PHOTO PROVIDED | TY CRAUTHERS The Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, recently added fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which are available at area farmers markets.

Women, Infants and Children, a federally funded program under the Family Health Services branch of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, put emphasis on the importance of fruits and vegetables when it recently announced its new WIC food package, which became effective Aug. 1.

WIC works with the HOPE Center Health Clinic in Edmond to provide benefits to qualified clients.

“This is one of the most exciting chances in WIC since the program started in the 1970s,” said Cheryl Copeland, WIC relations and information specialist and registered and licensed dietitian. “Oklahoma is the first state in the region to implement the new food package.”

Previously, WIC offered milk, eggs, cheese, dry beans, peanut butter, juice and cereal. It also offered carrots and tuna to breastfeeding women. The new package now additionally offers fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains and canned beans. Infant foods are now available for infants 6-11 months old.

Copeland said WIC was designed to supplement nutrients, including vitamins A and C and calcium, that were lacking in the diets of participants at the time.

“Since that time, our diets have changed, as have the needs of our participants,” Copeland said. “The new package offers foods that are lower in fat and higher in fiber than ever before and encourages the intake of fruits and vegetables.”

She said the new package will not cost the state any additional funding.

“In order for the changes to be cost neutral, while allowing for the addition of new foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains, the amounts of some of the previous foods were decreased and juice will no longer be offered for infants under one year of age,” Copeland said.

She said fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables will be available to women and children in the form of a cash value benefit. Each month, breastfeeding women will receive a $10 benefit, pregnant and postpartum women will receive an $8 benefit and children will receive a $6 benefit. Infants will receive their fruits and vegetables in the form of infant foods, Copeland said.

“Cash value benefits can be redeemed at grocery stores and farmers markets (that) have gone through the WIC approval process,” she said. “Organic produce is allowed. WIC participants can choose the type of produce they prefer, with very few limitations.”

Summer Terrell, Edmond Farmers Market manager, said the program will not be offered at the market at this time.

“While we certainly feel it’s a great program and we’re really excited about farmers markets being able to offer WIC and food stamp recipients fresh produce, the Edmond Farmers Market will not be participating in the program,” Terrell said. “That’s just due to staffing and different requirements needed to set up that program in the farmers market. It might be something we can change in the future as the farmers market grows.”

Farmers markets that are interested in participating in the WIC program can call the Oklahoma State WIC Service at 1-888-655-2942.

The changes to the WIC food package are nationwide, based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and guidelines for the USDA, in order to align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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