10 Genius Cookie Decorating Hacks Your Kids Can Easily Master

By: Taylor Murphy

Cookie decorating is one of those tasks that sounds super simple, but when it comes down to replicating that Instagram shot of a perfectly styled cookie—especially when kids are involved—it's not as easy as it looks. So, we called in the big guns of cookie decorating (like any good parent would) and asked them for some much-needed advice. Check out these 10 best tips, tricks and hacks we learned from professional cookie bakers and decorators to help step up your cookie decorating game.

Related: 5 Secrets for Baking the Best Healthy Sugar Cookies

1. Opt for decorating object-shaped cookies—it's easier.

cookies Baked to Measure

Photo Courtesy of Baked to Measure

A circular cookie seems like the easiest to decorate, right? Not exactly. Holly and Gabe Valentino, the husband-and-wife duo who run Baked to Measure bakery, agree that an object-shaped cookie is much easier to tackle—and can vouch for the wonder of a good cookie cutter. "That's why we have hundreds of different cookie cutters for every shape and occasion," says Holly. "I'm actually a terrible drawer, so I like having the basic shape already made for me." So be generous while purchasing cookie cutters, and allow kids to pick out a few different shapes they'd like to decorate.

2. Color the icing with fruits.

powered sugar

Photo Courtesy of Sally Wagner

Love vibrant cookie icing but want to skip artifical dyes? Cookies are meant to taste sweet and look pretty, but they don't always need to be packed with artificial flavors and coloring to make them that way. Sally Wagner of Sweet Peas & ABCs relies on fresh produce to tint traditional white icing. Once you're set on a color scheme, puree coordinating fruits to make safe, all-natural dyes. Frozen juice concentrate works well too. Separate the icing into smaller bowls. Allow your child to stir in about 1 to 2 teaspoons of each color.

Or you can opt for natural food dyes. EatingWell Test Kitchen Manager, Breana Lai, says, "All-natural, non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan dyes from ColorKitchen are available in blue, pink, yellow, orange and green colors. To get the colors, they use turmeric, annatto extract, spirulina extract and beet powder. And bonus, they have sprinkles!"

Related: Naturally Dyed Cookie Icing Recipe

3. Paint a picture with an actual paintbrush.

painted cookies

Photo Courtesy of Anne Yorks

This twist on color-by-number is probably one of the most delicious (and adorable) we've ever seen. Create an edible paint palette by piping six quarter-sized drops of royal icing onto a paper plate. Tint each drop with a different shade of natural food coloring—both the primary and secondary colors—using a dropper. While the palette dries, spread white icing on the top of a circular cookie. Pipe a simple picture you'd like to color in, using black icing. Finally, let your kiddos wet their paintbrushes in water. Dip a brush in one of the edible "paints," and watch them color in the design. Anne Yorks from Flour Box Bakery offers an even easier alternative, using a prepackaged paint-your-own cookie kit to decorate instead.

4. Make reindeer cookies using snacks from the pantry.

reindeer cookies

Photo Courtesy of Aimee Berrett

What do vanilla wafer cookies, pretzels and chocolate candies have in common? They're in all of our snack cupboards—and can turn regular chocolate drop cookies into sweet little reindeer. If you're limited on time during the Christmas season (read: all of us), but still committed to keeping the holiday cookie decorating tradition alive with your kids, this cookie decorating idea from Aimee Berrett of Like Mother Like Daughter is totally worth a shot. After icing the cookie with chocolate frosting, apply two miniature pretzels as antlers, and a vanilla wafer cookie with a chocolate candy on top for the nose. Candy eyes, which can be found in any major retailer's baking aisle, make the look complete.

5. Thin icing with a spray bottle.

royal icing

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Snyder

Joshua Snyder, the baker and decorator of the YouTube channel series Baking with Josh and Ange, proves that a spray bottle paired with a little fresh water is all you need to break down royal icing to an easily spreadable consistency. Outline icing—the icing that outlines the perimeter's shape or design of a cookie—is typically thick and sturdy. The icing you use to color and fill in the design—a technique known as flooding—should be a lot thinner. "For a general rule, the outline icing should have the consistency of toothpaste, and the flood icing should have the consistency of shampoo," says Snyder.

6. Draw any small details with a food-safe marker.

edible markers

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Snyder

Yes, edible markers exist. And yes, they're absolute game changers. "For more complex designs, the food-safe marker makes decorating so much easier and precise," says Snyder. Working exactly as a regular marker would, these thin-tipped writing-turned-decorating utensils are the best way to draw smaller, more intricate designs on cookies. "For younger children, the marker is a great tool to teach the basics of outline and flood."

7. Dip cookies into a simple glaze frosting.

cow cookies

Photo Courtesy of Baked to Measure

If the thought of fancy baking tools and expert icing techniques overwhelms your child, it's OK to skip them. The most important part of cookie decorating is having fun, after all. "Using a dipping technique with a simple glaze frosting is, I think, the easiest method for kids to achieve a decorated sugar cookie," says Holly Valentino. "Just mix up your glaze in a bowl, stir in your coloring and dip the cookies in." Use your favorite icing recipe as glaze, or just combine confectioners' sugar and water for a safe bet.

8. Apply icing with an icing bottle.

cat cookie

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Snyder

Actually getting the icing onto the cookie, without making it look like a giant blob of nothing, is definitely the most painstaking part of cookie decorating with kids. Snyder suggests simplifying the process by using icing bottles. "It's all about comfort and control," he explains. "For me, they are easier to control, and I make fewer mistakes with them." Not to mention, icing in a bottle means less spilling—and less cleanup time for parents. Score!

9. Use a picture—and wax paper—to outline a flawless design.

world cookies

Photo Courtesy of Joshua Snyder

Royal icing transfers are a kid-friendly way to put seamless images on a cookie. "This is a great method for the really small details you want to add to a cookie, and perfect for letters or small cartoon characters," says Snyder. He filled us in on the process, from start to finish: First, make the image you'd like to adorn the cookie with on a piece of white paper using either a printout or a quick sketch of your own. This should be sized small enough to fit on top of a circular cookie when complete. Next, tape the images down to a flat surface. Then tape a piece of wax paper over the images. Trace the outline of the image with royal icing and flood it. Cut each image out, and pull back the wax paper. "Apply the transfer to the cookie a few minutes after you flood," suggests Snyder.

10. Set a timer for multicolored cookies.

swirl cookie

Photo Courtesy of Baked to Measure

Younger children especially love to combine multiple colors with reckless abandon while decorating, leaving you with cookies that turn an awkward shade of an indistinguishable hue. Gabe of Baked to Measure has learned that paying close attention to the clock is the best-kept secret for preventing colors from running together. "While the freshness of your cookies is extremely important, to avoid bleeding you'll want to make sure you give each layer enough time to dry before moving on to the next one," he says. "Each color interacts differently depending on its shade, so some may need more time to dry than others." Red and blue tend to bleed together the most, but you should be keeping an eye on every single color after applying it.

Even though these awesome tips will help your kiddos become better cookie decorators in no time, it's important to remember the main goal when you're decorating with them: just have fun!

Related:

Watch: How to Decorate Cookies Naturally