When I was first asked to follow Queen Elizabeth’s diet for a week, I was so excited. I envisioned heaping plates of juicy roasts, creamy mashed potatoes, fresh baked bread, and decadent chocolate cakes. (How I, a junior editor making pennies, thought I was going to afford these extravagant spreads is a neither here nor there). But when I learned Queen Elizabeth isn’t known for her appetite, I was crestfallen. Her former personal chef Darren McGrady told The Telegraph back in 2015 that the Queen is “no foodie,” and she “eats to live,” rather than lives to eat.
Now, normally, I wouldn’t trust anyone who views food as a means of survival rather than the best part of her day, but since Queen Elizabeth is in incredible shape and, at 92 years old, could probably run circles around me, I figured maybe she knew something I didn’t. As I started to research the monarch’s diet, however, I began to panic. Her diet is painfully monotonous, following the same daily formula: tea and cereal for breakfast, protein and veggies for lunch and dinner, with an afternoon tea sandwich snack break. She abstains from all breads, pastas, and starches. I don’t think she even uses ketchup.
My world shook as I read through her painfully bland menu. This is the only woman in the world without a passport or driver’s license who has traveled internationally and driven, respectively— to say she’s powerful would be an understatement. All that power with global delicacies at her fingertips, and yet she chooses Special K daily? I was bereft.
If my abject horror at the idea of eating grilled chicken and steamed veggies for a week didn’t tip you off, I really love food. My affinity for dipping sauces and my tendency to fix a plate like a painter’s palette with a dollop of every sauce available earned me the nickname of Condiment Queen in college. Sure, maybe not a queen of the same caliber, but a queen nonetheless. I was in for a rough week.
Day 1 started with a simple, but surprisingly tasty breakfast.
Queen Elizabeth starts her day with a cup of tea– Earl Grey specifically—with no added sugar or milk. Have you ever drank tea without sugar? As I actively avoid drinking anything that tastes like warm grass, I typically do not. I choked it down, thankful that at least she caffeinates in the morning.
The Queen hops between three breakfast choices on any given day: cereal with fresh fruit, toast with marmalade, or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a grating of truffle. Since I’m not a Rockefeller, I opted for cereal (I went with generic cornflakes since that’s what I had on hand) with blackberries. It was actually a really nice departure from my typical breakfast of hard boiled eggs, and I’m sure my deskmates didn’t miss the smell.
Day 2 involved a snack that was hard to eat.
After pinching my nose and throwing back a bitter cup of tea, followed by a bowl of cornflakes and strawberries, I treated myself to grilled chicken with broccoli from the building cafeteria. It was plain and flavorless, and I desperately wanted to douse my plate in BBQ sauce. I was ready to cave, but as I reached for the bottle I keep in my desk drawer–yes, you read that right–I thought of spry Queen Elizabeth, still healthy and active at 92. I powered through the rest of my dry chicken breast, grumbling to myself.
Each day at 5 p.m. precisely, the Queen indulges in high tea, where she treats herself to a full afternoon spread. There’s more tea (ugh), scones, and finger sandwiches. According to her former butler, the Queen used to toss the scones under the table for her corgis to feast on, so I knew the only part of her spread that actually sounded enjoyable was out.
Making these cucumber sandwiches was pretty easy. Following Queen Elizabeth’s rules for finger sandwiches (no crusts and never cut rectangularly lest they resemble coffins and bring her bad luck), I assembled my afternoon snack with whole wheat bread, sliced cucumber, and cream cheese. It was… gross. I don’t believe cream cheese belongs on un-toasted wheat bread, but I ate the entire thing anyway.
Day 3’s dinner was one of the highlights of the week.
Since it was one of the only meals I actually enjoyed eating over the last few days, I stuck to my breakfast of cereal and berries. I skipped the tea today; let the fact that I chose to forgo caffeine serve as testament to my dislike of sugar-less tea. For lunch, I had a pork chop with zucchini–or courgettes, as the British call them. Three days in and the most I can say is that I just miss flavor. Queen Elizabeth abhors garlic to the point that it’s banned from Buckingham Palace. As an Italian, I take personal offense to this, and struggled to go without it.
I also skipped afternoon tea this day. I just didn’t feel like washing down cream cheese and cucumbers with bitter tea for a third day in a row.
I was, however, looking forward to dinner. The two previous nights were filled with more tasteless grilled chicken and limp, steamed veggies. I missed potatoes. While they didn’t fill the french fry-shaped hole in my heart, these meaty pieces of salmon filled me up nicely, and I even had leftovers for lunch the next day.
Day 4 featured a delicious, easy-to-make snack.
Today, I decided to make jam pennies–circular sandwiches with a thin layer of butter and raspberry jelly cut into a circle the size of an old English penny—for high tea. Since I didn’t know the size of an English penny and Google images was less than helpful, I winged it and kept them a little bigger than Kennedy half-dollar coins. They were really good. These were infinitely better than the cucumber sandwiches. So much so that I devoured them before taking a picture.
Breakfast was the same as usual and I had leftover salmon for lunch with a small side salad from the building’s cafeteria. I wish I could say that I only cheated on my royal diet with salad dressing but, alas, I caved and had boxed mac and cheese for dinner. I was out of chicken and didn’t want to head to the grocery store. Eating meats and fish for lunch and dinner every day was starting to get expensive, especially when I normally subsist on a diet of rice, beans, and pasta. I was a little disappointed in myself, but promised myself I’d be better tomorrow, which was also my last day on the challenge.
The final day meant drinking my last cup of Earl Gray tea—ever.
As I finished my final cup of Earl Grey, I decided I’d never drink it again and tossed the box in the trash (I mean, it was empty, but it was cathartic nonetheless). For lunch, I headed down to the building’s cafeteria, sadly forgoing the taco station and instead asking the person manning the grill to fire up a piece of chewy chicken for me. As I filled my container with an array of veggies, I consoled myself with the fact that I’d soon be reunited with my one true love, barbecue sauce.
For high tea, I had a few more jam pennies. I regret trying them for the first time on day four of five, since they were the only food of the day that I truly enjoyed.
My boyfriend made hamburgers for dinner. Queen Elizabeth sometimes has red meat for dinner in the form of pot roast, but since all we had was ground beef, I thought that would be acceptable. I asked him to make mine well-done, since the Queen doesn’t like rare or medium meat, and without cheese, since she avoids dairy (and, apparently, fun). I watched wistfully as my boyfriend loaded his burger with ketchup, but perked up when I realized this was most likely the last time I’d eat a bun-less burger against my will.
The Queen’s meal plan reminded me of past, restrictive eating habits I used to lose weight.
I complained a lot during my week on the royal diet. I missed carbs and dairy. I missed garlic. I missed coffee. I’m clearly a creature of habit, but I think some of my complaints were fair. For one, I’m not a skilled cook, so while I’m sure Queen Elizabeth’s chef served only the juiciest chicken breast, I overcooked mine and ended up with a chewy piece of meat.
This week also brought me back to the days when I used to calorie count in high school. Back then, I subsided on grilled chicken or fish, tons of veggies, no added sugars, and restricted myself from the foods I really enjoyed. Although I did it this week for purposes much different than I did as a weight-obsessed teenager wrecked by diet culture and societal norms, I found myself slipping into those same thought patterns. “I may hate what I’m eating, but maybe I’ll lose a few pounds.” When I caved and ate the mac and cheese, I felt like a failure, the same way I felt back when I’d break my diet in high school.
If this week eating like royalty taught me anything, it’s that you should follow a diet that works for you. If Queen Elizabeth is happy with her weekly menu, then who am I to tell her otherwise? Personally, I’m much happier when I can mix foods and flavors, eating the things I like in moderation. Most importantly, though, I learned that I truly despise the taste of plain tea. How’s that for self-discovery?