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Inside the royal family's ultra-indulgent Christmas Day menu - including a dish you'd never expect

Former royal chef Darren McGrady said: 'It's your modern day Downton Abbey!'

Royal family christmas day meal
Ainhoa Barcelona
Content Managing Editor
Updated: 20 December 2023
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The royal family enjoy feasting on delicious foods on Christmas Day just as much as the rest of us – and festivities inside the royal residences certainly aren't done by halves.

Former royal chef Darren McGrady, who has worked for the late Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana, has cooked around seven Christmas dinners for the royal family during his career.

From an indulgent breakfast, to a hearty traditional lunch, Afternoon Tea, and a festive evening feast, there's a lot in store for the likes of the Prince and Princess of Wales, King Charles, Queen Camilla and Co on the menu for Christmas Day.

WATCH: 5 foods the royal family never eat

To kick off a day full of decadent foods and togetherness, the men and women of the family actually eat separately.  

According to Darren, the men are served up a a full English breakfast, including eggs, bacon, mushrooms, kippers and grilled kidneys. The royal ladies, however, are said to enjoy "a light breakfast of "sliced fruit, half a grapefruit, toast and coffee delivered to their rooms". The family then traditionally visit church before returning for lunch.

Princess Anne in a red coat outside with the royal family© Danny Martindale
Princess Anne is said to be a fan of smoked fish, particularly kippers for breakfast

"It was the same meal every year," Darren has previously told HELLO!. "They're actually boring when it comes to festivities! They didn't do hams or anything, just traditional turkeys. We did three turkeys for the Queen and her family in the royal dining room, one for the children's nursery and then more for the 100 or so staff, so everyone had a Christmas lunch." 

Charles with the Wales children on Christmas Day 2022© Getty
The royal men and women are said to eat separately on Christmas morning before reuniting at Church

According to Darren, the Queen and senior royals would dine in the main room, while the young Princes and Princesses would eat in the nursery, looked after by their nannies.

"The children always ate in the nursery until they were old enough to conduct themselves properly at the dining table," said Darren. "So for the Queen, there was never a case of putting a high chair at the table with a little baby squealing and throwing food. It was Victorian. The children's place was in the nursery and Nanny would take care of them. It's your modern-day Downton Abbey."

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Darren McGrady cooked around seven Christmas dinners in his career

The family would dine on "turkey, different stuffings – sage and onion, chestnut – and the traditional sides like roast potatoes, mash potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts," added Darren, and then Christmas pudding for dessert. 

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Traditional foods such as turkey, stuffing and roast potatoes are served at Christmas

"The pudding was made in pudding basins, turned out, decorated in holly, doused in brandy and then the palace steward would carry it, flaming, into the royal dining room," said Darren. "It was so traditional."

After lunch, the royals would go for a walk around Sandringham Estate, then come back to watch the Queen's speech. This year marks a first for King Charles, who will be delivering his first Christmas speech since acceding to the throne. 

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Royal children sit in a different room for Christmas lunch

"Not long after they'd go in for afternoon tea," said Darren. "It was always the chocolate Yule log, which was a twist on the chocolate birthday cake, scones, mince pies, different types of sandwiches and the Christmas cake.

"We'd make one big Christmas cake for the Queen and the royal family and then another smaller one for the nursery for Prince William, Prince Harry, Zara, Peter, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. It was always fruit cake – royal icing, marzipan and the traditional fruit cake."

The royals attending church on Christmas Day© Getty
The royals have an indulgent day of eating on Christmas Day

The last meal of the day would be the evening buffet, which Darren describes as "even more elaborate" than lunch. It was also the only time the Head Chef would go into the dining room to carve the meat. 

"The buffet was when they brought out the whole spread," said Darren. "When I was there, Harrods would always give them a whole foie gras en croute. They'd have a whole Stilton cheese. We'd take the top off, pitchfork the top and pour port into it. It made this gorgeous spread for the crackers. It was really opulent. There was also a big York ham that was decorated."

Kate Middleton in a cream jumper decorating a Christmas tree© Kensington Palace
The royal family traditionally spend Christmas Day at Sandringham House

King Charles made the decision to ban foie gras in all royal residences, so now, an alternative would be served on the spread. 

"Then after carving all of the meat, the Queen would then ask the steward to pour the Head Chef a drink and he'd get a whisky and they'd toast him and say thank you, and that was them saying thank you for the whole year."

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Previous royal dinner menus have included mince pies and brandy butter

Darren, author of Eating Royally, also worked for the late Princess Diana until her death in 1997. He saw the boys, William and Harry, grow up at Kensington Palace. His favourite memories, naturally, involve the People's Princess. "I always used to enjoy when Princess Diana was there," said Darren. "She'd come into the kitchen and she used to love the crepe soufflé dessert. I'd always put that on the menu because I knew it was her favourite.

"She would have lunch and then – bless her – she would come down into the kitchen once everyone had left the table and say, 'Ooh, is there any of the crepe soufflé left?' When the tray came back I'd always put it in the warmer because I knew she'd be down. She said, 'I love this pudding and I'm too scared to ask for seconds in front of the Queen!'"

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