New WIC guidelines take effect

WORTHINGTON -- Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains are among the new items Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program recipients can access, thanks to changes in the federal program that took effect on Saturday.

WIC changes
Nobles-Rock Community Health Nurse Barb Navara stands in front of the produce section at Hy-Vee in Worthington. New rules in the Women, Infant and Children program now allow recipients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables with WIC vouchers. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains are among the new items Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program recipients can access, thanks to changes in the federal program that took effect on Saturday.

In Worthington, Nobles-Rock Community Health Nurse Barb Navara said Monday that WIC clinicians are spending more time with clients to explain the changes in the nutrition education program. This is the first major overhaul of the program since it was founded 35 years ago.

"The visits are taking longer because we have to go over the new food packages with anyone who comes into the office," said Navara, adding that it will be about three months before all of the clients will be educated on the changes and receive the new vouchers.

In Nobles County, 1,107 vouches were handed out to WIC participants during the month of June; while in Rock County, 191 vouchers were distributed during the same time period. Those eligible for the food vouchers must fall within income guidelines and prove that they need the service.

The new changes in the WIC program are meant to more closely follow changes in the nation's food guide pyramid, which now places more emphasis on healthy food options such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.


"The new WIC food choices will improve the health of Minnesota mothers and children and reduce a child's risk of chronic disease by supporting healthy eating early in life," said Dr. Sanne Magnan, Minnesota's Commissioner of Health, in a release issued by the state health department.

For infants, breastfeeding is going to be stressed for new mothers.

"Our biggest goal is to push breastfeeding," said Navara. "We want breastfeeding to be the normal, not the exception."

As for new guidelines at the grocery store, some of the most notable changes are in the dairy case, where vouchers can now only be used on skim or 1 percent milk, unless otherwise noted, for children ages 2 and older. In the past, clients could select higher fat content milks such as 2 percent or whole milk.

Bread, previously not available for purchase through WIC, can now be purchased with vouchers in one-pound loaves if they contain whole wheat, rye or multi-grain ingredients.

Another change is that WIC recipients will receive cash vouchers to purchase fruits and vegetables -- including fresh produce, which wasn't an option previously.

"They can either be fresh, frozen or canned," said Navara of the new fruit and vegetable guidelines. "That's going to give them more choices.

While the vouchers can be used to purchase mushrooms, peppers and onions, they cannot be used to buy potatoes because of their high starch content. Healthier alternatives that can be purchased are sweet potatoes and yams, Navara said.


More cereals are acceptable in the new WIC guidelines, while fewer options for juices are now available.

Navara said educating WIC recipients will be key.

"They have to read the ingredients," she said, adding that many of the items high in sugar are not allowed.

At the same time, the new guidelines include foods that cater to a variety of ethnic groups.

"We are meeting their preferences too," Navara said. "That's kind of one of the reasons why they (made the changes)."

While the new guidelines will be a learning process for WIC recipients, Navara said she and the WIC clinicians had to educate themselves on what was available locally. That information is being presented to WIC clients this week and during visits for the next few months, until everyone has been converted to the new WIC vouchers.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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