Everything You Wanted To Know About Prison Food

1946 Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary menu

Prisons all over the world consist of thousands of inmates. These inmates serve different sentences depending on the type of crime or crimes they have committed. Amongst the major discussions that have regularly popped up regarding prisons is the food. Since prisons are run on taxpayer’s money, some people are off the view that prisoners should not be provided any type of relaxation when it comes to food.

Whereas others believe that humanity comes first and in order to turn the prisoners into law-abiding citizens, at least one chance should be given. Therefore, as food is a basic yet most important necessity of life, prisoners should be given the best quality food to eat. Over the years, several countries have updated their menus for prisoners to provide healthy meals while being cost-efficient. If you have ever wondered what inmates eat and prison food is like, give this article a read.

Food Systems In Different Countries

Prison food systems vary according to countries. What is served in the prisons of the United States is different from what they serve in the United Kingdom. Therefore, let us discuss briefly, as to how food systems differ around the world.

 United States

The prison food systems in the United States focus on preparing meals that are low on salt, sugar, and calories. In addition to that, different religious considerations and limitations are also accepted to a certain extent. Reason being, that prisons consist of prisoners belonging to different religions and ethnicities. What Christians eat might not be in accordance with what Muslims eat. Therefore, the food system has to cater to every type of demand.

The prison food debate has always remained controversial as mentioned already. Most prisons in the United States used the blast-chill method to prepare meals. This allows the prisons to prepare a large number of meals at the same time while heating them again before serving. Moreover, most jails also feature prison commissaries, where inmates could purchase ramen, peanut butter, chocolate bars, beef jerky, and other things.

In 2016, federal prisoners started offering their prisoners vegan meals during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In America, the food requirements of prisoners are protected by constitutional amendments and considered serious.

Prisoners in American state prisons are provided the following meals:

  • 2-3 ounces of meat
  • Half a cup of vegetables
  • Three-quarters of starch
  • Three-quarters of salad

In addition to that, prisoners have now come up with what is called ‘prison spreads’ by purchasing food from the prison commissary. This is largely due to prisoners never receiving fresh and adequate quality food.

Gordon County, Georgia

Korb mit Brötchen

Gordon County, Georgia serves its inmates twice a day with a difference of 10-14 hours. Even though the jail authorities state that they provide meals with the recommended daily intake but prisoners say that they deal with hunger by licking syrup packers and consuming excess water. The prisoners further added that some of them had lost substantial weight as well.

 Butte-Silver Bow County, Montana

Glass of Milk

The Butte-Silver Bow County in Montana changer their course meal after ten inmates had contacted the local newspaper regarding an inadequate amount of food being served. The jail authorities stated that the meals provided contained at least 2,031 calories per day. However, a deeper insight highlighted something very different.

Morgan County, Alabama

Cornstarch mixed with water

Sheriff Greg Barlett of Morgan County, Alabama was jailed for admitting that he deposited the $200,000 into his personal account provided for prison meals. Several inmates had sued the sheriff claiming that they were not being provided a sufficient quantity of food. Meanwhile, the sheriff admitted to the court that he could double the portion size of meals without having to significantly increase expenditures.

United Kingdom

Oatmeal porridge

The prisons of the United Kingdom back in the late 1830s used to provide a spoon, a zinc dish for broth, and a zinc bowl for milk. However, during the winters when the supply of milk became short, prisoners were provided treacle water. The rules governing food systems in the United Kingdom have always been strict.

For instance, a female prisoner who is not in the condition to work is provided one and a half broth pints and six ounces of bread. Meanwhile, a male prisoner who was in working condition would be provided two broth pints and twelve ounces of bread.

Breakfast was served at 7:30 am while lunch at noon. The breakfast consisted of milk and oatmeal porridge whereas the lunch consisted of bread and soup.


Egyptian prisons provide regular meals to their prisoners. At lunch, prisoners are served eggs, cold boiled meat pieces, white rice, vegetable soup, and chicken skinny bones. At dinner, the prisoners are served traditional Egyptian dish, which consists of vegetable oil, fava beans, and cumin. Each prison consists of a canteen from where the prisoners can buy additional food. Furthermore, the families of inmates are also allowed to bring them food.

 Why should prisoners be provided with good quality food?

Many people argue that prisoners should only be provided with basic meals. Since they have committed crimes and are in prisons for a reason, nothing special should be given to them. However, this argument ignores the basic truth. If prisoners are provided bad quality food, chances are that diseases might spread.

This as a result increases health care costs significantly, which is again paid by taxpayers. If meals provided are solely focused on cost-cutting, then the absence of the essential nutrients will result in mal-nutrition. This will add to costs in the long run and advocates say that the best way to deal with it is to put better food on the table.

List of Prison Food

Last Meal

Death row prisoners are entitled to the last meal. These prisoners usually 2 hours before their execution are allowed to consume a final meal of their choice. Studies have shown that prisoners mostly go for food items that are high in calories such as hamburgers and fries. In Texas, the last meals were limited to 20 dollars. While in other states such as Indiana and Florida, the limit was 40 dollars. The study also found that the last meals were hugely dependent on the nationalities of the prisoners.


Prisoners who tend to behave are given nutraloaf. Nutraloaf is basically a combination of meals from previous days. Although it is tasteless and cardboard-like, it contains all the essential nutrients and vitamins. Serving nutraloaf to prisoners is quite controversial as people are of the view that it is not according to the basic rights of the prisoners. However, prison authorities state that it helps reduce violence significantly.

Final Word

Even though prison food systems have progressed over the years in terms of food quality and portion but still, several prisons tend to strip prisoners of their basic food rights. Moreover, correctional facilities strongly believe that in order to transform prisoners into good civilians, providing the best food quality is necessary. Inadequate food quality could result in riots and violence in prisons, which could lead to serious consequences. Therefore, food systems in prisons need to regularly update and carefully consider the basic needs of inmates.