Easy Meals from the Culinary Institute of Yankton

The Bureau of Prisons has every facility on a five week rotation of meals and they try to keep the cost to feed each inmate at around $3.00 per day. You end up eating the same things again and again so eventually you’re going to tire of the food. In particular, the Kraft cheese singles that have an expiration date of roughly one and a half years prior to the day they end up on your tray. However, we remain grateful that we have food to eat as many prisoners throughout the world have it far worse. I will also admit, there are several meals I thoroughly enjoy. Topping the list is baked chicken day with mashed sweet potatoes, beef taco salad day, biscuits & gravy Sundays, and the chef salad. Chef salad includes iceberg lettuce, deli turkey slices and a hard boiled egg with a side of canned beats. I thought I would be eating bologna sandwiches every day so while I mock the expired Kraft cheese, and am thoroughly looking forward to soon eating what I want when I want to, I really do appreciate the good meals we have here.

When the time comes that the meal of the day doesn’t suit your preferences, in comes “eating out of your locker.” There is nothing fresh sold on commissary, so creativity has to be turned up to create manageable options when the list includes nothing that expires anytime in the next twenty four months. Upon arriving here, I stared at the commissary list wondering what caused such a random selection of items to be made available. Spending enough time in the basement “kitchen”, and now having shared a small living space with more than 25 different people over the last year, I’ve picked up quite a few tricks.

There’s a balance between desire and the hassles of preparing food with nothing more than Tupperware, plastic cutlery, hot water and ice. You can ‘warm-up’ a home made burrito, but it’s going to have to soak for two hours in an old cereal bag dunked in a small garbage can of hot water. Finding the happy medium has led me to the following two creations.

For the first dish, I line the bottom of the Tupperware with dehydrated refried beans. On top of that I place a teaspoon of Thai chili garlic paste, a tablespoon of hot pepper mix, and season with minced onion and minced garlic powders. After my base and seasonings I add in a packet of tuna or mackerel along with half of a spicy beef summer sausage and I’m off to the races. Cured meats had little to no role in my prior life and I look forward to the continuation of that deeply held core belief after my release. All that to say, you can’t live off health shakes alone and ample hydration counter acts the high sodium content. Add in hot water, let it sit for 5-10 minutes and mix together. It’s warm, filling and has some kick to it.

The second favorite is my home made tuna and mackerel salad. Add one packet each of tuna and mackerel then mix with mayo, Ms. Dash seasoning, diced pickles, crushed peanuts and pork rinds. Ms. Dash is a blend of 14 herbs and spices that adds a good taste to many dishes. I try to go easy on the mayo and instead use pickle juice to create a smoother consistency. Pork rinds are something I was completely uninterested in upon my arrival but I’ve definitely turned a corner in regards to my relationship with them. They are high in protein, have no sugar, zero carbs and contribute a crunchy texture to the meal.

With there being light at the end of this tunnel the meals are manageable. If I was staring down the barrel at ten more years it would be much more challenging. However, I assume it’s like most struggles in life – you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. Plus, I STILL think about the book “Miracle in the Andes” every time I pass on baked fish Friday’s. I’m fully aware that while the options here may be limited, there are options nonetheless.

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