How to Ship Cookies and Avoid Heartbreak
Want more cookie tips? Check out our everything guide to cookies.
The last thing anyone needs this year is to get a box of crumbs in the mail. Holiday cookies are—even in non-hellscape times—one of the greatest pleasures of the season. Homemade, mail-ordered, swapped, given, or bought, cookies bring a kid-giddy respite from the stresses of the day, even just for a moment. In a holiday season when in-person swaps are inadvisable, to say the least, making cookies to send to friends and family is one of the cheerier pursuits you could engage in, but you've gotta make sure they arrive intact and in time.
When they were alive, my grandmother and aunt used to send out cookies by the thousands, each swaddled in several layers of wax paper and nestled into department store clothing boxes. There was minimal crumble and they arrived tasting fresh, but oof—such packaging waste will not stand in these more eco-conscious times. The experts at USPS, UPS, and FedEx have some advice for shipping cookies, but this is key: send them as soon as you can to avoid disappointment. No one will be miffed by getting a baked treat a few weeks before the actual holidays.
U.S. Postal Service
The USPS Postal Posts blog has a trove of useful tips for shipping fragile items, but it all bakes down to this:
Yes, you're a cookie-making machine, and you've got your bake-to-box assembly line down to a science, but you've got to let the goods cool to room temperature before they go into the box or the steam will condense and sog everything up. Texture havoc can also happen if you pack soft and crisp cookies in the same airspace, so if you're making both, separate them into plastic bags and slip a piece of white bread in with the soft cookies so they don't dry out. Not every cookie needs to be individually mummified, but it helps to slip a layer of wax paper in between layers. Also, not every cookie is a great candidate for travel. Your ornately iced portraits of Dolly Parton or Megan Thee Stallion might pop on Instagram, but show up looking more like the Cookie Monster depending on temperature fluctuations; super-delicate cookies might arrive in shards. Save these for in-person gatherings, when such a thing is again feasible.
Use the right-sized box for the job so the contents are neither jostling around nor jammed in, and make sure to reinforce the bottom, sides, and top so the cookies themselves aren't bearing the pressure of a stack. On the inside of the package, use crumpled paper, bubble wrap, recycled packing foam, or some other material that adds cushioning without weight. On the outside, tape like a fiend. If you're opting for Priority Mail or Express Priority Mail, flat-rate boxes are free, and sturdy as heck. The USPS also provides free Military Care Kits with flat-rate boxes, labels, customs envelopes, and Priority Mail tape.
Ship by: The USPS recommends these deadlines for expected delivery by December 25 to Air/Army Post Office/Fleet Post Office/Diplomatic Post Office and domestic addresses:
12/9 APO/FPO/DPO (ZIP Code 093 only) Priority Mail and First-Class Mail
12/11 APO/FPO/DPO (all other ZIP Codes) Priority Mail and First-Class Mail services
12/15 USPS Retail Ground service
12/18 APO/FPO/DPO (except ZIP Code 093) USPS Priority Mail Express service
12/18 First-Class Mail service (including greeting cards)
12/18 First-class packages (up to 15.99 ounces)
12/19 Priority Mail service
12/23 Priority Mail Express service
12/18 Alaska to/from Continental U.S. First-Class Mail
12/19 Alaska to/from Continental U.S. Priority Mail
12/21 Alaska to/from Continental U.S. Priority Mail Express
12/15 Hawaii to/from mainland Priority Mail and First-Class Mail
12/21 Hawaii to/from mainland Priority Mail Express
"Preserve the freshness of the cookie at all costs," is the mantra of UPS's dedicated cookie page. The shipping service backs up much of the Postal Service's advice, and notes that drop and bar cookies, as well as those containing dried fruit, are ideal candidates for shipping. Where the counsel differs, though, is that UPS suggests individually wrapping cookies in plastic (which also helps flavors and scents from intermingling), and double-wrapping them in pairs. The company also advises that heavier cookies should be placed toward the bottom, and the outside of the box should be marked with the word, "perishable" and indicate "this way up" to minimize the chances of heartbreak.
Ship by: "The best way to ship cookies is fast," says UPS, and suggests express shipping options, such as the flat-priced UPS Simple Rate that offers four speed options from Ground to Next Day Air Saver.
To guarantee delivery by December 24, UPS recommends these deadlines for domestic shipping:
12/15 UPS Ground
12/21 UPS 3 Day Select
12/22 UPS 2nd Day Air
12/23 UPS Next Day Air
If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of sending precisely temperature-controlled cookies, FedEx has detailed diagrams for including cold gel packs or dry ice and insulation in a box, but maybe save that for the pros. Their more practical advice for perishables is to package them for a journey of 30 hours, and opt for one of the quicker-shipping express methods, which include free boxes.
Ship by: FedEx advises checking with your local branch to make sure of their hours and any weather conditions or service alerts that might affect national or local shipping speeds, but the service offers a host of highly-precise and extremely trackable options. And should some local naughty-listers be in the habit of prowling your recipient's neighborhood for unattended packages, they can sign up for Delivery Manager to follow the delivery step-by-step, or even have it rerouted to a local chain supermarket, pharmacy, or Dollar General.
12/9 FedEx SmartPost (certain exceptions apply)
12/15 FedEx Home Delivery / FedEx Ground
12/21 FedEx Express Saver / 3 Day Freight / 2 Day / 2 Day A.M. / 2 Day Freight
12/23 1 Day Freight / Extra Hours / Standard Overnight / Priority Overnight / First Overnight
12/25 SameDay / SameDay City Priority / SameDay City Direct