It isn't gourmet fare, but it's a far cry from being just bread and water.
It's more like Malibu chicken, Navajo tacos, pepper steak and breaded veal steak - the kind of good food that keeps an inmate population fed and healthy while reducing inmate frustration.The menus being served up at the Utah County Security Center include fare that's passing all of the taste tests - there are plenty of them.
First, the inmates like the food, and according to Lt. John Carlson, when prisoners are happy with the food, things go better all around. When they are not, they get angry.
Among inmates who riot, the grievance list always includes dissatisfaction with the food, he said.
"So it's important to have good meals that are well-balanced, nutritious," he said.
Secondly, the meals must pass a series of standards and be prepared according to health and safety criteria that come down from several agencies including - but not limited to - the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Utah County Health Department, the American Corrections Association, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Utah Sheriffs' Association.
"Then we have our own jail standards policy too," Carlson said.
The food needs to be prepared in a sanitary facility by workers who are clean and gloved, wearing hair nets and aprons.
It must be cooked sufficiently and served hot when it's appropriate.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner must all meet a nutritionist's standard for balance and variety.
At the Spanish Fork facility, the seven week rotating menu is evaluated two times a year by a dietician who's paid by Utah County to assess the nutritional value. She checks to see if all of the food groups are consistently offered and makes periodic suggestions.
Thick thermal dinner trays keep the food hot (or cold) until it reaches the housing units.
"It's quality. I've gained weight eating here," said Troy Draper, one of the inmates who qualifies to work in the kitchen.
"They've got a lot of decent food here," agreed Russell Sweat, also an inmate on one of the kitchen shifts.
"The only time it's cold is if there's a count problem of some kind," said Draper. "I've worked at other restaurants, and here they care a lot about quality."
Inmates celebrate when it's Navajo taco day or time for Malibu chicken.
Only the "weinee loaf" seems to be unpopular. A leftover from the government's Desert Storm effort, the dish made with Vienna sausage and eggs is more often traded than eaten, says Food Services Director Bill Vest.
"I like everything but the weiner loaf," said Sweat. "You can have mine."
Yet other guys will fight for it, said Draper.
Inmates are not forced to eat what's on their trays, so a vegetarian, for instance, can simply choose to leave meat products. Someone with a passion for weiner loaf can trade for more.
No one is denied food or served poor food in the Utah County Jail, Carlson said. The Eighth Amendment prohibits denial of or the serving of inadequate food, he said.
One prisoner does occasionally get a dish known as Nutri Loaf when he starts throwing his tray at the deputies. Nutri Loaf doesn't make as big a mess as other menu items, yet still provides all the necessary nutrients a person would need, said Vest.
The staff will prepare special trays if a doctor has ordered an unusual diet or if a religious leader has requested something out of the ordinary for a prisoner.
The workers can sometimes get larger portions or an extra cookie when they've put in a particularly good day.
But for the most part, the 1,200 meals and sack lunches put together every day are identical. They feature freshly made, tasty food.
"Here, inmates and the staff eat the same thing," Carlson said. "We'd know right away if there was a problem."