What kinds of food are served inside a United States prison or jail?

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Prisoners are in jail for different reasons; nevertheless, just like anybody else, prisoners need to eat healthy food. The US prisons have several guidelines when planning prison food. Prison meals may be planned in a weekly or monthly basis. US jails with fewer prisoners may even plan their meals bi-monthly.

Prison meals are planned according to the allotted budget, the number of prisoners and their needs and preferences such as religious and health concerns. The usual budget ranges from $1.50-$3.00 per prisoner per day. The budget is also based on several factors as there are prisoners who may need special meals because there are foods their religion does not permit them to eat.

There are also prisoners who have medical conditions that put then on strict medical diet. They may need to provide a request or certification from their physicians indicating the type of foods that they can consume and those that should never ever be served to them. The common ailments that require certain types of diet include diabetes, various types of cancers, heart diseases, asthma and various allergies. Some prisoners with severe medical conditions may need to eat more than three times in a day. Some need to eat more vegetables, while others need food devoid of certain ingredients.

Old age is another factor that is considered when planning prison food. Older people may need more nutrients.

Prison food does not necessarily need to be tasty but has to be healthy. Meals should generally be low in sugar and salt but high in minerals and nutrients. Green leafy vegetables and beans are normally part of prison meals. They are cooked about 30 minutes before being served so as to preserve the freshness.

A typical breakfast includes a low-salt or sugar-free cookie, an apple or banana, and a cup of warm milk or hot coffee. Some prisoners may not be allowed to take coffee so tea is served to them.

The cookie may be replaced with grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich for those who can eat food with sugar or salt. Some jails serve oatmeal, cereals, doughnut, bagels, hotdogs and pancake. Meatballs, bread with margarine or jelly spread, mashed potato, oatmeal and macaroni and cheese are some of the other options for breakfast.

Typical lunch for prison may include pasta, vegetable salad, ham or sausage and loaf of bread. Half a cup of vegetables, or a serving of fruit such as apple or banana, is served with it. Cold water or juice is normally served for lunch. Sardines and other Fish dishes, white rice, meat patty, and vegetable chili are common options for lunch.

The options for dinner may include bologna, chicken liver, meat, hotdog sandwich, spaghetti or macaroni pasta, mixed vegetables and hash brown or salad. Warm tea or milk may be served.

Lima beans, mixed vegetables, Salisbury steak, chicken wings and mushroom are common options for dinner. A bag of chips, a bar of chocolate or a serving of jelly may also be served for dinner.

However, the menu still differs based on where the inmates are staying. For example, in Montana’s Butte-Silver Bow County Jail, inmates get to intake around 2,031 calories per day. For breakfast, they are given pineapple juice, 2 percent milk, coffee, ½ cup cream of wheat, scrambled eggs, and whole wheat toast with margarine. For lunch, they get green beans, whole wheat bread, mashed potatoes, roast turkey with poultry gravy and cornbread stuffing, coffee, and milk. And for dinner, they get chicken dumpling soup, 1 cup tossed salad, coffee, milk, and chilled apricots. Studies show that these are even better than what people on the streets eat!

But, it’s not the same for every other prison. In Morgan County, Alabama, some of the inmates claim that they are not being adequately fed. According to reports, the sheriff said that he would increase the amount of food the inmates are getting, but they need to have a bigger budget—otherwise, they’d have to make do with what’s being served. Basically, they get mixed vegetables or beans, chicken liver, and a slice of bread for breakfast; baloney sandwiches, and a small bag of chips for lunch, and a serving of oatmeal or grits, half and egg, and a slice of bread for dinner—definitely lesser than what a person needs in his daily life.

But the worst part is that some prisons only serve food twice a day. Gordon County Jail in Georgia is one of those. Basically, prisoners only get to eat 2 times in a day, 10 to 14 hours apart, but the sheriff and prison officers say that the inmates get an adequate amount of calories—around 2,000 to, 2,400 calories in a day. For breakfast, they get a cup of cold cereal, ½ cup canned fruit, fruit juice, 2 percent milk, biscuit, margarine, and coffee. And for dinner, they get a slice of cake, half a cup of beans, ¼ cup meat, fried rice, vitamin beverage, and 2 pieces of cornbread.

In Maricopa County, Arizona, meals only cost 15 to 40 cents each, but they do give “better” Thanksgiving meals that consist of a cup of mashed potatoes, margarine, 5 oz. turkey soy casserole, dinner roll, half a cup of fresh fruits, a piece of brownie, and a cup of glazed carrots. They also do not count calories—it’s all about choosing food that’s cheap.

As you can see, prison food is not what regular people usually eat. The decision about what to eat is not up to the prisoners—but to jail officers and sheriffs around them.

While some jails provide their inmates with a good selection of food, and the right amount of calories, there are still some jails who don’t really care about calories, and just make use of the budget that they have. And while the thought of food being nutritious is taken into consideration, it’s safe to say that you better try your best to be a good person—so you can stay out of jail, and have the chance to eat food that you really want!

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