The idea of WIC is to provide lower income women and children with healthy nourishment. And it has come a long way from where it was when I was a kid on it. But even with Michelle Obama’s changes to improve the nutrition of the program, there are still a lot of flaws. Still it is helpful for my family and many other families out there who make enough, but just barely, and benefit greatly from the income supplement.
If you are on WIC and trying to make the best of it, don’t get discouraged!
A couple of months ago I was trying to alter our diet as a whole family to cut out all added sugars. We had already cut out adding our own sugars and switched to Truvia or stevia, but I wasn’t watching labels very closely. I quickly learned that there is a lot of hidden sugar in a lot of different foods. (Did you know that most deli turkey not only has lactose in it but also has sugar? Yeah, even the plain tasting oven roasted.)
Here is what the WIC package in Delaware includes:
~100% Whole Wheat bread: Every brand I have been able to get has high fructose corn syrup or sugar in it. Not a necessary ingredient and definitely not a healthy one.
~Juice: It may be 100% juice, which is far better than juice that is mostly sugar like Sunny D, however, even natural sugars are not healthy. This is why so many children are obese. They consume glass after glass of “healthy” juice. Might as well load them up with Kool-Aid or soda!
~Peanut Butter: Store brand, which contains high fructose corn syrup. Again, unnecessary. Natural peanut butter that is made simply out of peanuts is just as yummy.
~Eggs: These are a great source of protein. They are made by chickens that are not kept in the best of circumstances and free-range eggs would be far better, but these are still a healthy option that work wonderfully as a source of protein for many meals.
~Cereal: I have quite an issue here. When we first got WIC I was told by a nutritionist that the only cereals allowed were ones under a certain level of sugar. I have since proven that to be incorrect information. Multi-grain cheerios, for example, has added sugar in it. But my issue is more one that deals with a diabetic toddler. Cereal causes sugars to spike and then to crash. Yes, even with a healthy individual. Cereals can be “sugar free” (although I don’t believe any of the ones offered actually are) and still be high is starchy carbs that turn immediately into sugar in the blood stream. I am thrilled that Delaware is now offering Old Fashioned Oatmeal. This is a much better option and is a great replacement for their previous option of the instant oatmeal packets (which looses much of its nutrition by being cut into instant oats). Fortunately, my family loves oatmeal.
~Milk: I’m not going to really get into the argument about milk. But I do find that the ratio of the amount of milk it is suggested we drink and the amount of milk WIC provides is greatly skewed. I like to get creative with our milk and use it to make yogurt, and other treats, like ice cream.
~Cheese: We love our cheese! And we definitely eat it without reserve. But I will say that the kind of cheese that is offered on WIC is most certainly not the healthiest option. And the healthier options are not allowed through WIC. However, this is a decent source of protein that does not cause blood sugar issues, does not have lactose (in most cases), and tastes great with the eggs.
~Dried Beans: This is another healthy option. If you have recipes for dried beans, these are a great thing to get in place of some of the peanut butter. At first we just stored our beans as we did not like to eat them as anything other than refried beans. But I have used them as chili, hummus, and recently discovered that they work wonderfully in cakes and brownies as a healthy replacement for flour (and no you cannot taste the beans). Just make sure to soak them before cooking to help your body digest all the fiber in them!
~Canned Tuna: This is another great source of protein. Just be cautious what you pair it with. Try Greek yogurt or low fat mayo instead of the higher fat options. Or use it to make your own tuna casserole with noodles, a bit of milk, and some cheese.
~Fresh Fruits and Veggies: This is the best part of the package. I wish it took up more of the package. I’d trade several gallons of milk for more fruits and veggies. The great thing is that we can buy cut veggies/fruit or organic or whatever we feel like enjoying (as long as it doesn’t include dips and isn’t a herb). This opens doors to trying all kinds of produce we might not try otherwise. And of course allows my children to enjoy a banana or two.
Okay, so what do you do about the items that are not the healthiest? Here are my suggestions and how we handle it:
1. I feed the kiddos the bread and peanut butter. No, it isn’t the healthiest for them. But it isn’t horrible either. They need the fat of the peanut butter to help them grow. And even with diabetes S can handle the small amounts of sugar put in the foods as long as I give him adequate coverage of insulin. For myself and my husband (who both need to lose weight) I buy bread and peanut butter without sugar in it to help us with our weight loss goals and to live healthier lives.
2. Don’t get all the juice. This seems like a hard thing to do. But we honestly don’t always get all the juice. We do get most of the juice that comes in bottles because they are easy enough to store. But we don’t get the frozen concentrate very often and only in order to get orange juice.
3. Save the juice for special treats and limit the daily amount to less than a cup per child. Juice should not be a main beverage as it is super high in sugar. It will make your child fat just like anything else that has sugar in it. No, it will not make your child a diabetic. But it could wreck havoc on their insulin levels, and over time, due to obesity and a high carb diet, they could develop type 2 diabetes. This can easily be avoided by limiting sugary beverages like juice to small amounts, infrequently.
4. Get dried beans instead of some or all of the peanut butter. Dried beans are a perfect, healthy source of fiber, and protein. You can make so many great meals and treats with them. Black beans for South American cuisine, burgers, chocolate cake or brownies. Garbanzo or white beans for white cake or hummus. Pinto beans for refried beans. Red kidney beans for chili. There are so many different possibilities!
5. You don’t have to get all the milk. If you do get the milk, I recommend choosing the fat free for yourself and your husband. Use some of the milk to make your own yogurt. It is cheap and only takes an inexpensive starter container. Make sure that you follow your doctor’s recommendations on what percentage of milk to feed the little ones. Whole milk is preferred up to 2 years old, and higher fat contents are good for little ones who do not have weight issues as it helps with their brain development. If you are unsure what percentage to get for your kid, ask your child’s doctor.
6. Get old fashioned oatmeal and use the other cereals sparingly. Remember that dry cereal has high carbs without any protein which will cause a sugar spike and crash. This is hard on the body and over time can lead to diabetes due to the turmoil stress it causes the pancreas.
7. Explore your fruits and veggies! Have fun with your fruits and veggies. Let the kids pick out something they would like to try. Try to find new ways to cook the veggies. Explore options that are out of the box for you. You may discover that you like something you never knew you liked. My husband and I discovered we liked beets because I randomly picked them up one day. Try using cauliflower to make pizza, or mashed “potatoes” or cauliflower “rice.” These are all low carb options that add great variety and nutrients into your diet without much effort. Try different lettuces and combinations of veggies (fruits too!) in your salads. Make salsa with fresh ingredients. There are so many awesome options!
8. Use the eggs at any meal. You can make omelets, scrambled eggs, quiche, add an egg to your oatmeal for added protein, use them in baking, make egg wraps to put sandwich foods in, use for french toast (I often use an egg and a spoonful of Greek yogurt per kid when making their french toast so it is full of protein). There are so many options for eggs and they don’t have to be just for breakfast!
9. I already made a few suggestions with the tuna but think outside of the box. Tuna doesn’t have to be in the form of a salad. If you like it that way try to make it with a lower fat option or use the Greek yogurt for the sake of added protein. Add it to any pasta dish for an easy casserole that has lots of protein to counteract the spike that can come from the pasta. Or try just adding salsa to it and putting it in a wrap with a bit of shredded cheese and some veggies. Be creative!
10. Finally, enjoy your cheese. It is higher in fat. And some people have a hard time with it. But enjoy your cheese. Add a sprinkle to your eggs. Put it on your burritos. Sprinkle a bit in your wraps. Make yourself a homemade pizza. Just remember that a serving size is only an ounce, and adjust accordingly. And try to pick the healthiest cheese your store will allow. If all else fails, save the cheese for the kids and buy yourself a block of low fat/fat free cheese to use sparingly.
I hope that this will help you if you, like me, have been discouraged with trying to eat healthy while receiving WIC benefits. It is possible! While you will have to put more money out there to make it work (and have variety) you can still eat well and healthfully while getting your supplemental package. Please do not feel discouraged.
This is especially important for you mom’s who are trying to participate in the THM method of eating. Most of the ideas I listed above will work for you too. Just remember that milk is not “on plan.” So save it for the kids, make it in to yogurt, make some keifer…there are other options. Avoid the bread, peanut butter, and juice (let the kids have it sparingly) and have your own stash of plan approved items that are just for you. But you can easily enjoy the cheese, eggs (save your yolks for the kids! They can eat that fat in things like french toast while you use the egg whites), tuna, oatmeal, beans, and fruits/veggies.
Hang in there and remember that circumstances change all the time. You will not always be on WIC and hopefully your income will be better in years to come. Enjoy the benefits that the government has provided you with and work with those benefits to keep yourself and your family healthy.
I am going to work on posting some recipes in the near future of things I have done with WIC items. Believe it or not, I have made meals, day after day, out of just WIC items. It is possible. Not the most versatile but possible. I will post some suggestions for when money is tight and the milk is abundant. Please stay tuned!
But for now, may God bless you in your journey to a healthy life!