Low-income women and children now have more healthy food choices — including, for the first time, fruits, vegetables and whole grains — as part of the state government's revamped Women, Infants and Children program food package designed to meet the latest national nutritional guidelines, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard announced Thursday.
"This is an exciting day for WIC participants and for everyone working for a healthier New Jersey," Commissioner Howard said as she announced the first major revision of the supplemental food program for WIC food package in nearly 30 years.
"This new WIC food package ... means that low-income women can now buy their families more of the foods that help promote good health and a healthy weight," Howard said.
Howard announced the new WIC food package at the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey's WIC site in New Brunswick, where she was joined by women and children who participate in the program.
Each month, New Jersey's WIC program provides supplemental foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, immunization screening, and health and social services referrals to about 170,000 participants. The program serves eligible pregnant and breastfeeding women, women who have recently given birth, infants, and children up to age five. Participants use WIC coupons to buy nutritious foods.
As a result of federal regulatory changes, the package of approved WIC foods has been revamped nationwide and is now lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, lower in fruit juices, and higher in fiber and fruits and vegetables. The food package also offers options that meet families' cultural needs.
In addition, the package promotes continued breastfeeding by offering breastfeeding women additional foods for themselves and their infants 6 months of age and older, and through reduced quantities of formula available for breastfed and older infants. Early breastfeeding has been linked to a reduced risk of obesity.
Other highlights of the changes include:
New foods — Fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables; whole grain cereals and breads; jarred fruit and vegetable baby foods; jarred meat baby foods for fully breastfed infants; reduced fat milk for women and children over age two.
Increased choice and flexibility — Brown rice and whole wheat tortillas can substitute for whole wheat bread; soy beverage and tofu can substitute for milk; canned beans can substitute for dried beans; canned salmon and sardines are alternatives to canned tuna.
New quantities — The amounts of milk, eggs, juice and cheese are reduced for women and children.
The new food package is in line with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the infant feeding guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Over the last several months, the state WIC program has been working to educate both WIC participants and participating food stores about the changes. Conference calls and regional training sessions were held to train the more than 900 participating stores, and color-coded cards were created for stores' cashier stations to describe the eligible foods.
New Jersey participants began receiving their new food coupons on Oct. 1 and all participants should be phased in by the end of the year. WIC participants receive three months of food coupons at each visit.
For more information about WIC and program eligibility guidelines, visit the Department of Health and Senior Services web site at: www.nj.gov/health/fhs/wic/
The VNACJ Women's, Infant and Children's Nutrition Pro gram in New Brunswick is the largest in the state. In 2008, more than 34,000 families with children under 5 received food and nutritional counseling through the program.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM