What the President eats tells us not only about him, but also something about the state of the nation—politics, class, history, and the evolution of American culture,” says Alex Prud’Homme, food historian and great nephew and biographer of Julia Child, who is currently working on a book on the culinary history of the White House. Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy hired French chefs in times of internationalism, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s table emphasized scarcity during war years, and Ronald Reagan’s jelly beans seemed to signal much-needed optimism.
But individualism flourished as well. Jefferson was a globe-trotting gourmand; Calvin Coolidge was a picky eater; William Howard Taft, at 335 pounds, had a prodigious appetite for just about everything, including roast opossum; Richard Nixon’s last meal before resigning was a Spartan cottage cheese and pineapple; and the adventurous Barack Obama ate Vietnamese bun cha—pork and noodles—with food journalist Anthony Bourdain in a Hanoi café. Here is our fixed menu of favorites of White House eaters-in-chief.