Prison Accredited Course - Nutrition

Taking the OC Healthy Eating and Exercise Course into custody at HMP Pentonville was always going to be a challenge but unexpected lock downs and guys arriving high on Spice, were certainly a test. 

Our case managers felt that some of the men they were working with on the wings could benefit from a little guidance on how to look after themselves whilst in custody. In prison, as in the community, there are people who are interested in their health and what they eat.

The education on offer at Pentonville does not cover basic nutrition or healthy eating, except for an excellent Personal Training Course,  which sadly, only has a limited number of places.

Food is such an important and integral part of life, and in prison mealtimes can become the real focus of the day. I’d like to say that they are something to look forward to but judging from the feedback I received that’s far from the case.  The first group that attended the course were a mixed bunch; differing levels of knowledge, experience, education and interest. The one thing they did have in common was their dislike of the prison food – ‘poor choice’, ‘small portions’ and ‘bland’ were a few of the comments.

Of course, prison food will never be luxurious (and probably shouldn’t be), but prison does provide an opportunity to influence positive changes to diet and lifestyle in the hope that some of it sticks.

The practical eating tips discussed in the community, such as adding extra veg to a curry or choosing wholegrain bread, are obviously not practical in prison. Even there though, the dreaded ‘buy 1 get 1 free’ reigns. The weekly canteen sheet, which acts like a tuck shop, promotes discounts on the usual high fat, sugar and salt snacks. Nutrient poor snacks are more affordable than the healthier alternatives.

We took oranges and kit kats into the prison for snacks at break time and, interestingly, the fruit went first.

 Improvise, adapt and overcome

Kettle cooking, (which is not allowed), was an eye opener for me. Time allows for ingenious innovation. Noodles (purchased from the canteen sheet) made a lot of appearances on their daily food diaries; cheap, quick and relatively filling but with a lot of added salt. ‘Homemade’ dumplings made from scrunched-up bread and quickly boiled, and onions ‘fried’ on the base plate were some of the recipes I heard about.

Recently we dropped leaflets to all the cells to promote the British Nutrition Foundation’s Healthy Eating Week. We included tips on better food choices, sleep, hydration and physical activity to help improve health, mood and wellbeing.  I’m sure this will generate discussions on the landings.  I believe this is an important part of the process of change that Only Connect is all about.



Sharon Conrad