You’ve decided to be the hostess with the mostess this year and throw a cookie exchange. Easier said than done. Whether you’re new to cookie exchanges or are a seasoned pro, there’s always room for improvement. Read on for awesome tips that’ll help make your version of this classic holiday gathering a blast.

cookie exchange table mom2sofia on flickrphoto: Elena Roussakis via Flickr

Provide clear instructions.
It’ll be madness once everyone arrives, so email/message clear instructions to your guests in advance. Ideas such as a set amount of cookies (a dozen per each guest attending is the norm), made-from-scratch only, bringing a takeaway box, and other guidelines make everything a little easier for you on party day.

Trade your secrets.
Have guests email you their recipes ahead of time, no less than a week, so you can print up and have a “cookbook” ready to take home at the end of the party. If that seems like too much work, simply provide a stack of recipe cards at each cookie platter. Need a little inspiration? We’ve got the best cookie recipes right here.

Try a time-saving tactic.
Go rogue and opt for a different approach this year. Try exchanging cookie dough chilled, rolled and wrapped into logs instead. This take-and-bake project keeps minis busy over winter break and cuts down on swap prep.

cookiecard_yelp_cookieexchange_redtricyclephoto: Yelp via flickr

Give each cookie a card.
An easy way to keep the cookie craze to a minimum is to provide a card for each recipe. That way, folks with allergies at home know which ones to avoid. Plus, folks will give you mega-props on your awesome party-planning skills.

Use a number system.
Without an organized way to do the actual swapping, chaos might erupt. So get a system in place. Write numbers on small pieces of paper and let your guests collect their cookies according to their place in line.

Keep boxes handy.
If you decide you want to provide the takeaway boxes instead of having your guests bring their own, get the kidlets to help you decorate each bag or box with stickers, drawings and more!

IMG_5442photo: Jon Kleinman via flickr

Keep the kids busy.
Set up a play dough baking station with holiday cookie cutters. Put out an artsy project when interest in pretend-cookie making wanes. Prep a few holiday games that are easy for little partygoers. All these ideas will keep tiny hands busy, so the grownups can have an uninterrupted chat session. Need some inspiration? You’ll find our best holiday crafts here. For our top party games, click here.

Let the littles decorate.
Don’t forget to provide sugar cookies (here’s our fave recipe!), frosting, and sprinkles for your tiniest guests. Roll, press, and bake the cookies ahead of time, then set them out with loads toppings and colorful frosting. The tot lot will be so busy it’ll give the adults a chance to enjoy all the holiday happenings. Did we mention it also makes that table full of swap cookies a little less appealing to hungry eyes?

Have other snacks to nibble on.
The idea of a cookie swap is to take the cookies home, so be sure to provide other snacks for growling bellies. Easy dips, small bites, and kid-friendly dishes are all good ideas. Don’t know where to start? Our picks for easy apps will send you in the right direction.

Child photography Christmas DIY collectionphoto: courtesy Anders Ruff Custom Design

Warm their bellies.
A hot cocoa bar to thaw out chilly guests on a blustery day is always a hit. Use kitchen prep dishes or holiday muffins tins filled with marshmallows, cinnamon, whipped cream and colored sugars for sprinkling into pre-made mugs of hot chocolate-y goodness. Then top it all off with a candy cane stir stick. Sweet! Find our fave recipes here.

Prep your playlist.
Prepare age-appropriate tunes to set the mood. Create a holiday playlist with the kiddos for everyone to enjoy, or save time and use our picks, which have been curated especially for you and your crew.

Dress for success.
If ever there was a time to don a Santa hat or wear an ugly Christmas sweater, the cookie exchange is it. Encourage your guests to get decked out in their holiday best (or beloved worst!) and make a game of it. Give out prizes for the most red worn, most festive socks or even the gaudiest necklace. The more creative you get, the better.

Do you plan to host a holiday cookie swap this year? What’s your favorite tip or trick? Share it in the Comments!

— Gabby Cullen & Allison Sutcliffe

Featured image courtesy Anders Ruff Custom Design