What’s The Skinny On Prison Food?

What’s The Skinny On Prison Food?
By Richard McDonald

Wondering what prison food is like? Prisons offer three meals a day from their kitchen. I spent eight months in a federal prison camp. All I ever heard about before I reported was how terrible the prison food was. I even heard the food was awful at the prison camp where I was going. The food wasn’t great. But it could have been worse.

Does prison food include a breakfast?

Yes. All meals follow a national calendar. Breakfast features three main items, while lunch and dinner have a 30-day menu.

Breakfast is one of the meals served in prison. The three items featured for breakfast are oatmeal, grits and cereal. The menu rotates daily. For example, the kitchen serves oatmeal on Monday, grits on Tuesday and cereal on Wednesday. And then it repeats.

There is always fruit, pastry, milk and coffee served as a side. The fruit switches between bananas, oranges and apples. The pastry is a honeybun. The milk is 2%, and the coffee comes in a kosher pack. I thought the coffee was awful. You can order better coffee from the commissary.

An incarcerated person eats prison food from a tray with a plastic knife and fork.
Image courtesy of LightFieldStudios on Getty Images via iStock.

Is lunch served daily in prison?

Yes. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. It follows a 30 day-menu, but there are three constants every week. Every Tuesday, the kitchen serves chicken patties. They are a favorite in the prison population. Wednesdays are hamburgers with fries or potato chips. Thursday is a quarter roasted chicken. This was my personal favorite. It was very comparable to the kind of roasted chicken you get at Costco or Publix.

The other days of the week rotate with items like tacos, spaghetti or pasta. Most Saturdays feature scrambled eggs with tater tots. This was another popular item. Twice a month, lunch consists of biscuits and gravy. There are little nuances, such as the gravy served with the biscuits is brown gravy. White gravy is the traditional recipe. Still, biscuits and gravy are another very popular option.

Keep in mind there is no fried food in federal prison. Everything gets baked. So, for example, the burger and fries are baked. The taste and quality is very average.

Sometimes. Dinner operates on a true 30-day menu. I thought dinner was the worst prison food. Of course, there were a few exceptions. Once a month, on a Friday, the kitchen serves lasagna. Everyone looked forward to that day.

Underwhelming options included burritos, chicken a la king and chicken “fried” rice. The chicken fried rice was never fried; it was baked instead. It only carried the title of fried on the menu.

The quality of prison food at dinner was unimpressive, but it was edible. I wasn’t served spoiled food. Unlike what you  see in the movies, I never found maggots in my food. The food wasn’t amazing, but it was not terrible.

Toward the end of my sentence, there were two cooks who had owned restaurants working in the kitchen. They spiced up the food, which made a huge difference. By utilizing their access to spices and sauces, they turned below average meals into decent meals. This was an absolute game changer. Once word got around that they were cooking, dinner became more popular.

The Takeaway:

You will have the option of eating three meals in prison. The food served in prison is not great, but it is tolerable, and, on some days, good.  Between commissary and selecting the best days on the menu, you can eat okay food in prison.

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