9 Ina Garten-Approved Ways To Elevate Your Holiday Meals

While the holidays can be a magical, special time to gather with family and loved ones, they can also be pretty stressful. Between buying and wrapping gifts, insane holiday travel, and spending time with those same family members we love so much, it can be a lot. So when it falls on you to host the big holiday meal, it's easy to see how that can feel extra daunting. Even if you're a seasoned and experienced host, there's something about planning a holiday meal that really raises the stakes.

But have no fear because Ina Garten is here. Known for her countless cookbooks and hit cooking show "The Barefoot Contessa," Garten has made a name for herself by hosting elegant dinner parties that look and feel luxurious but are deceptively easy to bring together, all the while leaning on her signature catchphrase, "How easy is that?" So when it comes to planning a delicious, impressive, and stress-free holiday meal, Garten's got all the tips you could possibly need. So keep reading to find out how you can throw the ultimate Barefoot Contessa-approved holiday dinner party.

Keep the appetizers super simple

When hosting a holiday meal, it's nice to serve some apps and finger foods for guests to nibble on before the main event. But as Ina Garten warns, this could start to feel like a whole extra meal to prep. As Garten told Bon Appetit, "If you're not careful, making appetizers can take as much time as making dinner." And that's why Garten says she usually makes just one appetizer then buys everything else. And if Ina Garten of all people says that store bought is fine, then it really is.

Garten likes offering simple apps that won't fill up her guests too much, like cured meats, olives, or Marcona almonds. Whatever you serve, the goal is simple: It should be easy for you as the host, and easy to eat for the guests. Some other no bake appetizers that are sure to be a hit at your next holiday gathering include a platter of crudite, crackers, and bread with herbed cheeses or a red pepper spread. You can kick those olives up a notch by tossing them with some chopped rosemary and fresh orange juice. Or if you're truly crunched for time, there's nothing better than popping by the frozen section of a Trader Joe's.

Make a big batch of booze

If you want to throw a holiday party like the Barefoot Contessa, then of course you'll need to offer a cocktail. And if you really want to host like Ina Garten, then you need to make a lot of cocktail. After all, Garten went viral in 2020 for mixing up a giant Cosmo on her Instagram page. But the goal isn't to make a single, massive cocktail for one (although no judgments if you do make one.) But the idea with making a big batch of cocktails is then you as the host don't need to waste time mixing individual drinks for each of your guests. As Garten told Bon Appetit, "I always choose drinks that you can make in a pitcher and set on the bar so everyone can help themselves."

While many cocktail recipes are for one or two drinks at most, it's easy to convert any cocktail recipe into a batch big enough for a group. Some crowd pleasing holiday cocktails that are great for making en masse include hot toddies, mulled wine, sangria, or even a Boulevardier, which is a spin on the classic Negroni, but includes bourbon instead of gin (via Imbibe Magazine). 

When in doubt, put it on a board

As Ina Garten once told Vogue, "You can do anything as a board!" While any holiday party would be improved with a classic meat and cheese board, Garten has proven in her latest cookbook, "Go-To Dinners," that pretty much any and all food can be served on a board (except maybe soup, although let us know if you find a way). The beauty of a board is that they're both food and decoration; they provide a gorgeous, festive, communal eating experience that looks great on your table and typically requires almost zero cooking. 

Garten recommends serving an antipasti board with some fresh cheese, dried fruits, crackers, and fresh fruit like grapes. But other ideas include some prosciutto and melon, or some butter beans in olive oil, and of course some roasted veggies or sun dried red peppers. You can also lean into the latest Tik Tok craze and serve a butter board topped with soft butter sprinkled with sea salt flakes, chili flakes, a drizzle of honey, and some fresh, warm bread. And of course, why not end your night with a dessert board, another one of Garten's favorites. That way you can put out something for every taste, a little chocolate, a little fruit, some cheese, a holiday cookie or two. What's not to love?

Simplicity is key

Hosting a holiday dinner can feel like a lot of pressure. There's an expectation that a holiday meal should be extra special, which a lot of people interpret as "extra fancy." But Ina Garten cautions that this isn't necessary. In fact, according to Garten, simplicity is key when hosting at the holidays, and year round (via Vogue). There's no need to attempt some new French cooking technique or a brand new, complicated recipe. Rather, Garten advocates that a happy, not-stressed-out host is the best host, which is why she recommends one-pot recipes that cut down on the prep and cooking time, and most importantly, cut down on dishes.

There's nothing Ina Garten loves more than a simple one-pot chicken, which could easily serve a big, hungry group. And it's easy to whip up anything from a mustard-glazed pork tenderloin, to a salmon and roast vegetables, to an entire steak diner all in one single pan. Another favorite holiday recipe of Garten's is a simple three- ingredient lemon Capellini pasta dish that she likes to serve on New Year's Eve, according to the Food Network.

Make food ahead of time

So it's clear by now that Ina Garten's biggest tip for hosting holiday meals is to do whatever it takes to make sure that you are still able to enjoy yourself as the home chef and host. So another way she ensures that the day of is as stress free as can be is to figure out which dishes can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge or freezer, and she even wrote a cookbook about it (via her website). While this does require some extra planning, shopping, and preparation, it will pay off when you're able to do a lot less on the actual holiday. Garten even recommends making the Thanksgiving turkey ahead of time. In her own words, how easy is that?

Luckily, there are so many crowd pleasing holiday entrees that you can easily make ahead and freeze. A lasagna is always a favorite, can easily be made vegetarian, and is easy to freeze. You can also make any style of mashed potatoes ahead of time, then just pop them into the freezer until the day of. Or make ahead and freeze any seasonal soup, like a pumpkin soup or roasted butternut squash soup. 

Serve Beef Ternderloin

If you really want an Ina Garten-approved holiday meal, then there's one dish she recommends above all else: a roasted filet of beef, also known as beef tenderloin. Garten sat down with the hosts of Homemade, the Allrecipes podcast, to share her favorite holiday meal recommendation, and it's got us running to our local butcher. According to Garten, roasted beef tenderloin is easy to make, popular with most people (unless you've got vegetarians at your holiday table,) and still feels luxurious and special. And if you're in need of a great beef tenderloin recipe, we've got you covered.

If you're a Barefoot Contessa purist and want to go roasted, as she recommends, then you can't go wrong with this roasted beef tenderloin, served with Persillade, a delicious sauce made with garlic, parsley, and vinegar. There's also this Latin-inspired herb-crusted beef tenderloin with an avocado chimichurri sauce, if you want to spice things up a bit. Or who doesn't love a beef tenderloin dripping in not one but two kinds of cheese, including a savory, flavorful blue cheese, that gets baked right on top.

Offer a variety to cover every diet

Between keto, vegan, pescatarian diets, or gluten or lactose sensitivities, it can feel daunting to make sure all your guests are well fed at your holiday dinner. But according to Ina Garten, that doesn't mean you need to make a separate dish for every person with specific dietary restrictions. "What I never do is make something specific for one person, because then they feel like they're not part of the party. This way, they're just choosing some of the menu but not all of it," she told Bon Appetit. So that might mean making sure your menu includes some gluten free or meat free items, but that also doesn't mean you can't serve bread and a meat entree. It's all about variety.

Luckily, there is no shortage of great vegetarian appetizers out there, everything from Spanikopita to caprese salad to deviled eggs. Offering gluten free options may sound daunting, but cornbread and mashed potatoes are two popular gluten free sides. Or we've got recipes for tons of different delicious but secretly gluten free roasted veggie salads and sides that all guests can enjoy.

Make your table festive

Anyone who's seen her cooking show "The Barefoot Contessa" knows that Ina Garten is not afraid of an elaborate tablescape; she'll get fresh flowers delivered just to host a bridge luncheon for some friends. While fresh flowers are likely not within everyone's budget, you don't need to spend a lot to add a little extra festive pizzaz to your party. According to Vogue, when you attend an Ina Garten holiday party, you're greeted with a welcome cocktail. "There's something about something in a martini glass that makes you feel like it's a party," says Garten. We couldn't agree more. Garten is all about making people feel welcome and cultivating a fun, relaxed, and festive vibe for her dinner parties. 

By keeping other elements of your party more laid back, either by pre-cooking part of the meal or serving the food buffet-style, Garten says it's always worth it to spend a little extra time making the table feel festive (via Veranda.) That might be as simple as busting out the good china, serving drinks in fun cocktail glasses, lighting a few candles, or decorating the table with a few vintage Christmas items you've sourced at Goodwill. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money or time, but going that extra mile can really make your holiday party feel like the holidays.

Relax and have fun!

Even Ina Garten acknowledges that there's no such thing as a completely stress-free holiday meal (via Bon Appetit.) Garten firmly believes the most important key to any holiday is to enjoy yourself and don't stress it. Do what you need to in order to make it more enjoyable for you, because that way your guests — and the food you prepare — will all benefit. As the host, you set the tone of the night, so if you can make it easy for you, it'll feel easy for everyone else (except for that one crabby uncle — no one can cheer that guy up).

Luckily, most people want familiar, home-cooked comfort foods at the holidays, not some elaborate meal you'd find in a restaurant. So make a (simple) menu plan, source great ingredients, and prep ahead the things you can. And if all else fails, the filet gets burnt, the vegans don't like their options, and you've run out of marinated olives, you can always take another cue from Garten: Serve a great holiday cocktail. It's hard not to feel the holiday spirit with some spiked mulled cider in your hands!