A federal program that provides food vouchers and nutrition education to low-income women and children has made its first menu change in 35 years. Starting this month, participants can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains with their WIC vouchers. About 12,250 clients are served monthly by the Women, Infants and Children program at the Spokane Regional Health District. The Panhandle Health District, covering Idaho’s five northern counties, serves 5,000 mothers and children every month, said Shelly Amos, WIC coordinator. Amos, a registered dietitian, talked about the significance of the changes.
Q.What changes have just occurred with the WIC program?
A.We have added fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve added whole grains. We have added baby food. And we have done some things to make changes to meet more of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines by giving less juice. We also are having low-fat milk for anybody over the age of 2.
Q.Why is that?
A.The fat in whole milk. All the rest of the nutrients are there and they don’t need the extra fat. We’re trying to lower fat in the diets of Americans with all the health problems that are starting to arise, with obesity and heart disease. We are also decreasing the amount of eggs. Eggs are an important component of the diet, but we don’t want to give them too much because they are high in cholesterol. We’ve made some drastic changes to be able to go along with what we talk to people about, about eating healthy.
Q.How do all these changes affect the cost of this federal program?
A.They have been able to remain cost-neutral, and how they could do that is, whole milk is more expensive sometimes than other milks; taking out the eggs, that was a change; we also have decreased the amount of formula. The whole program was to remain cost-neutral and not be a larger burden economically.
Q.Can people who receive WIC also receive food stamps?
Q.WIC is also a program that emphasizes breast-feeding. Can you explain how that works?
A.You do get more food when you breast-feed. We’re able to provide a (fully breast-feeding) parent, who is not receiving any formula, more help with feeding their baby. Also, the mother will receive quite a bit more food. You will get more fruits and vegetables. You will also get tuna and salmon along with beans and peanut butter. If you’re partially breast-feeding, it’s less. And nonbreast-feeding, it’s even less.
Q.What’s the thought process behind that?
A.We want to encourage people to breast-feed (because) of how much more healthy it is. A breast- feeding mom will burn up to 500 calories per day in milk production. So it’s very important that she’s eating healthy and taking care of herself.