Revisions to the WIC Food Package Make Sense

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

As the name suggests, the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program was developed to protect the health of low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to age 5. The program provides participants with vouchers that are used to purchase specific foods that are identified as being nutritious. More than nine million people receive WIC benefits each year. WIC is administered by the USDA, which issued a final rule on food packages on February 28.

One important change for vegans and others avoiding dairy products is that medical documentation is no longer needed for program participants to get vouchers for soy beverages and calcium-set tofu in place of cow’s milk. Of course, not all states allow soymilk or tofu to replace cow’s milk but for those that do, it will be easier for this substitution to take place. As of 2011, 71% of state agencies allow soymilk to replace cow’s milk and 40% allow tofu to replace cow’s milk.

Other positive changes include:

  • Previously, the only kind of tofu that was allowed was tofu that had been prepared using only calcium salts. This kind of tofu is not available in many marketplaces. The new rules allow tofu that is calcium-set but which contains other coagulants like magnesium chloride. State agencies are encouraged to choose brands of tofu with the highest amounts of calcium to be included on their lists of foods approved for purchase with WIC vouchers.
  • Refried beans, without added sugars, oils, fats, vegetables, or meat, are now listed as approved legumes.
  • Whole wheat pasta was added to the list of whole grain options. Other whole grain options include brown rice, bulgur, barley, oatmeal, and corn or whole-wheat tortillas as well as whole wheat bread.
  • WIC participants can receive vouchers to purchase fruits and vegetables. The value of these vouchers has been increased from $6 per month to $8 per month for children. Women are given $10 per month for fruit and vegetable purchases.
  • State agencies are required to allow organic fruits and vegetables to be purchased. In the past, some states did not allow organic products to be purchased with WIC vouchers.
  • Fresh bananas can be used in place of some of the jarred baby food.
  • States are given the option of allowing families with 9-11-month-old infants to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables in place of some jarred baby food.

These changes were implemented on May 1, 2014.

The Vegetarian Resource Group was one of more than 7000 groups and individuals who submitted comments to the USDA recommending specific changes to the WIC Program. We are delighted to see that many of the suggestions we made were implemented, including removal of the requirement for medical documentation in order to get vouchers for soymilk or tofu and increased dollar amounts for fruit and vegetable purchases.