Presidents Day is Monday, February 20, a mashup* of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12th) and George Washington (February 22nd).
You can’t, of course, sit down to a meal with a president; but you can have some of his favorite foods. You can find the favorite foods of each president here; plus some highlights below.
George Washington said about food: “My manner of living is plain, and I do not mean to be put out by it. A glass of wine and a bit on mutton are always welcome. Those who expect more will be disappointed.” He enjoyed meats, including steak and kidney pie (also a favorite of Ronald Reagan), fish and a wide variety of fruits and nuts; and beer was brewed at Mount Vernon.
However, at a Presidential dinner guests would find roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, and other meats, along with puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch. Martha Washington’s recipes include fruit cakes, sugar cakes (like cookies), carraway cakes, spice cakes, marzipan cakes, cheesecakes, lady fingers, macaroons, gingerbread, custards, pies and tarts [source]
Breakfast was simple: eggs, hoe cakes and rice waffles, along with coffee and tea, breads and toast. What about cherries? He did, indeed, love them; and no doubt enjoyed them in preserves, jellies and pies. [source]
Thomas Jefferson may be our most epicurean president. He developed a passion for French cuisine while Minister to France, and became fond of pasta and other foods while traveling through Europe. Yet, Jefferson retained his liking of local specialties: baked shad, crab, green peas, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and Virginia ham, among others. Asparagus became widely available during Colonial times, and was a particular favorite. He is also known for his wine cellar.
He brought back to America a French-trained cook (James Hemmings), the first pasta machines, Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese and waffle irons; recipes for ice cream (not yet popular in the U.S.) and served the first julienned fried potatoes (e.g., French fries). He popularized foods from the humble (macaroni and cheese) to the elegant (Champagne). When Jefferson took the Oath of Office in 1801, one of his first priorities was finding a French chef for his kitchen.
Abraham Lincoln ate what was put in front of him. During the day, he grazed on coffee, apples and other fresh fruit. He could make a dinner of bread and cheese. A teetotaler, no alcohol was served in the White House (which drew private grumbles from guests).
He did have two favorite dishes: chicken fricassee with biscuits, and oyster stew or oysters any style; and enjoyed a dessert of apple pie. He was also fond of bacon. Here’s more about his food preferences.
Skipping ahead to more recent times:
Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed stews and was a staunch meat eater, which was typical for his time. He knew how to cook, and liked to make his own beef soup. One of his favorite desserts was prune whip (here’s a recipe), along with the more ubiquitous apple pie and rice pudding.
John Kennedy was not a big eater, but he liked the standards of the day—lamb chops, steak, baked chicken, turkey (white meat) and mashed potatoes. He also was fond of seafood, baked beans and corn muffins; when he ate dessert, it was something chocolate. Lunch was often soup, a sandwich and fruit; his favorite soup was fish chowder. Like Lincoln, Kennedy was a small eater and often had to be reminded that it was dinner time.
Lyndon Johnson favored Southwestern, Mexican and especially barbecue cuisine—not unusual for a Texan. He also loved a meal of chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. He despised fish. His beverage of choice: Fresca. Breakfast often consisted of creamed chipped beef on toast and a cup of tea. For dessert: banana pudding, tapioca pudding or German chocolate cake. Johnson was also fond of canned peas and sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows. Here’s a recipe.
LBJ was a big man who often ate ravenously. Texas Governor John Connally said: “Most of the time he had no manners. He’d eat off the plate of either person on either side of him. If he ate something that he liked and they hadn’t finished theirs, he’d reach over with his fork and eat off of their plate.” [source]
Richard Nixon, a weight watcher, often had cottage cheese and fruit for lunch; he is famous for snacking on cottage cheese and ketchup. He started each day with a breakfast of fresh orange juice, half a grapefruit, cold cereal with skim milk and coffee. He loved meat loaf for dinner—a fact that engendered so many requests that the White House had the recipe printed on the back of the letterhead they sent to consumers. Here’s a recipe. [source]
Gerald Ford was a hearty eater who preferred American staples: bacon burgers, casseroles, liver and onions, pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs and spare ribs. He rarely ate dessert, but when he did, lemon pudding and butter pecan ice cream were favorites.
Jimmy Carter was not a big eater, but he enjoyed down home, southern-style dishes such as pork chops with corn bread stuffing, grits, baked and fried chicken. His favorite vegetable was eggplant; he also liked butternut squash, collards, kale and okra. It’s not a surprise that the former peanut farmer enjoyed snacking on peanuts.
Ronald Reagan liked chicken and beef dishes and hearty bowls of soup. Although the nutrition-conscious First Lady focused on fiber-rich foods and dishes with a minimum of fat and cholesterol, Reagan shared George Washington’s enjoyment of steak and kidney pie. He loved macaroni and cheese, too (here’s his personal recipe).
For breakfast, he might be treated to monkey bread, a Hungarian sticky coffee cake so-called because one pulls apart the pieces as a monkey would (it’s original Hungarian name is aranygaluska, which literally means golden dumplings). Here’s a recipe.
For dessert, Regan liked brownies, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, ice cream and pumpkin pecan pie. He liked snacking on jelly beans—especially the licorice ones (he had Jelly Belly make up a red, white and blue mix for the White House—in fact, the blue jelly bean color was created for this purpose!). Chocolate chip cookies were another favorite snack.
George H. W. Bush loved snacking on pork rinds and popcorn. He adored hot sauce. But he is better known for what he didn’t like: broccoli, which his mother served every day. He also refused to other crucifers, such as Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
Bill Clinton loved to eat, from fast food to Tex Mex (chicken enchiladas, tacos, to ribs cheeseburgers, fried chicken and roast beef. For sides, he prized his mother’s sweet potato casserole and corn pudding. He put jalapeños on his cheeseburgers.
For dessert, carrot cake, ice cream, lemon chess pie and peach pie were often on the menu. After leaving office, Clinton became a vegetarian for health reasons and became a vegan. (And he looks great!)
George W. Bush liked Tex-Mex and beef tenderloin—not surprising for a Texan—plus comfort foods like warm biscuits and chicken pot pie. He and Mrs. Bush liked spicy foods, and wanted Southwestern and Tex-Mex as often as possible, with huevos rancheros for breakfast on Sundays; and deviled eggs for snacking. For lunch, George W. liked a BLT, grilled cheese sandwiches made with Kraft Singles and white bread, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and occasionally, a burger.
Barack Obama cites pizza as his #1 favorite food; his go-to in D.C. is the deep dish cornmeal crust pizza at Pi Pizzeria (with original locations in St. Louis). He is also a chili fan, a dish that Michelle Obama converted to turkey instead of beef. He likes salmon for dinner and snacks on almonds or trail mix. Also a burger buff, he has been known to bring foreign guests to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia.
*Initially two individual holidays were for celebrated in government offices in the District of Columbia, on the actual birthdays, February 12th and 22nd. It was expanded to include all federal offices in 1885. State government offices, including schools, followed suit, followed by banks and other businesses. In 1971, the Washington’s Birthday holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February and combined with the Lincoln’s Birthday celebration to allow federal employees a three-day weekend.