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Operation Cookie Overload Update: Our best tips and tricks for baking and sending cookie-filled care packages

That delicious aroma? It’s the clouds of sugar and spices and all things nice that are being whisked and beaten and baked for Operation Cookie Overload, which is our project to bring a little bit of the holidays to some Marines in Afghanistan. Marguerite from California already had her oven cranked up yesterday, whipping up homemade gingerbread cookies, below left, and her own special recipe of Crispy Salty Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Centers, below right. Yum!

Operation Cookie Overload is underway!

We have more than 40 people so far signed up for Operation Cookie Overload to send packages of edible holiday goodies to Afghanistan over the next 27 days. (The holiday deadlines for Priority Mail packages is December 10th.) In the meantime, we’ve gotten a number of questions about cookies and military care packages. So we’ll turn off our mixer for a few minutes to tackle them.

“What homemade cookies ship best?”

  • Bar cookies, brownies, and drop cookies. I tend to stick with classic, all-American recipes: The Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe off the bag of the Nestle chocolate chips, the Quaker’s Best Oatmeal Cookies recipe on the lid of a Quaker Oats container, and the Peanut Butter Blossoms recipe on the back of a Hershey’s Kisses candy bag. (Have you seen our trick for making Peanut Butter Blossoms cookies even better for sending in a military care package? Instead of inserting the candies right-side up, insert them upside-down. Voila! Now the cookies are easy to stack, pack, and ship.) The original peanut butter Hershey's Kiss cookies, left, are delicious but impossible to stack in military care packages. Our secret? Flip the Kisses upside-down, right. They're still tasty, just easier to pack.
  • Don’t send anything that needs to be refrigerated. And don’t send delicate cookies; they’ll likely crumble and break during their long journey overseas.
  • Pack the icing. Iced cookies and brownies are difficult to stack and pack. If you really want to include a sweet topping for your treats, tuck a container of store-bought icing in your package and let the recipient frost the treats themselves.
  • Go ahead and send chocolate. While it’s too hot most of the year to send chocolate because it melts easily — and makes quite a mess — it’s cool enough at the winter holidays to safely send chocolate cookies and candies to Afghanistan.
  • Not sure if something will last? Here’s our simple test. If you would sit a cookie on your counter at home and eat it two weeks later, it’s a good cookie to send. If you wouldn’t, pick a different cookie.

“Can I send homemade candy like peanut brittle?

  • Absolutely. Just follow the same guidelines as above.

“Is it OK to send store-bought treats?

  • Yes, yes, yes! In fact, they’ll stay fresh longer than the homemade items, which is a bonus.

“What is the best shipment method to get my cookie package there on time? I would like to make homemade things but I want to make sure that it will still be good by the time they get it.

  • We send almost all of our packages using Priority Mail from the U.S. Postal Service. And to be sure we are getting the best postage deal, we run the numbers to figure out whether Flat Rate Priority Mail or zone-based Priority Mail is the best option. (You can do your own calculations at home; go to the Postage Price Calculator from the US Postal Service.) Our guess? For heavy packages filled with lots of cookies, Flat Rate Priority Mail is going to be your best bet. A Large Priority Mail Flat Rate box normally costs $14.95 to ship, but when you’re mailing it to an APO/FPO military address, it will only cost $12.95 no matter how much it weighs. A Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate box will cost $10.95 to ship. Remember, you must pack items in a Flat Rate box from the Postal Service in order to get the flat rate; pick up boxes for free at your local post office.

“How long does it take for a package to arrive in Afghanistan?” 

  • We’ve had some of our Priority Mail packages arrive in Iraq and Afghanistan in as little as five days. That said, it takes longer to deliver to remote locations. And if a unit is out on a mission, it may be days or weeks before they return to a place where they can get their mail. 

“How should I pack my cookies?”

  • Use plastic zip-top baggies. I put all my cookies in plastic baggies, squeezing out as much air as possible. The baggies also help keep out the dust and dirt.
  • Use a vacuum sealer, which keeps cookies very fresh, but tends to squish them a bit. My brother Matthew taught me that trick. He used a vacuum sealer to pack homemade bread (yes, bread!) for his wife, Corrie, during her deployment to Afghanistan — and she reports that the bread showed up fresh and mold-free.
  • Choose edible packing materials. Instead of stuffing tissue paper or foam peanuts into a box to fill the empty spaces, I use individually wrapped hard candies. That way the person on the other end can eat the packing material rather than having to throw it out. Sweet! 
  • Recycle Pringles potato chip containers. Melisse, a military spouse from, gave us this great suggestion: “I have found it works better using Pringles tubes! You can stack the cookies ... and also keep them from being crushed as the box is thrown around. I also put some cling wrap over the top before I secure the lid as it will pop open otherwise.”

 “Can I include other items in my box, like playing cards, wipes or DVDs?"

  • Our Marine mom, Judy, says that her son and his fellow Marines are requesting boxes of only food. Seems we have some hungry Marines on our hands! So save the non-edible items for a different care package.

 “Is it OK if I put a Christmas card in my box?" 

  • Definitely. Please tell these Marines a little about you and why you’re sending this box. There can never be too much holiday cheer.


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Reader Comments (1)

I am humbled by the outpouring of your participation in Operation Cookie Overload; what a blessing this will be to our young marines serving our country in a foreign, far away country during the Christmas season. I appreciate all of you and your generosity of time and caring hearts, your patriotism and prayers are greatly appreciated. May you all have a Merry Christmas and know that you have been truly an example of remembering the reason for the season; thinking of others and loving our fellow man: there is so much more to learn and love about our great country and our people and you all are an example of the best part of being in this proud country of ours the USA.I for one am proud to be an American and am proud of our people and appreciate our military forces and their sacrifices to keep our nation free and proud.and most of all safe for our families to share and enjoy the love and freedoms that make us America. Thank you and may you all be blessed this day and always. Judy

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJUDY

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