Ina Garten's Best Tips For A Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Ina Garten once told Williams Sonoma, "I don't actually have Thanksgiving disasters." Wow, can she inspire the Barefoot Contessas in the rest of us with her optimism, and phenomenal tips and tricks for a zero-stress Thanksgiving! (Good gravy, pass us a caramel apple martini, stat. And keep 'em coming.)

It's our favorite meal of the year, but it comes with a pressure-cooker's worth of turkey-based tension. Whether it's Aunt Myrna's mystery casserole, or your cousin's fiancé's black pepper allergy, or — OMG, there aren't enough forks. Can we Instacart some freakin' forks? — just about everything has the potential to go south, and fast.

But Garten can save us! From your grocery shop, to your cooking strategy, to the meal, decor, and the party mood, we've sourced the most life-changing tips from our favorite (masterful and comforting) cook. This is Thanksgiving like it was always meant to be. A celebration of our collective bountiful harvest, and an expression of gratitude for deeply cherished friends and family. 

Don't shop 'til you drop

Save yourself from CostcoKrogerphobia (aka, the fear of extremely busy grocery stores that are completely out of everything you need, gah!), and lean into Ina Garten's number one tip for stocking up for the holiday: Whatever you do, do not attempt to buy all of your ingredients at once. It's never been done successfully in all of dinner hosting humanity. You'll just end up pulling your hair out. And everyone's hair around you.

Instead, shop in civilized bursts. One week out, load up on non-perishables like canned pumpkin, long-lasting produce like onions, plus staples like sugar and flour. A few days before the meal, source all of your fresh items — including that glorious turkey. Ben Franklin once called it, "a Bird of Courage." Thus, let it hang out in your fridge, defrosting courageously.

If you're picking up a favorite bakery apple pie, or the show-stopping Harry & David Belgian milk chocolate turkey centerpiece (hi, where exactly will the chocolate turkey be located? Hoping to sit in the splash zone), put those orders and pick-ups on the shopping schedule too. Then kick back and relax while someone else gets the cart with the sticky wheel, and zero marshmallows for their sweet potato casserole.

Make it ahead

Here's where going all in on a cooking strategy can really make a difference on the big day. Get your game face on, and cook and bake as much as you can before the big day. "Future You" will be so happy you listened to Ina Garten, even though "Present You" is wondering why you promised three different stuffings, grandma's green bean casserole, and something called a PieCaken. (Hot tip: just order the PieCaken. Let the pros stack a pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and spice cake together, topped with apple pie filling!)

"My secret to timing a meal is make everything in advance. And then you don't have to worry about it," Garten explained to Williams Sonoma. Well, we know she won't be worried because she's, you know, Ina-freakin'-Garten and everything turns out perfectly. For the rest of us? Bust out the dry erase board!

Garten suggests setting a schedule for the week ahead of the event, starting with foods that can be stored the longest. As she shared with InStyle, "Figure out what you can do three days before, two days before, and one day before. And do it really carefully. Plan it." We're currently wondering what lasts longer: a pitcher of Garten's cosmos, or her chocolate-dipped pecan squares? To be honest, they both sound way too delicious to make it through the night.

Eat your breakfast

Before the most decadent meal of the year, you might be tempted to skip the most important meal of the day. But don't close the fridge on that morning fuel. When asked by New York Times Cooking whether she eats breakfast or not, on Thanksgiving, Ina Garten replied, "Breakfast! Who misses breakfast?"

But this isn't only about getting that morning coffee hit. As Ohio State University registered dietitian Lauren Blake explained, "Food directly impacts behavior and emotions, and putting a little thought into your morning routine can help improve your mood all day long." Wonderful news. Now you'll have all the positive energy you need to deal with sweet cousin Diane's Jell-O dessert mold that definitely set with a little cat hair in it this year.

So what's on the early bird menu? Don't worry, we're keeping it very basic. Skip the sugary waffles, and go for protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Blake suggests, "Hard-boiled eggs, nuts, Greek yogurt, and nut butters are all easy, filling options." Of course, since it's a holiday, we also wouldn't say no to a grapefruit paloma cocktail if someone's on bartender duty. What? It has grapefruit! It used to be healthy in the '80s!

Streamline the decorations

Listen up! Starting right now, you're on official Pinterest lockdown. Forget the oversized, feathery pampas grass centerpieces. Erase the gold spray-painted pumpkinscape from your mind. And OMG no, you're not setting up a rustic farmhouse table for 12 in the middle of an abandoned field, with boho lanterns and a vintage cornucopia. Luckily, we're decorating Ina Garten-style. And she keeps it as low-stress as possible.

"I choose one color, like orange, and do lots of flowers," Garten explained of her dining table decor. "Choose one color and follow through." Garten effortlessly showcased different shades of orange for her tablecloth, napkins, candles, and several bunches of lush roses. She also decorated with bowls of fresh, leafy citrus in tones that complemented the theme. But while every detail added to the festive vibe, nothing obscured the conversation.

"Another thing I think is really important; keep everything low so everybody can see across the table," she noted. A good rule of thumb? Nothing taller than a wine glass. No vertical ostrich feathers, cascading crystal pedestals, or candelabras. This family-style meal is meant to be savored with the people on the other side of the table, too.

Only the hits

While we muster up our inner domestic goddesses for the turkey-est meal of the year, Ina Garten advises also keeping your wheelhouse in mind when it comes to the cooking. She told Williams Sonoma, "What a lot of people do is they try to make some new recipe they've never made before, and that's a disaster." This applies to everything, across the board. Even if it's chocolate soufflé and you've always wanted to make chocolate soufflé. Because in a high-pressure situation like this, you don't want to bite it on the chocolate soufflé.

"I only make things I know how to make really well. And I know they're gonna be fabulous," Garten shared. We also know they're gonna be fabulous and are wondering how we can nab an invite to that table!

Maybe you're famous for making pumpkin spiced whoopie pies for your annual Friendsgiving. Or your family is constantly requesting those buttery mashed potatoes you whip up every year. And, hey, somebody's gotta be the cocktail queen. Whatever your talent may be, dust it off, and create a new tradition. It's as easy as apple pie ... that you made at least once before, right?

Store-bought is fine

Ina Garten's most famous phrase just saved Thanksgiving. You don't have to craft 18 needlepoint napkins, or put your blood, sweat, and frustrated tears into a homemade artisanal bread basket. "Store-bought is fine," she tells us. Oh, how we adore you!

"If you can buy something really good at the store, or a bakery, there's really no point in making it yourself," she advised New York Times Cooking. Speaking of dinner rolls (ok, we're always thinking of dinner rolls), she gives us permission to buy them from a good bakery, adding, "It was made in somebody's home, but not yours." We'll take it.

While you could outsource the entire meal, Garten likes to incorporate store-bought items into her cooking so they feel homemade. She adds parmesan cheese and sour cream to store-bought mashed potatoes, so they taste like her Parmesan Smashed Potatoes recipe. Add pre-made stuffing mix to mushrooms and Gruyère, and you've got Garten's Mushroom and Gruyère Bread Pudding. She even used a frozen pie crust for her Bourbon Pecan Pie. Wanna zhush up dessert even more? Garten melts a pint of vanilla Häagen-Dazs, and spoons the saucy ice cream onto a dessert plate, under a slice of pie, as a fancy-looking crème anglaise. We're not the culinary genius, you are!

Don't be a downer

There's no greater vibe-killer than a stressed out party host. The tension trickles down to each of the guests — and before you know it, even the scalloped potatoes look a little nervous. Save everyone from a bad time by making sure you (the host) are enjoying yourself! As Ina Garten told New York Times Cooking, "The key to any dinner, particularly Thanksgiving, is that the host is having fun. If you're happy, everybody's gonna have a good time."

Garten points to an easy meal making for a much happier one. Beef Wellington = out. Buffet-style sides = in. Turducken = dealer's choice. Other strategies might involve delegating certain dishes for guests to bring, giving yourself plenty of time to shop and cook, and making a meal that you really want to eat, too! Want some straight up Kraft mac & cheese with cocktail sausages in it? Make it! A little sip of bourbon or two has also been known to smooth out some wrinkles on occasion.

Another tip? Get crazy kids and armchair chefs out of the kitchen and into the holiday spirit! How do you do it? We thought you'd never ask ...

Set the mood

Crank up the tunes, light your best woodsy campfire candles, and prep that signature cocktail. The party starts now! Ina Garten told "Today," "When people arrive at the door, I want all of your senses engaged." We're on it. 

"It may be a family meal, but I still want it to feel like a party," Garten shared. What does that mean for the Contessa with the most-essa? As she described it for "Today," that involves the perfect playlist, appetizers and cocktails immediately in hand, the smell of a crackling fire, festive decor, and snuggly throws and pillows.

For the most effortless mood-setting, we're using the KISS acronym (and thankfully not the one for the band.) Keep It Simple Sweetie! What's Garten's easiest, go-to drink other than cosmos? Wine. She explained to InStyle, "There's enough to do already, so I think wine is really easy. Take out the cork, you're ready to go." As for the tunes? She hits up the classics, adding, "Thanksgiving's multi-generational, so I tend to do old-fashioned music like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett ... Ella Fitzgerald, that kind of thing. Something everybody loves." Y'know, unless gramps insists on trap music. Again.

Relax on the apps

Kick those fiddly bits to the curb! This Thanksgiving, there will be no wrapping things in phyllo dough, complicated temperature-sensitive presentations, or any other appetizers that involve (even more!) cooking. "I can't believe I'm serving potato chips on the 'Today Show,'" Ina Garten joked during an appearance with the outlet, adding, "I just get little plates and I just put out things that you can buy already done." Amen, sister.

Garten serves up crowd-pleasing favorites, featuring great ingredients. She loves big green olives, savory Marcona almonds, cucumbers paired with salami slices, twisted breadsticks, a bowl of nice parmesan that's been cut into bite-sized shards, and — of course — potato chips. A woman after our hearts.

Psst! If you want to skip the apps altogether, just tell 'em Garten told you to do it. She admitted to InStyle, "I don't believe in lots of appetizers ever, but particularly Thanksgiving. So maybe rosé champagne for everybody and some little nibbles like salted cashews or ... fresh figs. Something like that." 

Skip the salad

This one goes out to all the health nuts hosting Thanksgiving this year. You can do the low-fat smashed potatoes, the sugar-free cranberry sauce that stings everyone's cheeks, and the stuffing that tastes like paper. But don't you dare toss a bunch of kale and arugula, and pretend it belongs on the buffet with the true holiday heroes. Ina Garten made this very clear when she told Williams Sonoma, "No salad," for Thanksgiving.

While we would absolutely crush a Caesar salad — even a Greek, Cobb, Waldorf, or salade niçoise — any other day of the week, Thanksgiving is reserved for dishes that won't wilt. Do not question the Contessa.

Still, just because Garten doesn't do a Thanksgiving lettuce salad doesn't mean she doesn't whip up some killer veggie-based sides. Get toasty with crispy roasted kale, roasted carrots, and roasted Brussels sprouts. She also features recipes for collards, parmesan roasted cauliflower, and a beet, butternut squash, and apple salad. But our favorite recipe (we've tested this at several Thanksgiving dinners — always a smash hit) is Garten's Green Beans Gremolata. Cut through a rich meal with bright, crunchy, blanched green beans, tossed in garlic, parmesan, parsley, roasted pine nuts, lemon zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper. If there were ever a thing called party beans, these are that.

Carve the turkey ahead of the meal

We love all of Ina Garten's Thanksgiving tips, but if we had to pick just one, THIS. IS. IT. Carve that dang turkey before your guests arrive — and prior to donning your new "Sides Chick" tee. Not only will you save your outfit, you'll save your dignity.

"I think my worst nightmare is carving the turkey in my party clothes," Garten said. And with all the juicy turkey basting we just did, we agree. Instead, Garten does her turkey much earlier — roasting it, carving it, and letting it rest on the counter — and then once mealtime approaches, she pops it in the oven with gravy, warms it up, and serves it.

Wondering how Garten carves a bird? She removes a whole breast from the turkey, then cuts it on a board, into thick, juicy, white meat slices. She told Katie Couric, "Everybody gets a little skin and a little meat, and it's so much easier to do." She didn't mention the rest of the bird, so dark meat lovers, looks like it's "Hunger Games" for you.

Don't freak out!

Take a deeeeeeeeeep breath. It's all gonna be okay. Ina Garten's here, and she's offering you a big hug by way of sizzling hot Thanksgiving advice. Insider tip? Don't freak out about the turkey. (What! What's wrong with the turkey?! OMG, what time is it? Hello, is this 1-800-GIBLETS?) As Garten assured Katie Couric, "Everybody gets so crazy about the turkey. The turkey isn't the star of the meal. Sometimes, it's the side dishes."

Garten suggests thinking of the turkey like a roasted chicken. The biggest roasted chicken you've ever seen. See? Already less intimidating. She also comforted her jittery followers (hi) by admitting that you don't need to go nuts on the side dishes either.

"We get so wired that we have to have a hundred Thanksgiving dishes, that your great aunt wants one thing, and your cousin wants something else. Keep it really simple. Make a few things that you think are absolutely delicious," she said. Garten's ultimate meal would feature a turkey, her spinach gratin and bread pudding recipes, her two favorite potato dishes (smashed, and also sweet with apple topping), and some beautiful roasted veggies.

Do a dessert board

We realize you have a PieCaken on track for delivery right now, but we can't resist this brilliant dessert tip from Ina Garten. Instead of several treats that may or may not land with a picky crowd, serve up a sweet smorgasbord on a dessert board! Garten got the idea from a time she went to France. Because of course she did.

Garten shared with "Today," "The waiters brought this huge, long board with already pre-made things on it that was so gorgeous. And I thought, 'Why don't I do that at home?'" Yeah, well, we're over here wondering why we don't do this at home 24/7.

She tops her serving board with colorful fresh fruit, and decadent (store-bought!) desserts — cut and sized just right so guests can sample a variety of goodies. Displaying strawberries with grapes, chocolate bark, lemon bars, chocolate chip cookies, and fruit tarts, Garten claims it's all about bountiful presentation. She added, "At the end of the day, you want everybody to have something absolutely delicious to eat ... Everybody gets what they love." Dessert and done.

Lean into those leftovers

Anything goes when it comes to leftovers. But just in case you're suffering from post-Thanksgiving fried nerves (or you still have guests in town for lunch), look to Ina Garten for inspiration. Some real, down home inspiration.

"I like to open the refrigerator door, and eat like a raccoon out of a dumpster," she confessed to Williams Sonoma, laughing. "Much more fun." And much easier than plating up an entire repeat Thanksgiving meal. Invite your guests to crack open the fridge themselves. It's all about the help-yourself, favorite sweatpants, zero-effort kind of dining.

Of course, there's always the Garten factor. While she's not typically a leftovers person, she admits that everyone loves a turkey sandwich on the Friday after the big day. So, what does she do? She roasts a second turkey just for this purpose. Oh, Ina Garten, how we love you so! She told InStyle, "I make an extra turkey to send home with my guests so they can make sandwiches." Hi, so, yeah, how do we get an invite?

Need a hostess gift? (You're better than wine)

You played your cards right and you got invited to someone else's Thanksgiving dinner: The most stress-free of all Thanksgivings. (Sweet!) "Don't worry about anything, just bring yourself," they said. Still, you immediately begin wondering if "yourself" will go over as well as you hope. You know what? Better bring a gift. Not wine, not flowers. (What else is there?!)

"I never bring something that the hostess feels she has to serve at the party," Ina Garten wrote for House Beautiful. If Garten gifts champagne, she makes sure it's room temp, so no one is forced to open it. But it seems like she really loves bringing something for the host to enjoy the following morning, like homemade granola, or coffee cake. "It's personal, it's not extravagant, and it shows that you really appreciate the effort that it takes to organize a party."

Pull a straight-up Garten and make one of her most giftable recipes, like her dried fruit and nut French chocolate bark, jam thumbprint cookies, or cherry pistachio biscotti. For the record, we're also a little bit in love with the Cody Foster & Co. Ina Garten ornament. Who wouldn't love it! Made of glass, glitter, and a little bit of magic, mini Ina Garten carries a plate of appetizers, adorned with the phrase, "Store Bought is Fine ..." And thanks to Garten's tips this Thanksgiving, everything else is fine, too. (Phew!)