Tips to prettify your swap items.

Coffee bean-infused olive oil from the May food swap | Photo by A-K Thordin

These lovely clear bags of flavored popcorn were tied with cheery pink ribbon, brightening up the table at the May swap. | Photo by Kim Christensen.

Let’s be honest – everyone loves nice packaging. A flash of color, a homespun touch, a unique accent, and a beautiful presentation make an item stand out against the rest. Food swaps are no exception! Cleverly and beautifully packaging your items at a food swap is a fun opportunity to let your creative side shine. While it certainly isn’t necessary or mandatory to get “fancy”, it can definitely make your item more eye-catching. For example, a bit of red gingham fabric atop your jars of raspberry jam more noticeable to a potential bidder (a fact to which one gingham-loving, raspberry jam-making swapper from May’s swap will certainly agree).

Want examples? I was charmed like crazy by the labels on these jars at our first food swap back in March (you can print your own here). The thoughtful presentation really drew me in and made me want to try the product.

Blood Orange Marmalade and Guinness Mustard, with beautiful labels to boot. | Photo by Kim Christensen

At the last swap, these cork-topped glass bottles and hand-stamped tags made my heart swoon, as did the awesomely robust infused oil inside!

Coffee bean-infused olive oil from the May food swap | Photo by A-K Thordin

Coffee bean-infused olive oil from the May food swap | Photo by A-K Thordin

Here are some simple (and affordable) ideas for making your swap items stand out:

  • Cut circles from decorative papers the same size as the lid of your two-piece canning jar. Place the paper on the lid, then screw the band over the top. Cute and simple!
  • Cut squares or circles from cute fabrics, parchment, or decorative papers (this is a great way to use up scraps). Make the material 1-2 inches larger than the top of your jar on all sides. Place the material on the lid, then screw the band over the top – done! Or, for a different look, place fabric over the lid and the ring and secure with a string like this.
  • Purchase adhesive labels (mailing labels in various sizes work well) and use them to label anything and everything. Run them through your printer, or if you’re feeling crafty, hand illustrate them or stamp them. Use to label your goods!
  • Create hang-tag style labels from any kind of paper you have lying around. Hand-illustrate or use stamps to make them charming, then attach to your items whatever way you see fit!
  • Look for cute label templates online, such as these cute labels from or some from this collection.  Print, fill in, affix, and you’re good to go!
  • Use ribbon, hemp, jute, yarn, curling ribbon, or cotton string to tie the tops of bags or pouches, tie bundles of herbs or greens, or tie anything that needs tying. This takes only seconds to do, and looks adorable.
  • Wrap loaves of bread in unbleached parchment and tie with string. You’ll look like you just breezed in from France.
  • Use cute glass jars or bottles for infused oils or vinegars, jams, jellies, sauces, or the like. Find cute jars and bottles at thrift stores, rummage sales, or your grandma’s basement, or save them from consumed food items in your own house. If you want to purchase them new, various kitchen stores, hardware stores, craft stores, and online retailers have wide selections of bottles and jars. If you buy an entire flat of jars/bottles, the price may be cheaper than if you buy just one or two.
  • Try using natural paper, parchment, or wax paper to wrap items. Not only does this give a totally eco-chic look, it is more earth-friendly than plastic bags. My recent favorite is Natural Value brand unbleached wax paper bags, whichI found at the Seward Co-op. They are larger than a plastic sandwich bag, hold a ton of goodies, and I love the natural brown color and environmentally-friendly option.
  • Find clear plastic bags (such as those in the popcorn photo above) at craft stores, online retailers, or kitchen shops.
  • Wrap bits of paper or fabric around jars, bundles of herbs, or other things for a touch of color, and then tie with a string.
  • Chinese take-out style paper boxes can be purchased in large quantities (or just ask to buy some from your neighborhood Chinese restaurant) and are perfect for holding candies, cookies, popcorn, or the like.
  • Paper lunch bags hold just about anything, are inexpensive, and biodegradable. If you want to jazz them up, embellish with stamps, hand-illustrations, or a cute label, and tie with a bit of string. Nice!
  • Reuse plastic berry containers for homepicked or foraged produce or berries, and relabel the top with something customized.
  • Whatever other crazy ideas you come up with – the choice is up to you! Let your imagination run wild.
Just remember – “prettifying” your swap items isn’t mandatory, you can bring your items to  a swap in whatever way you’d like. But it sure is fun to do (and to look at!).  

What other ideas do you have? Share them in the comments below. Happy prettifying!
UPDATE 6/25/11
By no means is this post meant to encourage competition at the food swap. Many people enjoy playing with presentation as much as they do preparing the actual food. Do not feel like you need to stretch yourself to extra lengths to make things look like Martha Stewart came into your kitchen. We accept and encourage everyone to attend and bring their foods, even if you are simply putting them in plastic wrap. But if you feel like being crafty, I simply wanted to provide some ideas. -Kim
6 Responses to “Tips to prettify your swap items.”
  1. Hey Kim! Thanks for using my raspberry jam as an example. Photos are available on my blog post about the May swap:

  2. Oh, guess I didn’t need to post a link, since you already did. 😀

  3. Kim Christensen says:

    I just did it, Katherine! Thanks for sharing it with me 🙂 Your jars were so cute!

  4. Trinity says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the pretty AND tasty goods this weekend! This post has a ton of good ideas on those extra little touches. I’m glad you liked my EVOO labels. I stamped them on cardboard from old tissue boxes 🙂

  5. Emily says:

    These are beautiful, but the pressure of having “swap competition” with Martha Stewart-worthy items would be enough to keep me from attending. Also? Infused oils are the #2 cause of botulism these days (after canned asparagus). DON’T MAKE OR SWAP THEM.

    • Kim Christensen says:

      Hi Emily, By no means was this post meant to instill a sense of competition or make potential swappers intimidated. The swaps are a very accepting, safe, nurturing environment – I do not see them as competitive. But for many people, playing with the visual presentation is just as fulfilling and fun as creating the food. This post is merely meant to give people ideas for ways to present their items at the swap, if they want to go that route. We welcome everyone and all kinds of food, no matter how things are packaged or wrapped. Foods do not need to be “gourmet” or “Martha Stewart-worthy” – just made with love and sincerity! And of course, good food safety. And speaking of that, re: infused oils… I thought that using dry ingredients – dry peppers, dry herbs, dry tomatoes, etc. – to infuse oils is safe. If it is the presence of water that creates the potential of bacteria growth, it should be fine, shouldn’t it, so as long as individuals are following reliable recipes using dry ingredients? If you have better information I’d love if you’d share it in the comments, as I’ve often made infused oils myself, and if I’m mistaken it would be good to know!!! I don’t want botulism (or for people to get sick from bacteria-ridden food) any more than you do. 🙂 And, why is pickled asparagus so dangerous? Thanks for your concern re: food safety, and overall comment. Your organization in Michigan looks really interesting, I’m excited to peruse your site more. I’ve been wanting to get a skill-sharing setup going here in Minneapolis for such things, so your group would be a great model. Really inspiring, Emily! – Kim

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