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Menus and Nutrition


The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) Food Program provides three meals a day to thousands of incarcerated people in eleven state-corrections facilities, as well as medical diet versions, nutritional supplementation when required, religious-appropriate options, and meal service flexibility during facility operational adjustments. Meals are made onsite, most often from scratch. The Food Program strives to utilize its full funding for food to provide satisfying and balanced meals for a diverse group of people while minimizing wasted food.

Food Services

The Food Service workforce consists of employed residents led by qualified staff, who train, coordinate meal activities for meal timing and proper quantities, and ensure that food is safe, good quality, and in adequate portions. All adult men’s facilities run the same menu. The women’s facility, the juvenile facility, and the boot-camp facilities have their own versions of this menu. The current menu item selections depend on nutritional goals, regional fare, seasonality, resident input, availability, and affordability. Holiday menus for the eleven (11) state-observed holidays are designed as two large meals (brunch/dinner) versus three regular meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner) at most facilities.

Food Funding Level

The DOC’s food budget is a set amount per facility based on the population count housed there. Efforts are underway to request an increase to reflect the rising costs of national food supplies. To purchase the large quantities required to feed adults a palatable and nutritious diet, the Food Program seeks out affordable opportunities on foods through volume discounts, the manufacturer secondary market, and non-branded supply chains. Menus utilize as much scratch cooking as possible to take advantage of less expensive healthy ingredients like turkey and chicken, dried beans, peanut butter, eggs, potatoes, tomato sauce, rice, oatmeal and seasonal or frozen produce. Onsite gardens are small and without funding but can offer minor quantities of staple vegetables and fresh herb enhancements with an outdoor opportunity for those residents tending the plants.


The DOC offers a pro-nutrition approach to meals balanced with the popular and comfort foods that are always requested. At the standard adult male and female facilities, residents can choose between two menu options on a meal-by-meal basis. The first choice is called the General menu which serves common American and ethnic dishes and provides 2,600-2,800 calories daily for the men; 2,000-2,200 calories for women; and is structured after current Dietary Guidelines for Americans levels*. Typical entrees include stroganoff, tacos, burgers, stir-fry, fajitas, spaghetti, BBQ on bun, roast turkey and fish.

Calories are generous on the general menus so that the majority of residents can meet their core nutritional needs, even if personal choices are made by some to not consume everything that is served daily.

DOC’s General Menu Plan Parameters:

Average weekly calorie range

2,600-2,800 kcal

2,000-2,200 kcal

Daily calorie minimums

2,400 kcal

1,800 kcal

Sodium sources and

Trans-fat free margarine

Free-form salt removed from recipes; most condiments on side

Same as for men

Fruit/Vegetable servings

6 or more per day

Same as for men

Whole grain servings

Offer 2 or more per day

Same as for men

Protein goal per meal

>25 grams/meal

Same as for men

Milk servings

2 fluid milk servings/day

3 fluid milk servings/day

Dessert usage

Limited to once per day

Same as for men

Sweetened cereal frequency

Limited to twice per week

Same as for men

Compared to established* daily needs:

Daily national calorie goal

2,000-2,600 kcal

1,600-2,000 kcal

Daily national protein minimum

56 grams

46 grams

*Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, 9th ed. developed by the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the USDA.

DOC’s Alternative Menu Plan Parameters:

The second menu option available to adult residents, called the Alternative menu, offers ovo-lacto vegetarian-based meals and is considered the “healthier choice” menu because of the lower fat and sodium content, as well as serving fewer calories and limited carbohydrates but with greater fiber levels. These meals are a good option for diabetes, cardiac disease, weight control, and navigating around food allergens or religious dietary concerns. Typical meals include beans & rice, egg dishes, cheese pizza, topped baked potatoes, soy tacos, peanut butter noodles, yogurt and plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This menu also does not offer sweetened cereal or desserts and utilizes sugar-free breakfast condiments.

Dietetic Services

Registered Dietitians (RD’s) are on duty at the Central Office and support the agency’s health goal of proper nutritional care as a collaboration of both medical and food services. Dietitians co-write and review all menus based on national dietary guidelines and offer education and consulting for a variety of nutrition-related health concerns. The RD’s create specific menus when necessary for significant medical conditions, such as chewing difficulties, chronic kidney disease, cancer, or significant food allergies, as well as strict religious requirements. In addition, they are a source of professional advice on current dietary concerns and food trends in the national consciousness, food safety processes, and advocate for nutritional education and self-management skills.

Personal Selection of Food

By offering two menu selections, residents can learn to navigate community situations involving food options present, individual taste preferences, and their personal health needs. The DOC’s menus utilize many healthy foods and control the quantities served. Residents may make choices to avoid certain foods, skip meals or buy snack-type food items from the internal prison store (Canteen) or vending machines. When and where possible, strategies are in action to encourage physical activity and improve the nutritional knowledge and choices of residents who source their foods from within this system.

Supporting Future Skills

While focused on feeding those in our care, the food service operations also provide residents who take kitchen work assignments a chance to build skills in food safety, large quantity meal production, preparing and cooking foods of many types, sanitation standards, team-work and other transferrable skills. This training and experience strengthen one’s employment opportunities in the communities to which they will return after completing their sentence. Some are very interested in pursuing this field of work further.

Just as importantly, exposing residents to balanced meals, including all food groups, kitchen skills, unfamiliar foods, gardens, healthy advice, nutritional information, and changing market situations improves their awareness and abilities to take care of themselves and their family’s health for the future. The Minnesota DOC is pro-nutrition! Food functions as medicine, nourishment for growth and learning, a social bond, a connection with nature, and ultimately community strength and celebration.

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