GOOD SENSE eatingThis year’s deep recession is causing economic hardship for many young families. Luckily, there are assistance programs, such as the Women, Infants and Children’s program. Since WIC’s inception, its food packages were designed to supplement diets with foods rich in five nutrients often lacking in the diets of the WIC target population—vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and protein.
But now the first major overhaul to WIC food packages since 1980 will occur. Illinois’ implementation of changes starts Aug. 3. Some states, such as New York and Delaware, implemented theirs at the beginning of the year. The entire shopping population will have these foods available.
Even if you’re not WIC-eligible, the changes may impact you. "The new WIC food package will increase the quality and quantity of foods available at the retail level thereby increasing access for all: fresh, frozen, canned fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, low and non-fat milk," according to registered dietitian Margaret Page Saunders, president of the National WIC Association. "These products are the basic building blocks for a lifetime of healthy eating habits."
Many of the changes "will align the food program with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans," adds registered dietitian Stephanie Bess, the Illinois WIC coordinator. Specifically, they will address the dual problem of both over-nutrition and under-nutrition.
Babies. There’s a greater commitment to support breastfeeding moms, as well as increased food benefits for breastfeeding moms and their babies.
Milk. Only low-fat and non-fat milk will be allowed for everyone over the age of 2, rather than whole milk. And for the first time, soy-based beverage and tofu are allowed. Medical documentation will be required for children to receive alternatives to dairy milk.
Juice. One controversial change is the amount of fruit juice. It is reduced for children and women and eliminated for infants. Not only does this align with the dietary guidelines, but it’s also consistent with the latest recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Fruit and vegetables. A wide variety of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables is encouraged.
Protein foods. The new food package adds legumes (beans or peanut butter) for postpartum women to improve the iron, folate, vitamin E and fiber in their diets. Canned beans are now allowed, rather than only time-consuming dried beans. Fish that are low in mercury, such as light tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel, are also included.
Grains. At least half of the cereals on a state agency’s food list must be whole grain. Some examples are whole grain breads, whole grain tortillas (such as corn tortillas), brown rice, oatmeal, bulgur and barley.
According to Bess, there are 2,000 WIC-approved vendors in Illinois. She says having more fresh fruits and vegetables may help reduce urban food deserts. Everyone will benefit from the new high dietary quality products coming to the market.
Are you wondering if you qualify? Starting July 1, a family of four with an income of $40,793 or less is eligible. You may be surprised to learn that almost half of Illinois infants qualify for WIC, according to Bess. For more information, go to www.fns.usda.gov/wic, where you can also find links to individual state programs and more about income guidelines.
The new food packages will help establish healthy habits for a lifetime. "The WIC program provides a public health nutrition platform that will benefit all," Saunders says.
Tuna fish and apple crunch sandwich
A sweet crunch will make your tuna salad sandwich so much tastier. If you don’t have an apple for this recipe, try a chopped pear.
Drain the water from the tuna. Peel, core and chop apple.
Combine the tuna, apple and mayonnaise in a medium bowl. Mix well.
Cut pita pocket in half, open up both sides, and stuff half the mixture in each pocket.
Makes two tuna sandwiches
Ingredients1 16-ounce can chunk tuna in water, drained1 small apple1 Tablespoon mayonnaise1 pita pocket, cut in half
Nutrition facts per sandwich: 340 calories; 7 g fat (1.5 g sat); 50 mg cholesterol, 24 g carbohydrate; 43 g protein; 2 g fiber; 730 mg sodium; 20% DV iron. Recipe used with permission from The Everything Kids’ Cookbook 2nd edition by Sandra K. Nissenberg, MS, RD, Adams Media. 2008
ASK GOOD SENSE EATING
Is instant brown rice as healthy as the kind that takes nearly an hour to cook?
Yes, instant brown rice provides all the same health benefits as the old-fashioned kind. It can be found either in a box or in porous plastic bags that you toss into boiling water. You can even find precooked brown rice that you simply heat in the microwave. Warm up any leftovers for an inexpensive breakfast "cereal."
Christine M. Palumbo is a Naperville-based registered dietitian who teaches in the nutrition program at Benedictine University. Contact her at Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com.
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