Healthier foods are now part of WIC program

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Thursday, September 17, 2009
— Eating healthy always has been a priority for Allison Williams and her two children.

But recent changes to the WIC food program have made that goal a little easier.

“I like a lot of the changes,” said the Janesville mom. “I like being able to get the fruits and vegetables. That’s really nice. And the whole wheat breads.”

This summer, the nutrition program in the federal grant program Women, Infants and Children changed its food packages for the first time since it started in the 1970s, said Jennifer Johnson, WIC nutrition director for Rock County.

WIC promotes the health and well-being of nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children by providing supplemental nutritious foods, nutrition and breastfeeding information, and referral to other health and nutrition services.

The food and educational message changes were made nationally after research to better align the food packages with the most recent 2005 national dietary guidelines, Johnson said.

WIC would teach about the benefits of whole-grain foods, for example, but couldn’t reinforce it because such foods weren’t included in the food package, she said.

While the changes affect the nearly 4,000 Rock County residents served by WIC per month, they also are an example of good eating habits for the general public, she said.

The changes shift from milk, cheese and eggs to fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

“Most families are happy to see the new foods,” Johnson said.

A few, however, have been frustrated by switching to low-fat milk, and it’s taken some adjustment to get used to doing the math to use the fruit and vegetable vouchers, she said.

The milk change was noticeable in Williams’ home, she said. They switched from whole milk to 1 percent, and her 2 1/2-year-old son is still adjusting.

“That was a big change for us,” she said.

And like a true Wisconsin resident, Williams said she misses the cheese in the food package.

“I know a lot of families who were very excited about the change (because) fruits and vegetables can tend to be the more expensive things,” Johnson said. “When the money is tight, those are usually the first things to go.”

Most area grocery stores participate in WIC and must keep a certain amount of WIC foods on hand, she said. That means the general public might see more of the new foods, Johnson said, “hopefully a shift in what the general public” buys, too.

The new foods are more consistent with the nutrition education messages provided to WIC participants: eat more fruits and vegetables, lower your saturated fat, increase whole grains and fiber, drink less sweetened beverages and juice, and babies are meant to be breastfed, according to WIC.

“We’re now able to do more reinforcement with whole grains, and the participants actually have resources to get fruits and vegetables,” Johnson said.


Amounts and types of food vary between family size and type, but here are the major changes:

-- New foods: fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned), whole grain breads, baby foods—fruits and vegetables for all infants and meat for fully breastfed infants.

-- New alternatives: brown rice, soft corn or whole wheat tortillas for whole wheat bread; canned beans for dried beans; and canned salmon for canned tuna.

-- New quantities: Quantities of milk, eggs, juice and cheese are reduced for women and children. Quantities of infant formula are adjusted for breastfed and older infants.

Last updated: 11:22 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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