The presidential seat is the highest office in the country. And one of its frequent responsibilities is to entertain dignitaries at formal state dinners. But it turns out that, when they weren’t practicing perfect manners in front of other high-ranking officials, most of our commanders-in-chief just wanted to eat something down-home. Yes, our presidents really loved their comfort food.
The simplicity of what many presidents craved might seem surprising, but really it’s quite humanizing. When they got a break from signing legislation, getting grilled at press conferences, flying to other nations, meeting with diplomats, and pardoning turkeys on Thanksgiving, these leaders just wanted to enjoy something simple and delicious.
Check out what was cooked up for these presidents whenever they could get their hands on it. It’s nice to know that, even when politics divide us, we can all agree on comfort food.
1. Thomas Jefferson: Waffles
Thomas Jefferson wasn’t raised on waffles for breakfast like many Americans today. Instead, it took a trip overseas to introduce our third president to this nook-and-cranny-filled food—but after that he was instantly hooked. Apparently, after returning from Holland, where he tried waffles for the first time, he immediately bought a waffle iron for his home.
2. John F. Kennedy: New England Clam Chowder
(Image: bon appétit)
No surprises here. JFK loved sailing on the New England coast, where he developed a deep love of the area’s famous clam chowder (or, as he would pronounce it, “chow-dah”). He even earned a plaque in his honor at Boston’s famed Union Oyster House. For him, this hearty blend of seafood, bacon, and potatoes made for the perfect comfort food, bringing warm memories of home during cold winter nights in Washington. (By the way, we’re pretty into New England clam chowder ourselves, for several reasons.)
3. Lyndon B. Johnson: Steak
In The Presidents’ Cookbook, Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks explained that “with the Johnsons, steak of all foods reigns supreme.” How much did Lyndon Johnson love steak? The meal at his inaugural luncheon was filet mignon, and the meal at his private dinner a few hours later was sirloin. In general, LBJ prefered simple, meaty dishes—which explains the above picture above, where’s enjoying a barbecue rib. Without a doubt, the man knew his comfort food.
4. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Hot Dogs
(Image: New York Times)
The Presidents’ Cookbook, which contains recipes and stories around U.S. presidents’ favorite foods dating back to George Washington, recounts that FDR enjoyed “typically American food.” Among his favorites? Hot dogs. It’s documented that he served them to White House guests as early as 1934, including perhaps the most written-about presidential dinner for visiting dignitaries ever: The time the Roosevelts served hot dogs to the King and Queen of England. In the above photo, he’s feeding “a merry band of reporters hot dogs.”
5. Jimmy Carter: Grits
Jimmy Carter loved grits so much that he named his dog after them. A testament to Carter’s Georgian roots, this creamy southern favorite was on the menu for his family’s first breakfast in the White House. And visitors from across the globe were often treated to a heaping bowl of grits, baked with cheese. (If all this talk of grits is whetting your appetite, try our inventive twist on a classic recipe: Blackened Catfish with Tomato Grits.)
6. Bill Clinton: All the Things
(Image: Daily News)
Even when considering the entire presidential pantheon, Bill Clinton takes the cake—and then probably eats it. Our 42nd president has long been known for loving all foods fast, fried, and greasy. Saturday Night Live even famously depicted him going for a jog… to McDonald’s. As a 1992 New York Times piece put it, Bill just “prefers the stuff with fat in it: jalapeño cheeseburgers, chicken enchiladas, barbecue, cinnamon rolls, and pies.” However, after having bypass surgery, Clinton turned his diet around and today he’s pretty much a vegan—aside from the occasional indulgence.
Happy Presidents Day! Have a favorite story about presidents and food? Tell us in the comments below!