Picky Eater Approved

Ina Garten's Meatball Recipe Gets A “Mom” Makeover From Jennifer Garner

We all want to be Ina in the kitchen, but let's be real, Garner is way more relatable.

Jennifer Garner gives Ina Garten's meatball recipe a mom-approved spin.
Jennifer Garner/Instagram

Ina Garten is the reigning queen of cooking shows. From her breezy Hamptons lifestyle to her enviable perfect roast chicken recipe, as the kids used to say, she’s total life goals. However, for most moms, life involves mysterious shirt stains from toddlers, Legos all over the floor, and roughly 30 minutes to put together a meal for a house filled with peaky eaters who have packed after-school schedules. In the end, everyone wants to be Garten, but realistically, Jennifer Garner and her pretend cooking show on Instagram are way more relatable. Enter Garner’s take on Garten’s meatball recipe.

The Barefoot Contessa’s meatballs are delectable. Her recipe includes three types of meat, two different types of breadcrumbs, and top-tier ingredients like chianti and plum tomatoes — better known as stuff that’s not currently taking up precious shelf space in a pantry where an endless supply of Goldfish crackers reign supreme.

While Garten’s recipe is perfect for a dinner party, Garner does just enough tweaks to make an elevated meatballs-and-spaghetti night seem attainable for a simple weeknight family meal. As a mom of three — she shares Violet, Samuel, and Seraphina with ex Ben Affleck — she knows all about the juggle struggle, and she happily cooks her way through it with recipes like her next-level cinnamon sugar toast and her pared-down take on Garten’s meatballs.

With Garten’s soothing Barefoot Contessa theme music playing in the background, Garner tosses together her meatballs in-between showing off her kitchen dance moves and rescuing a baby spider. The whole video is chaotic, adorable, and just relatable enough to have you shouting, “It me.” In fact, even Garten approved, commenting: “I love this so much!!!”

Come on, if Garten gave the video a big ole like, you know Garner’s version of the Food Network personality’s classic recipe has to be good.

How is Garner’s meatball recipe different from Garten’s?

To be fair to Garten, Garner doesn’t tweak the Barefoot Contessa star’s recipe too much, but the adjustments she makes are definitely mom-friendly. Ingredients in her recipe include:

  • Ground beef
  • Ground turkey
  • Ground pork
  • Egg
  • Parmesan
  • Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil and saffron oil

(Check out Garner’s Instagram post for the full recipe, including the sauce.)

As for the Barefoot Contessa, her recipe includes ingredients that are just a tad bit fancier. You can see the full recipe at FoodNetwork.com, but here are the basics:

  • Veal
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • White bread crumbs
  • Seasoned bread crumbs
  • Flat-leaf parsley
  • Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • Egg
  • Vegetable oil
  • Olive oil

By scrapping the breadcrumbs and adding in the Italian seasoning, Garner cuts back on the number of ingredients needed to make the meatballs without compromising on flavor. That’s a big win if you need to get dinner on the table ASAP.

Can Garten’s meatball recipe be made even easier?

Even with her adjustments, Garner’s version of the meatballs still takes a few extra steps — and she makes fresh pasta, which is something even the always over-achieving Garten doesn’t bother doing in the original recipe. Being a mom means being perpetually busy, and if you need to cut a few more corners, it’s totally understandable. Try making these tweaks:

  • Just use two types of meat instead of three. Italian sausage and turkey will be just as tasty as turkey, ground beef, and sausage.
  • Add in Italian breadcrumbs for a punch of depth. You’ll need less seasoning, and they pack in extra flavor and make for a hearty dish.
  • Skip the homemade sauce. There are some truly delicious spaghetti sauces on the market these days with a limited number of ingredients that you can feel good about serving to your kids.
  • Just use box noodles. Seriously, life’s too short to make your own pasta, unless it’s something you’ve just been dreaming about trying out.

What else can you do with meatballs, aside from spaghetti?

Kids love spaghetti. You love spaghetti. Basically everyone loves a warm bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. However, even the most dedicated noodle fan needs to switch things up once in awhile, and it’s time to stop putting meatballs in a corner. Meatballs are way more versatile than anyone gives them credit for.

Instead of making spaghetti, turn meatballs into the star of the meal. Make a light tomato-based glaze (don’t be afraid to break out the ketchup) and bake them in the oven until the glaze becomes sticky. Then serve them with a side of mashed cauliflower and green beans. They’re basically baby hamburgers, so your kids will love them.

Want something even faster? Have a meatball sub or slider night. All you need is some sliced cheese, nice bread, and warm tomato sauce (which is the perfect vehicle for sneaking extra veggies into your little one’s diet), and you have a quick and easy dinner that’s also a crowd pleaser.

Let Garner’s pretend cooking show be your starting point, then go forth with Garten’s blessing and make this delicious recipe all your own.