This issue’s Nutrition Hotline discusses what the U.S. government is doing to meet the needs of low-income vegetarian mothers and their children.
QUESTION: “What’s being done to help meet the needs of vegetarian moms and young children getting government food assistance?”
ANSWER: The federal government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children doesn’t get a lot of attention in the media.
This program—WIC for short—provides food vouchers, nutrition counseling, and referrals to health and social services to low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women and their infants and children up to age 5.
Although WIC operates in relative obscurity, the $5.5 billion program feeds over half the nation’s infants and about one-fourth of children aged 1 to 4 years, making it one of the nation’s largest programs aiding low-income children.
Upcoming changes will make it more vegetarian-friendly.
While nutrition science has evolved, the food packages offered to WIC clients haven’t changed in three decades. A committee formed by the Institute of Medicine recently assessed WIC’s food packages and made recommendations for changes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the WIC program, will use these recommendations to initiate a proposed rule change over the next year.
Recommendations include increasing the amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains offered to clients; decreasing milk, eggs, and fruit juices; and offering a wider variety of options—such as soymilk in place of cows’ milk—to meet diverse food preferences.
The recommendations address some key changes since the WIC program began:
Recommendations address advances in nutrition science and concerns about obesity and excess saturated fat, cholesterol, total fat, and sodium in American diets. Where possible, recommendations maximize the nutritional value of foods while limiting calories. For instance, the committee recommends clients receive vouchers for only whole grain breads and cereals, reduced-fat dairy products, and more foods with no added salt or sugar.
Federal nutrition programs have focused upon meat-and-potatoes American eating patterns that do not reflect the cultures of an increasing number of people. Recommendations for updated WIC food packages include more choices within categories of foods. For example, the committee recommends that, in addition to fortified soymilk, clients be allowed to substitute yogurt or calcium-set tofu for part of their milk allotment.
According to Anna Maria Siega-Riz, a professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a member of the IOM committee, the newly revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which emphasize fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, provided the framework for the committee’s recommended changes to the WIC food packages.
The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone who wishes to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.
Thanks to volunteer Stephanie Schueler for converting this article to HTML.
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