More families have the opportunity to select healthy foods for their children since the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program expanded its supplemental food offerings.
As of Oct. 1, WIC food choices include several brands of whole wheat tortillas and brown rice.
"It's been such a positive change," says Shelly Amos, coordinator of the WIC program through the Panhandle Health District (PHD). "People feel good that they can provide these healthy foods for their children."
WIC is a federal program that protects and builds the health of women, infants and children on limited incomes through food supplements, nutrition counseling, education and referrals. It awarded Idaho's WIC program $1.1 million in September for having one of the highest breastfeeding rates in the nation.
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) promotes breastfeeding because breast milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies that protect babies. It has the right amount of fat, carbohydrates, water and protein for a baby's optimum growth and development. Breast milk is easier to digest than formula and it protects babies from illness.
PHD's WIC program boosted breastfeeding rates by offering peer counselors who helped women overcome problems that often caused them to quit nursing. The counselors teach pregnant women the benefits of breastfeeding for their babies and for them.
Two years ago, WIC expanded its supplemental foods program for children, pregnant women and/or nursing mothers to include whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
"People were very excited," Amos says. "They could never afford fresh fruits and vegetables and wanted their children to benefit from them."
Families in the five northern counties that are eligible for WIC receive an average of $65 per person each month for supplemental foods. WIC clients must live in Idaho, live on a limited income and be pregnant, breastfeeding or post-partum or have an infant or children younger than five years old. People on Medicaid or food stamps are eligible.
PHD has more than 5,000 WIC clients. Still, Amos believes many more are eligible.
"We have (federal) funding to serve whoever is eligible," she says. "No one loses out when someone new signs up. There's room for everyone who's eligible."
Supplemental foods offered through WIC include whole wheat breads, whole grain cereals, peanut butter, beans, peas and lentils, fruit juice, cheese, eggs, infant food, canned meats and fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. WIC checks are accepted by nearly all, if not all, supermarkets.