Here's what the royal family eats for Christmas dinner

Chef, culinary instructor and caterer Darren McGrady knows a thing or two about hosting epic dinner parties: As the former chef to England's royal family — first for Queen Elizabeth II in the royal kitchen at Buckingham Palace and then as the personal chef for Princess Diana at Kensington Palace — he cooked not just for the royals, but for celebrities and dignitaries from all over the world.

After 15 years with the royal family, McGrady moved to the U.S. and became a personal chef to a family in Texas. He now runs a catering company in the Dallas area, where he helps his clients with high-end events, teaches cooking classes and leads culinary tours.

With those upper-crust credentials, you might assume that any recipes McGrady shares would be way too fussy for a home cook. But the recipes in his book, "The Royal Chef at Home: Easy Seasonal Entertaining," are approachable for cooks of all skill levels and he includes plenty of time-saving tips and make-ahead options. McGrady told TODAY Food that he wanted to showcase "recipes that were foolproof — to the standard of what I did at Buckingham Palace but doable as a home chef."

Prince William, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — aka the royal "fab four" — will spend Christmas Day together at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth's estate in Norfolk. And while McGrady never worked directly for the two couples, he is sharing five recipes that were served for many years to all the royals for Christmas dinner. (We do know, however, they will be served these gingerbread cookies.) Each dish has a connection to the royal family, but you don't need the skills of a royal chef to make them.

With a little planning, you'll be able to relax and enjoy the meal with your friends and family, instead of running back and forth between the kitchen and dining room. After all, says McGrady, your guests aren't coming over for a restaurant-style experience, but "they are coming over for your company."

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Potted shrimp — a buttery spread made with chopped, seasoned and cooked shrimp served on toast points — makes an elegant appetizer for your guests to nibble on before dinner. "At Balmoral Castle, the Queen would receive a delivery of Morecambe Bay shrimp each week to be served at afternoon tea with hot crusty Melba toast, so the spicy shrimp butter would melt into the toast," says McGrady. He calls it the "ultimate comfort food after a chilly day in the hills."

Beef Bourguignon may be French in origin but it's an English royal family favorite. McGrady would make it with a special twist by using venison from royal shooting parties around Christmas and the New Year. "Shooting lunches at Sandringham and Balmoral Castle always had to be hearty meals — lots of stews with mashed potatoes," said McGrady. "Beef bourguignon could be made with beef or with venison off the estate." He added that the Queen preferred the latter. McGrady and his team would make a batch and send it out with the shooting party in special hunting boxes designed to keep the food warm.

"The Balmoral Castle gardens were amazing and provided fresh incredible produce to the kitchens daily," said McGrady. This simple dish of Brussels sprouts cooked with onion and bacon is the perfect example of the type of dish he'd make with the bounty from the local produce. And "anything tastes good with onions and bacon," added the chef. But if you want to be really true to a royal feast, you'll have to omit one ingredient from this recipe: "Of course, we couldn't use garlic in the recipe when the Queen was at the table because she did it like it," said McGrady.

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13 foods Queen Elizabeth eats
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13 foods Queen Elizabeth eats


Queen Elizabeth II wouldn’t be very British without waking up to a piping hot pot of freshly brewed Earl Grey tea or Darjeeling with a spot of milk and no sugar, according to BT. Her morning tea is accompanied by a plate of biscuits before she sits down to eat breakfast. (Here’s why you should never call Queen Elizabeth by her name.)


You may be surprised to find that Queen Elizabeth II enjoys a normal breakfast just like any other commoner—with a bowl of cereal. Her favorite brand is Special K. That’s right, the Queen gets her cereal from a cardboard box like the rest of us! And she eats her cereal out of a plastic container instead of the million-dollar jeweled bowl you probably envisioned.

Scrambled Eggs

Sometimes, the Queen swaps out her morning cereal for a steaming hot plate of scrambled eggs, preferably brown eggs because she thinks they have a better flavor than white eggs. If she’s feeling a bit extravagant, she may ask for her eggs to be served with smoked salmon and a light grating of fresh truffle. But this added decadence is usually reserved for special occasions only. “She was too frugal to ever order fresh truffles,” Darren McGrady, a former chef for the royal family from 1982 to 1993, told the Telegraph. “She only really enjoyed them at Christmas when the truffles were sent as a gift.” (Don’t miss these nine bizarre eating habits of the royal family!)


Queen Elizabeth II didn’t become Britain’s longest reigning monarch eating fast food! In fact, she’s quite the health nut. She enjoys eating fresh fruit from her very own backyard. At Balmoral Castle, where she spends her summer holiday (aka “vacation” as it’s known across the pond) in Scotland, you’ll find bountiful raspberry, gooseberry, and strawberry bushes, while her countryside castle, Sandringham, sits on a whopping 70 acres of apples. Her favorite fruits are the strawberries from Balmoral Castle and her sweet white peaches from her greenhouses at Windsor Castle, according to the Telegraph.


If she’s residing at Balmoral or Sandringham, the Queen may request a midmorning snack of carrots from the kitchen. But the vegetables are not for her, they’re for her horses! And there’s only one way you can prepare them. The carrots must be peeled, trimmed, and topped, sliced lengthwise and in half so each carrot is of equal length. “Don’t ever cut them any shorter than that,” the former head chef told McGrady in his book Eating Royally. “Or she will blame us when the horse bites her fingers!” (Here is the adorable pet name that Prince Philip calls Queen Elizabeth.)


The Queen never takes her afternoon tea without a plate of freshly baked plain or fruit scones. Ironically, her afternoon tea is scheduled for 5 p.m., which is dinnertime for most of us! The Queen always insisted that the kitchen serve them with her tea, but McGrady suspects she may not actually like scones since she never ate them. “Instead, at the end of her daily tea, the Queen would take a scone and crumble it on the floor for the corgis,” he wrote in Eating Royally. “It seems the dogs quite liked them.”


The Queen always asks for at least two kinds of sandwiches to go along with her afternoon tea. She has a vast selection to choose from: cucumber, smoked salmon, egg with mayonnaise, ham and mustard, or tuna. The bread is always either whole wheat or white bread, sliced thinly, and cut into squares with the corners cut off similar to an octagon-like shape. “I remember early on in my career I asked a fellow chef why it was necessary to trim corners off of tea sandwiches. I was told to never cut a square or a rectangle,” McGrady wrote in Eating Royally. “It looked too much like a coffin and it meant you wished the Queen ill.” He made sure to never make that mistake during his time working the royal kitchen! (Check out your grocery store to see if you can find some of the royal family’s favorite food items.)

Jam pennies

For a sweet treat at tea, she may ask for her childhood favorite – jam pennies, tiny raspberry jam sandwiches cut into small circles the size of an old English penny. She used to snack on them with her little sister Princess Margaret in the nursery as kids, according to the Telegraph.


When she dines alone, Her Majesty likes to keep it light and simple with a plate of grilled fish and vegetables for lunch and dinner. According to McGrady, her favorite dish is grilled Dover sole with a side of wilted spinach or courgettes (what we call zucchinis across the pond). “That’s all she has. She’s very disciplined like that,” McGrady told CNN. “She could have anything she wanted, but it is that discipline that keeps her so well and so healthy.” These are the nine foods Queen Elizabeth would never, ever eat.


A popular first-course meal at Buckingham Palace is Gleneagles pâté, one of the Queen’s favorites for private meals. It’s a decadent combination of three pâtés: smoked salmon, smoked trout, and smoked mackerel, which are layered on smoked salmon fillets and sliced. The lavish dish is served with a side of Melba toast and horseradish crème fraîche, according to McGrady’s recipe from Eating Royally.


And of course, no week would be complete without a traditional British Sunday roast – a main meal of roasted meat, potatoes, and accompanied by Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, vegetables and gravy. Pheasant, grouse, partridge, beef, or venison, are just a few of the Queen’s favorite meats to splurge on for her Sunday roast. “The royals are devoted to game caught on the grounds,” writes McGrady in Eating Royally. But whatever you do, do not serve it to her rare! She likes her meats cooked all the way through. You’ll often see a well-done end slice of meat on her plate, according to the Telegraph. (This is the one royal tradition Queen Elizabeth breaks once a year.)


At 91 years old, the monarch still likes to imbibe on the occasional alcoholic beverage here and there. She usually sips on a glass of sweet German wine at dinner. But her favorite alcoholic beverage is a gin and Dubonnet (a sweet wine-based aperitif) with a slice of lemon and ice. “She doesn’t wake up in the morning and have an Elizabeth large gin and tonic,” McGrady told CNN. “Just in the evening sometimes. She certainly doesn’t drink four glasses a day.”

Chocolate cake

Despite her smart eating choices, Queen Elizabeth II does have quite the sweet tooth! A slice of chocolate cake is her guilty pleasure. The Queen will eat a slice at tea time again and again until not one crumb is left. “I have even packed half a cake into ‘Ascot boxes’ to send along with other provisions to Windsor Castle for the queen’s teas during the weekend,” McGrady wrote in Eating Royally. And she always orders her chefs to make her a chocolate ganache sponge cake for her birthday every year. According to the Telegraph, Queen Victoria’s chef concocted the recipe that has now been served at birthdays for the Queen and her family for years! “But it has to be dark chocolate, the darker the better,” McGrady told CNN. “She was never keen on milk chocolate or white chocolate.” Find out if you and the Queen have the same taste in sweets by checking out this list of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite chocolates.


"We served bubble and squeak — a traditional British dish of mashed potatoes mixed with chopped cabbage — a lot at Buckingham Palace," said McGrady. "That inspired me to create this dish using healthy and trendy kale." The mashed potatoes can be made ahead: Simply rewarm before serving (you can heat them in a casserole in the oven or in bowl set over simmering water).

This easy date and apple dessert is another dish inspired by a royal retreat. "Sandringham House had its own apple orchard and would supply the royal kitchens," said McGrady. "This rustic twist on apple pie would be perfect for Sandringham royal picnics." And don't be afraid of the word "pastry" (which can be notoriously difficult to navigate) — the dough for this one is simply mixed by hand, rolled out and then shaped with your fingers — it's OK if it doesn't turn out perfect, remember it's supposed to look rustic!

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth rides her horse in the grounds of Windsor Castle, three days after the death of her mother, in this April 2, 2002 file photo. Queen Elizabeth celebrates her 90th birthday on April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Dan Chung/Files SEARCH 'Queen 90th" FOR ALL IMAGES
Britain's Queen Elizabeth (bottom R) watches during her Diamond Jubilee concert in front of Buckingham Palace in London June 4, 2012. Pop royalty including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Elton John will entertain Queen Elizabeth on Monday on the third day of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with 10,000 ticket-holders who watching the performances live on a circular stage. REUTERS/Dave Thompson/pool (BRITAIN - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY)

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