What to Expect About Diet and Nutrition in Prison

Food probably isn’t at the top of your priority list when preparing for prison. However, once you’re serving your sentence, you’ll need to think about food daily. When you’re in federal prison, you don’t have many options regarding what you can eat. That can be a problem if you have medical, religious, or moral dietary restrictions. 

There’s only so much you can do about the availability of prison food. However, understanding how the meal system works can help prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally for your new diet and potentially request foods you can safely eat. Here’s what you need to know about prison food and what to expect if you need a specialized diet. 

How Food Is Served in Prison

In most facilities, prisoners eat together in a dining hall. Meals are provided at a serving bar, similar to a school cafeteria. You will wait in line until you reach the serving bar, where you can request servings of whatever is being served that day. You will be given water with your meal.

While meals change regularly, the specific choices you have every day will usually be limited. In many cases, you’ll only have one or two main meal options to choose from. Typical offerings may include:

  • Hamburgers
  • Hotdogs
  • Pizza
  • Fish patties
  • Rice
  • Beans 
  • Chicken
  • Pasta

If you do not like any of the food available, you cannot request something else. Most facilities also limit you to going through the line once per meal. You will need to be satisfied with the food served at that meal or supplement your diet with food from the commissary. 

The commissary is an important nutritional resource for many people in prison. You can use your commissary funds to buy supplies like:

  • Ramen 
  • Coffee
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Popcorn and snacks
  • Candy bars and chocolate
  • Protein bars
  • Jerky
  • Rice
  • Spice mixes

When nothing on the dining hall menu sounds good, you can eat the food you’ve purchased at the commissary instead. 

Eating During Prison Lockdowns or During Confinement

If the prison goes into lockdown, the dining hall will not be open. Instead, food will be brought to each prisoner in their cell. In this case, you won’t get to choose what you eat. Similarly, if you’re removed from the general population for some reason, you won’t be allowed to go to the dining hall, and food will be brought to you. 

Specialized Diets in Prison

Before serving a prison sentence, it’s essential to understand that most facilities do not offer significant accommodations for voluntary diet restrictions. For example, if you follow a vegan, paleo, or low-carb diet, you cannot request special food that fits your preferences. If you want to continue following these diets during your sentence, you’ll need to work hard and most likely spend a lot of money at the commissary to ensure you’re still eating enough. 

There are three cases in which prisons must respect your diet restrictions: 

  • Allergies: The dining hall is supposed to keep a record of documented food allergies among the facility’s population. If you list a severe allergy in your Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR), they are responsible for providing food free from allergen contamination. However, you should be cautious with food allergies and , because it only takes one slip to put your health in danger.
  • Diabetic restrictions: If diabetes is documented in your PSR, the prison should provide an alternative or supplemental “diabetic approved” meal – which is determined by the BOP and the individual facility. 
  • Kosher or halal religious requirements: The constitution protects your right to follow sincerely held religious beliefs, including dietary restrictions. If you explain that you keep kosher or halal in your PSR, the prison must ensure that you have access to food that meets these requirements in the dining hall. 

Learn What to Expect From a Qualified Prison Consultant

The most important thing to understand about food in prison is that the prison will not adjust to you. You must adjust to the food that is already there. If you’re concerned about maintaining a healthy diet or following religious rules after you’ve been sentenced, you should discuss your worries with an expert prison consultant like Tara Lenich. Tara can teach you what to expect from prison food and help you produce a PSR that ensures your medically or religiously necessary diet is respected. Learn more about how Tara can help you by scheduling your consultation with Liberty Advisors today.


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