Inaugural Meals, From Turtle Stew to Jelly Beans

Not every president ate lobster on his first day in office.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan toasts Ronald Reagan on Inauguration Day in 1985.AP Photo/John Duricka

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President Donald Trump famously munched on KFC chicken, McDonald’s hamburgers, and taco bowls during his campaign, and he picked a fast-food mogul as his labor secretary. But when it came time for his first day in office, Trump dined on haute cuisine. The three-course inaugural luncheon included Maine lobster, Angus beef, and chocolate soufflé, all washed down with California wines. You can see the full menu here.

While it comes as no surprise that a new leader’s luncheon would include such fancy fare, that doesn’t mean every president has dined in such luxury—Roosevelt faced butterless rolls at the first lunch of his fourth term, which occurred during the stark days of World War II. Here’s a quick journey through some of our past presidents’ inaugural meals:

1865: Abraham Lincoln’s midnight inaugural buffet serves foie gras, turtle stew, and leg of veal. Too bad a rowdy, drunken mob use it to start a food fight

1889: After a meal of oysters, cold tongue, and quail, Benjamin Harrison and his guests are presented with a cake replica of the Capitol building, measuring six feet tall and weighing 800 pounds.

1945: In the interest of wartime rationing, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s housekeeper, Henrietta Nesbitt, serves guests cold chicken salad, rolls without butter, coffee with no sugar, and cake with no frosting at the president’s fourth inauguration.

1957: In the short-lived tradition of “minorities dinners,” Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff serves Greek salad and gefilte fish at the president’s second inauguration.  

1977: Jimmy Carter cancels his inaugural meal so he can be the first to walk from the Capitol to the White House in the parade after being sworn in. In lieu of a lavish luncheon, his guests munch on peanuts and pretzels.

1981: Ronald Reagan relied on jelly beans to quit smoking, so for his inaugural festivities, Herman Goelitz Candy Company of Oakland, California, sends three and a half tons of cherry, coconut, and blueberry Jelly Bellies to the White House.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan toasts Ronald Regan on Inauguration Day in 1985. AP Photo/John Duricka

1993: Transition aide Richard Mintz calls the American menu at Bill Clinton’s inauguration a “cross between a Crittenden County coon supper and a formal state dinner.” 

2005: George W. Bush starts his second inaugural meal with a prayer and finishes it with a steamed lemon pudding, one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite desserts.

George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush bow their heads in prayer after being sworn in. AP Photo/Dennis Cook

2009: In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday, Barack Obama chooses a menu inspired by the 16th president’s favorite foods: pheasant, duck, and caramel apple cake.

Barack Obama toasts Joe Biden with “Special Inaugural Cuvée.” Obama White House/Flickr

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