Want to know secrets of the first families? Ask the chefs who prepare their food. Sure, there were times when presidents and first ladies requested fruit plates, or did without sweets for a week or two, but with White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier in the kitchen, they all ate his desserts.

For the Carters, Mesnier took it on himself to reduce calories -- sometimes as much as 60 percent. So desserts were things like yogurt-based pies with fresh fruit and honey and thin pastry shells. "They were very well received," he says. "Who could resist lowering calories and keeping the flavor?"

Nancy Reagan was concerned about calories as well -- but she ate Mesnier's desserts, sometimes forgoing her main course. "She wanted them small, light and beautiful," he says. "And she was right -- that's the way to eat dessert."

George and Barbara Bush were easy to please, says Mesnier -- so much so that she never wanted him to make her a birthday cake. He fooled her one year by creating a tiny little cake shaped like a wrapped gift and decorated with the music to "Happy Birthday."

Bill Clinton's dairy, chocolate and wheat allergies presented challenges, but Mesnier got around them with creations such as carrot cake with whipped topping instead of cream and spelt instead of flour, and cherry pie with a butter-free crust.

The current president is a chocolate or carrot cake and ice cream man. "He doesn't like froufrou food," says Mesnier. Laura Bush favors more dainty, sophisticated desserts -- "especially for guests."

-- Judith Weinraub

A "California Sun" birthday cake made for Ronald Reagan.