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68 Christmas dinner ideas for the ultimate holiday feast

Like Santa and his reindeer, the perfect Christmas menu awaits.
/ Source: TODAY

It's almost Christmas and the number one thing on our to-do list (besides buying the tree, wrapping presents and decorating the house) is planning the Christmas dinner menu. Thanksgiving may have just passed, but it’s time to start planning which recipes you’re going to cook for Christmas dinner.

Whether you're hosting a big holiday party, having family or friends over Christmas night or having a more intimate dinner beside the fireplace, nailing a festive holiday dinner menu is everything. Once you've selected the appetizers, such as a nice comforting soup or salad, side dishes and, of course, the main course, it will be so much easier to make a grocery list and shop for nonperishables and must-haves as early as possible. No one wants to have to run around to a few different grocery stores looking for puff pastry two days before the holiday.

If you plan to serve a crowd, we have plenty of helpful party planning tips to follow, especially around the holidays. For example, if you have the entertaining house in the family and you're hosting a big Christmas Eve dinner on Dec. 24 or Christmas brunch or breakfast, select easy crowd-friendly recipes, like a slow-cooker beef stew or a prime rib roast, that allow you to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your loved ones. Something like that feels refined yet requires little work cooking and, served with a simple salad, can be plenty to impress guests. After all, they’ve come to your house to spend time with family, not eat a five-star meal. Once you’ve selected the right entrée for your party, you can start thinking about desserts and cocktails.

Whatever you choose, the important thing is that everyone enjoys themselves — including the host. After all, it's a menu fit for merrymaking!

Appetizers and hors d'oeuvres

Ina Garten has long been known for her most popular recipes such as Engagement Roast Chicken, Beatty's Chocolate Cake and Outrageous Brownies, but these savory crackers are edging their way into the top of the list. Of course, Ina wouldn’t dare make a complicated recipe — especially one designed for easy holiday entertaining. Anyone can make these four-ingredient crackers and subsequently wow party-goers.

Fig and Goat Cheese Toasts

The beauty of making crostini for a holiday party is their ease and versatility. Can’t find fig jam or fresh figs? No problem! Swap in any kind of fruit you like and know that this bite-sized appetizer will still be a winner.

Roasted Olives with Orange And Rosemary

Big green Castelvetrano olives are delicious prepared this way, but any meaty olive will do well. The briny, salty flavor bursts when cooked alongside garlic cloves and lively citrus.

Giada De Laurentiis likes to whip up these crostini when guests stop by. "The poached pears are especially comforting as the weather gets cooler," she says. "They're easy to make and always delight a crowd."

These inventive bites turn a classic bloody mary cocktail into a delectable appetizer. They're a refreshing departure from the usual party fare, are so fun to dip and they're vegan, too!

Delicata squash rings are roasted, tempura-dredged, fried, then stuffed with a simple salad of raw pear, dried cherries, feta cheese and a few sprigs of arugula. The result is a sweet yet savory wonder, perfect for a starter or perhaps a decadent side dish on a holiday table.

Martha Stewart's Kale-Ricotta Dip

Most greens work well in this addictive dip recipe: Spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collards, beet greens, and turnip greens each contribute their distinctive flavor, all with slightly different results.

Fancy Gougères

It is so easy to enhance a traditional Pate a Choux recipe by simply adding grated cheese and pepper to the dough. It's the perfect vehicle for an easy, elegant appetizer. Be sure to brush the tops of the puffs with egg wash before baking for a beautiful, glossy crust.

Baked Clams

Baked clams are an impressive and delicious first course for Christmas. They're an elegant option that don't require too much work to make. Yet the result is a wonderful seafood dish that can be passed around or served at the dinner table.

Fritto Misto (Fried Seafood and Vegetables)

Who doesn't love crispy fried food? This mix of fried seafood and vegetables is a classic Italian dish that's perfect for an Italian Christmas dinner, especially when entertaining.

Flaky, crisp phyllo dough, tender asparagus with a cheesy, salty filling — this easy-to-make appetizer will definitely be a hit at any holiday dinner.

Twice-Baked Potato Bites

Who knew that the humble new potato could be turned into shell casing for a bullet of flavor? These little bombs of cheesy, buttery flavor are a great way to fuel up for the holiday season.

This is a great recipe for family snacks any time of year but is especially fun for the holidays to counter the abundance of sweet snacks. The cranberry mustard is also great served with roasted turkey or pork and added to leftover sandwiches.

Martha Stewart's Baked Brie with Boozy Fruit Compote

Martha Stewart's show-stopping, gooey baked brie is perfect for cocktail hour. "Your goal is to welcome guests with nibbles, not fill them up too much before the main event," she says. It's a perfect board to adorn with red-colored fruits and green herbs to make it as festive as you want.

Root Vegetable and Feta Bruschetta

The layers of flavor from this caponata are simple but powerful, while the salty bacon, capers and sweet raisins provide a nice variety of textures.

Baked Clams Oreganata

Baked clams oreganata are a wonderful, fresh seafood to serve before a meal on Christmas night. Delicate, but also packed with flavor, these little jewels from the sea are great as a starter or a main attraction.

Potato pancakes are a favorite holiday dish of Ina Garten's husband Jeffrey. Her secret for the crispiest and creamiest ones is to combine both grated and mashed potatoes.

Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

These crab-stuffed mushrooms may look totally decadent, but they're actually light and airy, which means they're an ideal way to start a holiday celebration. And don't be shy about making a big batch — even if they're just for you and your loved ones.

Spicy Crab Dip

Alex Guarnaschelli's crab dip is such a great option for gatherings and get-togethers because it is so versatile. "I really like to maximize an expensive ingredient like crab and dip is a smart and tasty way to do just that," she says. "Buy really great quality crabmeat so it is front and center in the dish. But, if you do not like crab, swap it for chicken! If spicy isn't your thing, omit the cayenne pepper and Tabasco."

Goat Cheese Toasts

Whenever Ina has leftover baguette, she likes to slice it diagonally and keep it in the freezer. "This way I can make these cheesy toasts in minutes," she says. "Toast the bread slices, then add the garlic and goat cheese. They're perfect to serve with drinks or as a crouton to float on top of a bowl of soup."

Soups and salads

This creamy winter soup contains nutty chestnuts with sweet celery root and apples. It'll set a smooth tone for the rest of the meal. Bonus: It can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen so it's ready when you are.

Miso-White Bean Stew

Paired with the earthy beans, fresh greens, whole grains and fragrant aromatics, the combination is much greater than the sum of its simple — and healthy — parts. Plus, the Parmesan rind adds a cheesy kick for a touch of indulgent flavor.

This recipe is so full of flavor. Fresh garlic, onions and ginger build the foundation of this soup. The coconut milk brings richness, and the miso paste provides a well-rounded depth of flavor that can't be beat.

One-Pot Potato Leek Soup

All the magic happens in just one pot for this recipe — allowing for minimal mess and super easy cleanup. The bright oniony flavors of the leeks and chives perk up the starchy potatoes. It can also be made ahead, frozen and reheated on Christmas Eve.

Lidia Bastianich gives French onion soup an Italian makeover. Mushrooms add an extra layer of earthiness to the soup while slow-cooked caramelized onions add deep flavor. Toasty bread, melty fontina and nutty Grana Padano provide the perfect crunchy, cheesy topping.

Sunny Anderson's Brussels sprout salad has the big flavors of the holidays — cranberries, pecans, rosemary, nutmeg — while still being fresh and light. It's a refreshing reprieve from all the heavy eating of the rest of the meal.

Kale Salad with Crispy Breadcrumbs

Kale is a hearty green that does well even in cold temperatures. Prepared with crispy breadcrumbs, a little salty cheese and rubbed in oil until tender, this kale salad is a keeper.

Giada's Crispy Orzo Salad

This chopped antipasti salad has a twist that takes it to the next level: crunchy orzo! It is crispy, crunchy, refreshing and satisfying all at once.

Insalata Verde

Get The Recipe

Insalata Verde

Jody Williams and Rita Sodi

"We are devoted to this salad. We eat it every day. We crave it, in fact, and it is at our dining table nightly," say Rita Sodi and Jody Williams.

Entrées

Marinated Skirt Steak

If you want to host a more budget-friendly Christmas dinner, skip the beef tenderloin or lamb loins in favor of skirt steak. It’s an economical cut that’s loaded with flavor.

Roasted Spatchcock Chicken

Spatchcocking chicken or turkey seems intimidating at first, but once you try it, you’ll never go back to roasting one whole again. That’s because it cuts the cook time in half and delivers crispy skin all over. What’s not to love?

Spiral Ham with Pineapple-Aleppo Glaze

This Aleppo glaze is super flavorful and very versatile. Try it on other proteins, like chicken and salmon. It adds just a touch of heat but keeps the ham moist and sweet.

Holiday Prime Rib Roast

Cooking a prime rib roast — especially for company — can be intimidating. Impress without the stress with this no-fail guide to putting a perfect prime rib roast on the table.

This versatile, tasty cut of beef gives us everything you could ask for in meat. It's wonderfully tender and the marbling keeps it incredibly moist while cooking. The sauce for this recipe is incredibly comforting, too.

Make a hearty pot of red wine-braised beef stew to make whomever you're cooking for a happy camper. It's also super simple to make ahead of time (it can be frozen, too) and warmed up when the festivities are about to commence.

Golden Root Vegetable Potpie

This creamy potpie is the perfect holiday meal, especially for vegetarians, as it's comforting and hearty — without any meat. The flexible mix of vegetables means you can try something new from the farmers market or use up any veg-drawer stragglers. Baking the puff pastry separately keeps it from getting soggy.

In this decadently creamy meatball dish flavored with allspice, Joy Bauer put her own loving spin on the Swedish meatballs from a world-famous furniture store (you know the one). It's an absolute crowd pleaser that feels festive, too.

Italian Seafood Stew (Zuppa di Pesce)

This recipe for zuppa di pesce (Italian fish soup) is loaded with shrimp, clams, mussels, sea bass and calamari in a lightly spiced tomato white wine broth with cannellini beans.

Guisado Chicken Potpie

"This dish has so many of the flavors I grew up on," says Kwame Onwuachi. "The Puerto Rican-style chicken stew adds depth and richness that will blow a traditional casserole out of the water."

Once you've soaked the salt cod, this Italian baked fish with potatoes, olives, capers and garlic comes together quickly and easily.

Lamb is traditionally associated with Easter but this elegant dish is also perfect for a Christmas feast. "This slow-cooker meal is one I make for my family on Sundays," said Al Roker. "It's perfect because you can prep in the morning, spend time with the family and then have a finished meal waiting for you eight hours later." Sounds like a Christmas miracle!

Although it's made with just a handful of ingredients, this pork tenderloin looks (and tastes!) very impressive. Pork tenderloin is a very lean cut of meat, meaning this simple recipe is healthy, too. You can use any combination of onions you like, as long as you have about eight cups in total.

Cider-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Plum Chutney

This roast pork with hard apple cider will fill your home with a wonderful aroma. Your guests will thank you. A million times over.

Lobster Meatballs

These lobster meatballs are a decadent combination of upscale-meets-low-key. Whether you serve them a la carte or over your favorite pasta, everyone at the party will be impressed.

Slow-Cooker Glazed Ham

The folks over at Honey Baked Ham may have their recipe down to a science but it's surprisingly easy to make a beautiful ham at home ... especially if you let your slow cooker do the heavy lifting! This simple method ensures a show-stopping centerpiece that is tender and full of flavor. Topped with a sweetly spiced mustard glaze, every slice is dressed to impress.

Celebrate Christmas the Italian way. This classic dish is surprisingly simple and incredibly easy to make in a crockpot.

Short Ribs Braciole

This tender meat dish is a no-brainer since it's a crowd-pleasing main course for Christmas. The meat literally melts in your mouth and the mouthwatering gravy is perfect over pasta or polenta.

Enjoy yourself with this vibrant roast turkey breast that gets smothered in an herbacious apricot butter. Glazing it at the end provides a festive hue that looks gorgeous on a platter of citrus and pomegranate.

"I love this recipe because it's so fresh and easy! I can prep my ingredients ahead of time and just put everything together in a matter of minutes right before serving," Curtis Stone says about this ideal-for-entertaining dish.

Pork Chop Agrodolce

These chops have a balanced rich flavor (agrodolce means "sweet and sour") and they're made without the addition of a lot of unnecessary fats.

Giada's Slow-Cooker Beef Stew

Giada gives beef stew an Italian spin with the addition of Marsala wine and sun-dried tomatoes. Depending on the slow-cooker setting being used, this stew will take up to eight hours, but we promise it's worth it.

Kardea Brown puts her own twist on her grandmother's holiday ham with Cajun seasoning. Pro tip: She uses the leftovers to make biscuits and gravy the next day.

Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana is the definition of classic Italian comfort food. The crispy breaded cutlets, bright tomato sauce and melty cheese make it irresistibly delicious, warming and satisfying. The leftovers also make some of the best sandwiches.

"I absolutely love meatballs, but I'm very picky. I like them flavorful, light and fluffy. When I tasted my mother-in-law's meatballs, I fell in love," says Dylan Dreyer. "The recipe actually comes from my husband's great-grandmother from Sicily. She made sure to teach my mother-in-law (who's very Irish) how to make proper meatballs. And now that I've got the recipe, I'm sharing with you."

Side dishes

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

No Christmas dinner is truly complete without mashed potatoes, and these are practically perfect. Made with a combination of butter, milk, and cream cheese, they’re ultra-creamy, down to the very last scoop.

Next time you go grocery shopping, don’t overlook delicata squash. This winter squash variety is easy to work with and delicious when roasted simply and sprinkled with Italian seasoning and grated Parmesan.

Once you get a hang of the mandoline, this is a great family holiday meal that is easy to make. It's a fun spin on a classic gratin. It's a wonderful recipe to make with the kids, something you can assemble together. Also, gratin is the ultimate leftover dish, so easy to reheat and eat the next day.

Skillet Lasagna

"I love this recipe because it is a complete meal that is quick and easy to make," says Lidia Bastianich. "It really brings people to the table with its rich flavors, and one pot makes enough to feed four people."

This dish is super simple to make, with the pomegranate seeds adding a touch of tart and juicy flavor. It works as a fresh break during a heavy holiday meal.

This delicious dish so aromatic that it makes a great textural complement to meaty dishes like the Short Ribs Braciole, but also hearty enough that pasta lovers will likely be flocking to this plate, too!

Cacio e Pepe Roasted Potatoes

Whether you're making these for a holiday party or an Italian Christmas dinner, these cacio e pepe potatoes are easy to throw together with just a few ingredients. All you're doing is roasting the potatoes on a sheet pan and making an easy, three-ingredient cream sauce, but your guests will think it took a lot more effort.

Broccolini is a hybrid between broccoli and Chinese kale. Besides looking a little more elegant than traditional broccoli, it has a unique taste that is more bitter and slightly peppery. All you need to do is toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper, toss it on a sheet pan, and roast it to perfection. Side dishes don't get any easier than this!

Berbere-Roasted Carrots with Oranges

Holiday meals are hearty and heavy, which is why we look forward to them so much every year, but it's also important to break up those nap-inducing dishes with some fresh citrus flavors, mint and veggies.

Roasted Carrots, Spiced Yogurt and Pistachios

This roasted carrot dish has been a favorite since Jody Williams and Rita Sodi opened New York's Via Carota and they don’t dare take it off the menu. They add a crunch of pistachios and cumin, not traditionally Italian — this is Jody’s tweak.

Stouffer's-Style Macaroni and Cheese

This recipe is inspired by Stouffer's macaroni and cheese and delivers the best of all worlds: creamy, saucy, comfort, with a consistency that's slightly more set than a stovetop version, thanks to a final bake in the oven. It stays voluptuous and molten as a result of a higher ratio of sauce to noodles, which are cooked completely so they don't soak up as much liquid.

Wild and wintry flavors come together in this stuffing made with rice instead of bread. Savory sausage and melty cheeses gives it a distinctly Italian flavor.

Goat Cheese and Chive Biscuits

"Billowy biscuits are my favorite for both sweet and savory dishes, but sometimes I want biscuits with a savoriness that also offers a more aromatic experience. Adding chives and goat cheese to the biscuits does just that while retaining the crunchy exterior and light, airy interior," says Maya-Camille Broussard.

Candied Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup

Here's a simple way prepare a favorite holiday side: Just bake the potatoes, peel and slice, then drench them in a butter-cider-maple syrup mixture that's been seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and orange zest. Bake until bubbly and the edges brown.