Is Prison Food Better Than School Food?

We've all heard complaints about our country's school lunch programs. From campaigns spearheaded by childhood nutrition advocate Michelle Obama to the outcry that ensued when the nation found out the tomato sauce on pizza was considered a vegetable by USDA standards, it's no secret that the American school lunch program has some serious issues.

Here's an infographic from Good magazine that takes a new angle – how do our admittedly troubled school lunch programs stand up next to what we're feeding prison inmates in this country? The results are in, and they aren't too pretty.

While schools are given an average yearly budget of 11 billion to school food programs and prisons are given a mere 205 million annual budget, still only less than one third of school food operations meet the recommended standard for saturated fat in their meals.

It turns out the stuff we're serving our kids in school might even be worse than fast food, too. According to the figure, McDonald's and Burger King test their ground beef five to ten times more than the USDA tests the beef sent to schools.

Certainly prison food isn't anything to get yourself arrested for – take the Nutraloaf for example, made of whole wheat bread, non-dairy cheese, vegetables, tomato paste, powdered milk, and dry potato flakes that Vermont inmates filed a class-action lawsuit against in 2008, claiming the food was used a punishment rather than nourishment. Sounds like a reason alone to avoid incarceration.

Fortunately, the startling amount of highly processed, unhealthy foods has prompted numerous government initiatives, including the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which allows the USDA to regulate school meals nutritional content and strives to effect healthy, balanced meals for our students. Congress better keep up the good work or pretty soon students will start getting themselves arrested just to escape the slimy fruit and mystery meat any student of the public school system knows all too well.

Click here for the full-sized graphic.