Beginning last June, the Colorado Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) expanded its eligible food options to include more healthful foods for over 4,000 Larimer County participants. Program participants can now use their food vouchers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and more whole-grain foods. Those items had not been included in the WIC food options since the program began over 30 years ago.
"The changes were made to better align the WIC food benefits with the National Dietary Guidelines and to be more culturally sensitive," said Ingrid Rosoff, director of the Larimer County WIC program. "The new food options offer more fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and less fat, providing healthier food choices."
The new foods are more consistent with the nutrition 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 breastfeed your baby. But, according to Fort Collins WIC educator Melissa Duenas, fruits vegetables and whole grains are what people skimp on the most on a limited income.
"With the new WIC food vouchers, they now have affordable access to these foods," she said.
WIC food benefits have always included cereal, milk, eggs, cheese, 100 percent juice, dried beans, peanut butter and infant formula. With the expansion, the following foods have been added to WIC's food options:
Breastfeeding women in the WIC program will receive enhanced food benefits and more food for their infants over 6 months of age. For example, exclusively breast fed babies will now use vouchers to buy baby food meats, in addition to the baby food fruits and vegetables. As part of the WIC program, breastfeeding moms also receive breastfeeding support and counseling, health-care referrals, and access to breast pumps.
"The new food benefits encourage moms to breastfeed their infants longer, which helps protect the infants from infections and allergies, and creates a strong bond between mom and baby," Rosoff said. "Offering fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains to children early in their lives will help establish a healthy lifestyle."
While the changes directly affect the nearly 4,000 Larimer County residents served by WIC, they also can set an example for the general public of choosing and eating healthy foods, Rosoff said. Some participants are already seeing the effects of shopping for healthier food choices, even among the youngest food consumers.
"When I take my 3-year-old son to the store now, he recognizes fruits from vegetables," said a WIC participant. "He loves to help me weigh them."
"We hope not only the moms and children in the WIC program will benefit, but that entire families will adopt the healthy eating habits supported by WIC," Rosoff continued. "Offering fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains to children and moms, will help promote a healthier lifestyle for the whole family.
"An added bonus would be to reduce childhood obesity rates."
WIC is a federally-funded supplemental food and nutrition education program which supports pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5 who live in Colorado. To be eligible, participants must have a nutritional need, live in the county in which they are being served, and have a family income below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines. The program provides nutrition education, growth and anemia assessment, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals, in addition to vouchers to purchase WIC-approved healthy foods.
For more information about the WIC program, including requirements to qualify, contact the Larimer County Health Department's WIC program at 970-498-6720 or visit the Larimer County WIC website. Information is also available aobout the WIC program through the Colorado WIC program website.