First, make sure you are registered for the current swap. You can find the latest registration information at our Facebook page.
Next, you’ll need to decide what you are going to make. You can bring a single type of food or multiple different kinds. Some of the most popular swap items include:
jams and jellies
drinks and syrups
coffee and tea
But don’t let this list limit you! One of the best parts of swapping is trying new recipes and discovering the new options that other participants bring. Looking for inspiration? We recommend the book Food Swap: Specialty Recipes for Bartering, Sharing, & Giving by Emily Paster, the founder of the Chicago Food Swap, held in Oak Park, IL. You can also find plenty of recipes on blogs, Pinterest, and from other swaps across the country. If you are still at a loss, or you simply want to gauge interest in your homemade item, feel free to post a message to the Facebook group.
Take into account what you can package, transport, and easily swap. Many people bring items that need to be refrigerated and/or cooked, but consider whether you want to bring a cooler with ice and note that not everyone attending will be going straight home after the swap.
Don’t overthink it — food swaps welcome a wide variety of skill levels and cooking abilities. The main point is to share, have fun, try something new, and meet new people. That being said, everyone wants to swap with someone who put in a little effort, so this isn’t the time to try to get rid of that last bit of leftover soup in the back of the fridge. The golden rule is to bring a swap item you would be happy to receive in return.
One note: all items must be edible (please don’t bring homemade soaps, lotions, etc.)
Now that you’ve decided what you are going to make, it’s time to get cooking. At first, some are a little wary of swapping for food that has been cooked in a home kitchen, but there’s no need to worry — after all, most of us eat multiple meals cooked in home kitchens every day.
Of course, it still helps to take a little extra care when cooking for others — we never want anyone to get sick from food they received at a food swap. Make sure to wash your hands and abide by all of the proper food safety guidelines. When canning, consult the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, widely regarded as the most complete and up-to-date resource available.
Most food swaps are held on Sunday afternoons, so swappers often prepare their items fresh right before a swap or on the Saturday before. Consider freshness when preparing your food in advance and a recommended “Best if Eaten By” date on the label is always appreciated.
For your first swap, we recommend making about 4-6 servings to get a feel for swapping. After that, you’ll get a sense of how much you want to bring and go home with in the future. Remember to make a few extra servings so attendees can sample your foods.
Most importantly, have fun! Cook what you enjoy cooking and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Packaging & Labeling
Packaging and labeling can be as simple or complex as you like. Plastic storage bags and inexpensive containers are very common and jam jars are the norm. Due to the logistics of swapping, it’s typically too difficult to ask participants to return any containers, so you should consider the package part of your swap item.
When portioning your food, we recommend serving sizes that will feed two adults — 2-3 cups of soup, two cupcakes, a small loaf of bread, several cookies, etc. The goal is that each trade is pretty even. At a minimum, your swap station should include a small sign or piece of paper that includes the name of each unique food item and all of the ingredients in the item. Many participants also include a label with this information on each food item, as well as a sticker with their name and email address if anyone has questions or wants to request the recipe (many veteran swappers print out inexpensive return label stickers to attach to their food items and also use to express interest in items during the swap).
You should also bring some samples for everyone to try during the swap. There will be a lot of food to try, so a single, small bite for each of the typical 20-30 attendees is preferred. Most swap locations won’t have any materials available to use, so make sure you bring everything you’ll need for the swap and samples — serving plates, plastic/paper cups, utensils/toothpicks, napkins/paper towels, etc.
Swap day is here! Here is how it all goes down:
When you arrive, check in at the sign-in table and make a nametag for yourself.
Check out the space and choose your preferred swap station. You only need a few feet of space for your foods and samples, so welcome other swappers, introduce yourself, and invite them to set up next to you.
During the first 15-20 minutes, set up your swap station. Put out your foods, signage, samples, and the provided swapper interest sheet and pen. Most swap stations are very simple, but some attendees enjoy using tablecloths or other decorations to present their foods. As attendees finish setting up their station, most will get a drink and begin walking around to check out what everyone brought and start meeting each other.
About 20 minutes into the swap, it will officially be sampling time and everyone can walk around, sample the foods, ask questions, and write down their names on the swapper interest sheets at each station to let others know that they are interested in swapping. Remember that these aren’t set in stone.
After 20-30 minutes of sampling, it will be time to swap! This part can get a little crazy, but that’s part of the fun. Everyone will go back to their station, look at their swapper interest sheet, and decide who they want to trade with first. You’ll probably spend some time at your swap station as people come up to you to trade and also take some time walking around with items in-hand to trade with others. Everyone can accept or decline a trade without any guilt — some people have allergies, particular preferences, etc — so if someone isn’t interested in swapping this time around, don’t take it personally. By the end, you’ll have a wide range of foods to take home and enjoy.
After the official swapping time is over, feel free to grab a drink and hang out. Everyone loves to talk about what they enjoyed, finish up the samples, open up any leftovers to share, talk about recipes and ideas, and meet fellow food-lovers. After you attend a few swaps you’ll probably have new swap friends you’ll want to catch up with.