dare or some weird nature survival stunt. More than two billion people around the world regularly eat insects and arachnids. It is a practice called entomophagy, and it could be coming to a plate near you.”

Boone has just summarized her entire book in that paragraph. Why does eating bugs matter, and why should we care? Her purpose is to inform us that eating bugs is perfectly normal around the world, and to show how us how and why we might soon eat them for dinner.

Writing a nut graf helps the writer too

For student writers, writing a nut graf can help them shape their writing. It’s easy for writers to feel like they are drowning in information after they’ve done thorough research. Organizing it can be a challenge. But not all of it is relevant to the story they are trying to tell. What tool could help us make decisions about what to include and what to leave out? Writing a nut graf, of course.

To write a nut graf, review your research, then ask the following questions:
• Why are you writing this?
• Why should it matter to the reader?
• Why should they care?
• Why is it worth their time to keep reading?

Once you’ve done some brainstorming, write your nut graf in no more than five sentences (or better yet, one or two). Then let the nut graf be your guide. Use it as an outline as you write the rest of your piece.

Writing a nut graf isn’t a hard nut to crack. Now excuse me while I go make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bon appetit!


Kirsten Williams Larson author

Kirsten W. Larson


Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She is the author of  WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Find her at or on Twitter and Instagram @KirstenWLarson.

STEM Tuesday– Food Science — In the Classroom


Ask a group of children what their favorite foods are, and the responses you’ll receive will be as varied and unique as the children themselves. Regardless of their responses, a passionate discussion will likely ensue. Food is one thing that unites us all, and children hold strong opinions on what they like and don’t like. But ask this same group what they know about the science of food, and chances are they’ll stare at you blankly. Many incredible books have been written to introduce students to the study of the physical, biological (including microbiological) and chemical makeup of food. These books can be used as a springboard for classroom discussions and activities.


The Chemistry of Food by Carla Mooney

This book is a perfect first introduction to the science behind foods we love. Students will learn that cooking and baking are so much more than mixing different ingredients together – they actually cause chemical reactions! Key questions, vocab lab, QR codes to videos that explore further, and hands on activities make this a book that budding chemists will return to again and again.

Classroom Activity: One of the activities offered in this book asks students to follow a few recipes and then determine what physical and/or chemical changes the food underwent. Suggested recipes include:

  • Make pancakes by preparing batter and frying on a griddle.
  • Prepare a mixed green salad with chopped vegetables, shredded cheese, and sliced almonds.
  • Cut an apple into slices and let it sit for a period of time.


Bugs For Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet by Mary Boone

This book introduces students to entomophagy, using insects as a source of food. While this is not (yet) a common practice in the United States, Canada, and Europe, more than 80% of the world’s population have included insects in their diets for centuries. With the rapid reduction of available high-quality farmland, scientists believe insects could make an ideal alternative source of protein. And for those students who seem less enthused about the idea of eating insects, Boone offers answers to frequently asked questions, such as, “What do insects taste like?” and “What if you just can’t stand seeing their little heads when you eat them?”

Classroom Activity: Give students a closer look at how insects can be made into tasty treats by sharing Can Bugs Taste Like Candy? with them. Then, you can even try out some of these recipes with interested students.


Forthcoming | Skyhorse Publishing

Food Weird-o-Pedia: The Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about Food and Drink by Alex Palmer

This highly browsable book is sure to become an instant hit with your students. Chock full of interesting facts, such as lobsters urinate out of their faces, Hawaiian pizza was invented in Canada, the world’s longest hot dog was 668 feet long, and the most expensive coffee in the world comes from animal poop, students will be eager to find and share these incredible morsels of info with their friends.

Classroom Activity: Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? According to Palmer, tomatoes are fruit – but in the United States they are legally vegetables. Have students research the scientific definitions of fruits and vegetables and the 1893 US Supreme Court case which ruled that the tomato is most commonly known as a vegetable. Then, have them write a persuasive essay on whether they believe tomatoes are fruits or vegetables, citing their sources.


Hopefully, these books and activities will inspire students to learn more about where their food comes from, how it shapes our world, and implications for the future.



Jenna Grodziki

Jenna Grodzicki is the author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction children’s books. Her books include Wild Style: Amazing Animal Adornments (Millbrook Press 2020) and I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food (Millbrook Press 2019), the winner of the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction Category. Jenna lives near the beach with her husband and two children. In addition to being a writer, she is also a library media specialist at a K-4 school. To learn more, visit her website at