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Rock Your Bake Sale

Before holiday bake sales are banned entirely, make items that will sell fast.

I was alarmed to learn that New York City just banned bake sales because of rampant childhood obesity (about 40% in New York). And a couple of years ago, as part of the Connecticut State Department of Education School Wellness Policy, the Darien schools said, "No more bringing in cupcakes to your child’s class for his birthday."

So I wondered, are our bake sales in jeopardy? I phoned School Superintendent Donald Fiftal to find out.

He explained that cupcakes for birthdays were “discouraged” but that the food police weren’t hunting down parents with goodies.

“We discourage bake sales during school hours,” said Fiftal. “We developed an attitude, especially with the statewide School Wellness Policy, where we try to promote more healthfulness.”

Actually, the idea of selling kids cupcakes and cookies during school hours was surprising to me, but Fiftal explained that it used to be common practice.

“I’ve been in education for forty-two years,” he said. “I can certainly remember, it would be typical for the cheerleaders to do a cupcake sale at lunchtime. But now there’s a different view of what’s appropriate at school.”

Even the birthday cupcakes, in retrospect, were probably not such a great idea. If there are thirty kids in your kid’s class, then that means sugary junk thirty times a year (summer birthdays all packed in at the end of the school year). Now kids are handing out little party favors or more healthful snacks.

Thankfully, bake sales are still happening at school special events, such as parties, football games, and fairs. And town churches have plenty of bake sales too. My son’s boarding school in Manhattan (The St. Thomas Choir School), runs a regular bake sale every Sunday at church during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So, after a few years of parenting, I have developed some small expertise in bake sales. It’s not that I’m a great cook or anything (although I do enjoy baking), but my friends have been known to refer to me as “Martha” now and again, because I enjoy fiddling around with crafty things and ribbons. Nor am I a marketing expert, but I do have one main idea for your bake sale success: Packaging Packaging Packaging!

If you are new to bake sales, or just want to be the parent whose stuff sells first (who doesn’t?), then I hope that these tips will help you out:

Packaging, packaging, packaging:

After going through all the effort of baking, don’t just wrap your offering in saran wrap and stick it on the table. Packaging packaging packaging! Tie a bow around it. Even better, get a little pine-cone or plastic skeleton or plastic pumpkin or plastic mistletoe (depending on the holiday) or a sprig of something real, and tie it on there. Another nice idea: decorative Chinese take-out style boxes. Wham! All of a sudden you have a deluxe baked item that will attract buyers and could even be used as a gift. The Rainbow Shoppe and Swoozies in Darien also have quite a selection of craft-y goodies. But I get my doodads and bows at Party City or Michael’s Craft Supplies.

Label your item:

You could just write on the wrapping with a Sharpie, but since labels are so easy to make with a computer and printer, use those to make it more deluxe. Along with your item’s name make sure to note whether the ingredients include any potential allergens, such as nuts. Since you’re using your printer, you can make the font special (ghoulish font for Halloween, Victorian font for Christmas, etc.), and match the color to your other decorations. Or, if you’re into calligraphy, do a deluxe hand-printed label.

Claim your item:

It is good etiquette to also include your name on the label. This will give you instant bake-sale status, and also provide an easy way to contact and sue you should anyone get food poisoning.

Think savory:

Sure, the kids at the bake sale are clamoring over the sweeties, but the moms and dads are always happy to pick up an easy dinner. A savory quiche or casserole is a generous donation to a bake sale. And it will sell fast to those maxxed-out parents dealing with all the clamoring kids.

Single-serving packages:

People always love to get the little packages of two or three cookies (depending on the size of the cookie, perhaps more if they’re really small) to give to their clamoring kids at the bake sale. This is a good way to maximize income for the sale too. Don’t forget the bow! Only don’t tie a knot, because those parents will want to get it open as quickly as possible so their kids will shut up.

Best Sellers:

Chocolate chip cookies, rice krispie treats, brownies, blondies, cupcakes, and breads. Breads can be sold whole or by the slice. Cakes and pies are best sold whole. Personally, I like to make fudge and peppermint bark.

Cupcakes are a great way to show your style with outrageous decorations. But they’re a little difficult to package and display intact. You can buy boxes at Party City that will hold four cupcakes (they are sold flat). I have decorated cupcakes with party favors from Party City – the little plastic toys that come packaged by the dozen. Aliens or monsters are cute on top of a cupcake. I think it’s polite to wash them well before sticking them in someone’s food though.

Remember, bake-sale items are home-baked. It is very bad bake-sale etiquette to take store-bought goods and re-wrap them for a bake sale.

Food Safety:

Steer clear of things that could spoil if left out, like lemon meringue pie. If you have food allergies in your house, you may have an edge at the bake sale. Make your nut-free or gluten-free treats, and include an appropriate line on your label, such as “home-baked in a nut-free household.” Someone will be very grateful. Generally, though, people are not looking for super healthy things at a bake sale.

My advice:

Enjoy your bake sales while you can, before the food police end all our fun.

And don’t forget:

Packaging!

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