Everything the Queen eats in a day, according to royal chefs

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

[This article was originally published in 2020]

With a team of world-class chefs, access to the best food that money can buy, and dining rooms at palaces across the UK, you would have thought meal times are always prestigious in the Windsor household.

The Queen’s former chef, Darren McGrady, has drawn back the curtain and revealed Her Majesty’s private dining habits, having previously spoken about her preferred drinks.

The 58-year-old’s primary role during his 15-year tenure at Buckingham Palace was as Queen Elizabeth II’s personal chef, accompanying her on two royal tours of Australia. He also cooked for five American Presidents – Ford, Reagan, Bush Snr, Clinton, and Bush Jnr – during their state visits.

McGrady also worked for other members of the royal family – including Princess Diana, and her sons William and Harry at Kensington Palace. He was cooking for Diana on the night of her death – 31 August 1997. McGrady already had her dinner ready and waiting for her return.

In his book "Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen", McGrady has revealed the Queen’s dining preferences, her favourite meals and the things she is not a fan of on the dinner table.

How many meals does the Queen eat in a day?

McGrady says the Queen has four meals a day - but only eats small portions at each. In a series of YouTube Q&A videos, he says that during his time as her personal chef between 1982 and 1993, the Queen would eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner.

For breakfast she keeps things simple. Royal biographer, Katie Nicholl, has previously said: "HRH typically starts with a simple cup of tea and biscuits, followed by a bowl of cereal." (The Guardian previously reported she likes to keep it in Tupperware to preserve its freshness.)

This is before moving on to a lunch of grilled fish with wilted spinach or courgettes, according to McGrady. She is also partial to a simple grilled chicken with salad - a low carbohydrate option.

Then, in the late afternoon, McGrady says, the Queen will have an afternoon tea. (The Queen always has scones with jam and clotted cream - and she puts jam on first).

He explained: “She’d always have afternoon tea wherever she was in the world. We’d flown out to Australia and were on the Royal Yacht. It was five o’clock in the morning but for the Queen it was five in the afternoon so my first job was making scones.”

The queen had 20 chefs at the royal kitchen at the time McGrady was working there, he says. It was previously reportedthat the head chef would provide the Queen with a menu twice a week and then she could choose meals to her liking. McGrady confirmed the menu system was in place.

McGrady says while the Queen never directly said she didn’t enjoy a meal, she would leave a message in a notebook for the staff. “She had a little book on her desk and she would just put a note in there saying ‘I don't want this again’ or something like that,” he explains.

 (PA/PA Wire)
(PA/PA Wire)

What are the Queen’s favourite foods?

The Queen apparently has a particular love for Morecambe Bay potted shrimp on toast. In a Q&A video, McGrady said: "They're cooked and marinated in this secret spicy butter. And then the Queen would have them with warm toast, and when you spread them on the warm toast, the butter melts."

The Queen might only enjoy small portions of savoury food, but McGrady says she is a glutton for sweet. Charbonnel et Walker, Bendicks, and Prestat all hold royal warrants.

"She is absolutely a chocoholic," McGrady told Hello! magazine in 2016. "Anything we put on the menu that had chocolate on, she would choose, especially chocolate perfection pie [a layered chocolate pie with white and dark chocolate and chocolate shavings]."

One of the Queen’s favourite “guilty pleasures” during McGrady’s time as chef was a croque monsieur sandwich, with melted Gruyère, ham and whipped eggs, he said.

One of Prince Philip’s favourite dishes was reportedly salmon coulibiac, McGrady says there was always a lot of salmon to eat when the royals were in residence at Balmoral because they went fishing frequently. "There are foods that the Queen and the royal family love, though, and it's all the produce at their estate, especially at Balmoral castle."

As well as enjoying four meals – the monarch is partial to a tipple, according to the Queen’s cousin, Margaret Rhodes, who said the Queen's preferred drinks are a gin and Dubonnet or a flute of champagne.

Historic Royal Palaces

What is the most important meal at the Palace?

McGrady says that the most popular meal of the week was always Friday fish and chips.

“Everybody loved fish and chips," explained McGrady. "All the staff, 300 staff at Buckingham Palace, all of the chefs would have fish and chips for lunch. But, forget your tartar sauce and your ketchup, we loved it with salad cream. Salad cream on those French fries, on those chips."

Although the Queen reportedly had her fish and chips in a panko breadcrumb rather than traditional batter. As for her condiment of choice - Lea & Perrins, HP Sauce, and Heinz ketchup all hold royal warrants.

But the other meal closest to the Queen’s heart is not one for the humans.

McGrady told Hello! magazine: “One of the things that really, really shocked me when I got a job as the Queen's chef was that I wasn't straight away preparing banquets for kings, queens and presidents. I was actually chopping beef, liver and chicken for the Queen's [12] corgis. I later learned that was one of the most important meals of the day when it came to the Queen.”

And one of his first tasks as the Queen’s personal chef was peeling carrots for her horses at Balmoral.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Are there any foods the Queen doesn’t like?

The Queen does not enjoy strong flavours, such as garlic and onion, says McGrady. "The Queen doesn't like garlic... we could never use it at Buckingham Palace.”

McGrady says the most important thing to remember was that – unlike when you are cooking in a hotel or restaurant – you are only cooking for one person so their taste is what matters. “It was [about] cooking dishes that the queen liked – for example, you could do a beef stroganoff and if she didn't like paprika in there, it became a dish without paprika because you’re cooking for that one person.”

This also applied if Prince Philip was dining with his wife. “The Queen eats to live whereas Prince Philip lives to eat,” says McGrady. “He loves curries with lots of garlic and spices, a real foodie. But we could never do [two plates] ‘for your plate you’re going to have lots of garlic’, and ‘your plate, no garlic’, it was always down to the Queen, you have everything how she has it.”

And shellfish and rare meat are also avoided during royal visits or tours – times when the family cannot afford to be out of action with food poisoning. Former royal butler Grant Harold confirmed this rule is sensible when royals are on duty.

Does the Queen ever cook for herself?

McGrady says that while Prince Philip was an “amazing chef” and regularly enjoyed cooking on the grill and having family BBQs on the Balmoral estate, and the younger royals like William, Kate, Meghan and Harry, all enjoy cooking, the Queen herself stays out of the kitchen.

And no, the Queen was never partial to a McDonalds drive-thru either. “The Queen never ordered fast food. When you’ve got 20 chefs in the kitchen, why would you? You can call down to the kitchen and order whatever you want,” says McGrady.

What about special occasions?

McGrady told Hello! magazine that the biggest food event at the palace is Christmas. Although they go for traditional options. "It was the same meal every year," he said. "They're actually boring when it comes to festivities. They didn't do hams or anything, just traditional turkeys.

“We did three turkeys for the Queen and her family in the royal dining room, one for the children's nursery and then more for the 100 or so staff, so everyone had a Christmas lunch."

And they didn’t scrimp on dessert – the Christmas pudding would be “decorated in holly, doused in brandy, and the palace steward would carry it, flaming, into the royal dining room”.

For Mother’s Day, McGrady says the Queen “didn’t really celebrate” but she would often go to Windsor castle for the weekend and want special eggs for breakfast.

The royals do not celebrate Halloween either, McGrady confirmed.