Over the holidays, we’re always looking for fun ways to create new memories with the family. Each family has its own tried-and-true traditions—maybe your household picks out a Christmas tree at the local farm, goes caroling in the neighborhood, or pays a visit to Santa. No matter you holiday tradition, we’re here to help you make the most of time with your family. One of the easiest, most rewarding holiday activities? Cookie decorating.
Cookie decorating a fun activity that the whole family can participate in; plus, it leaves you with a surplus of treats to fill your cookie tins. We’ve compiled this guide full of tips on how to successfully decorate cookies with the kids this holiday season.
Cookie Decorating Equipment
In order to ensure that your home cookie decorating party runs smoothly, you’ll need a few supplies. You can order most of these a couple days in advance on Amazon; for some, we’ve got impromptu substitutions.
When you’re mixing the sugar cookie dough and the royal icing, it’s really helpful to have a stand mixer. Royal icing takes a good bit of time in the mixer to get shiny and glossy, so it can be difficult to mix by hand. So yes, this is your excuse to break out that KitchenAid (or add one to your Christmas wishlist).
If you’ll be piping on your cookies, go ahead and pull out the piping bags—ziplock bags with the corner snipped off will work as well. If not, set out a few butter knives or small offset spatulas, which you can use to spread the royal icing on the cookies. A box of toothpicks is helpful to smooth out your icing and fill in any areas that haven’t been fully flooded (they can also be used to create a cool marbled design—more on that below). Last but certainly not least, don’t forget the sprinkles.
Cookie Decorating Recipes
Start your cookie decorating adventure by baking your own sugar cookies—this simple recipe for Easy Sugar Cookies is our go-to. Be sure to commission the kids’ help in cutting out your sugar cookies; cut them into circles or use some fun Christmas cookie cutters (you can order a variety pack of cutters in simple shapes like Christmas trees, stockings, and candy canes on Amazon).
While your cookies cool, go ahead and mix up your royal icing. Look for a spreadable consistency—if you add too much water, the icing will be too loose and run off the sides of the cookies.
Once your icing is nice and fluffy, you’ll want to divide your batch into smaller bowls in order to mix your colors. To keep things simple with the kids, we recommend sticking to 3 colors for your cookies. Save one third of the white royal icing, then dye one third red and another third green. These colors make for a festive palette, but you can of course adjust based on your design.
Involve your kids in the baking process or execute it by yourself ahead of time—it’s completely up to you.
Cookie Decorating Technique
Once you’ve prepared all your supplies, it’s time to pick your cookie decorating approach. This will depend on the age of the kids you’re working with. For the young ones, there’s no need to get fussy with piping bags or intricate designs: For kids aged 4 and under, we recommend using a technique that we’re calling “spread and sprinkle.” Kids 5 to 12 are able to do some design work; they can take on our marbling technique. The older kids may be looking for a bit more of a challenge. For kids 12 and over, go ahead and make some piped cookie designs.
Kids 4 and Under: Spread and Sprinkle Cookies
This cookie decorating technique couldn’t be simpler. Once you’ve baked off your sugar cookies, go ahead and mix up a spreadable, but slightly more firm royal icing. The looser the icing, the messier this process will be, especially with the young kids.
First, line the table with newspaper or parchment paper. Set out your sugar cookies directly on the table. Next, set out each of your colored icings in its own small bowl with a small offset spatula, spoon, or butter knife. Arrange a selection of sprinkles on the counter.
From here, your kids can have a field day decorating their cookies. They can use a spoon (or their fingers) to spread icing onto the cookies, then top them with sprinkles. Having only one bowl of each icing color encourages sharing and swapping. Holiday fun for the little ones really is that easy.
Want a little control to the chaos? Try our recipe for Sprinkle Stocking Cookies.
Kids 5 to 12: Marbled Cookies
Kids above 5 are ready for a slightly more advanced design. With our marbling technique, you still don’t need to worry about piping bags—all you’ll need are a few small casserole dishes (or shallow bowls) and toothpicks.
Mix your royal icing to a spreadable, but slightly looser consistency. Have your kids help you pour all of the different icing colors into a rectangular dish, then swirl to create a marbled pattern. From here, you’re ready to dip your cookies. Here’s how it’s done: Holding a cookie face-down between your thumb and pointer finger, dip the surface of the cookie into the icing, enough to lightly cover the top of the cookie but not spill over the sides. Pull the cookie back up and move your hand up and down to shake off any excess icing.
Once you’ve done a sample cookie and showed the technique to your kids, they can take on the challenge themselves. Decorate with sprinkles for an extra-festive touch. For more details on this technique, check out our recipe for Marbled Heart Cookies.
Kids 12 and Up: Piped Cookies
Piped cookies are always the star of the show at the cookie swap, and with the right supplies, your kids can create these stunners at home. For piped cookies, you will need either piping bags or ziplock bags with the corner snipped off. A tip when using piping bags with kids: Be sure to press the royal icing all the way down to the tip of the bag, then twist and tie the open side with a rubber band. This will keep the icing from bursting out the other end of the bag.
You’ll want to mix 2 consistencies of royal icing: Piping-consistency (firmer) and flooding-consistency (looser). Luckily, we have all the information you need on icing consistency, preparing piping bags, and piping techniques in this handy cookie decorating guide.
In search of design inspiration? Our Candy Cane Sugar Cookies and Snowflake Sugar Cookies are wonderfully festive and fun.
Not in the mood to pull out the piping bags? Our Painted Shortbread Cookies simplify the process, using food coloring gel and almond extract as “watercolors” that you can paint on your cookie canvas. This is another great option that limits your prep work ahead of time.