BY :Marji BeachPUBLISHED : October 23rd, 2016UPDATED: October 6th, 2021
In July, I began fostering (to adopt) a 22-mos-old child. While I navigate the complex foster-to-adopt system, I am grateful for programs that help children in foster care. My daughter receives a stipend for necessities and a subsidy to cover daycare. Medi-Cal covers her medical care until she turns 26. My local regional center provides physical and occupational therapy. And there is the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, available to foster children five and younger.
My daughter has been receiving WIC benefits for several months now, and I wanted to share my experience with acquiring healthful, plant-based foods using WIC.
What is WIC?
WIC is a publicly funded short-term federal nutrition program improving the welfare of pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children (5 and younger) who are low-income or at nutritional risk. WIC provides access to nutritionists and lactation experts, as well as a set of vouchers (sometimes an EBT card) for specific food packages. It benefits more than 6 million children and infants, and nearly 2 million women each month.
Can you eat plant-based/vegan using WIC benefits?
As an ethical vegan, I was nervous signing up for WIC. It used to be difficult to access fresh fruits and vegetables, or soy-based products without a prescription from a doctor. In 2014, WIC eliminated the requirement for medical documentation to receive vouchers for soy-milk or tofu. Not all states allow for the replacement package, so check with your local agency.
Here are some examples of healthy, plant-based options you can purchase:
What does your food package look like?
Each state may differ in the dissemination of funds. I live in California and receive two months’ worth of vouchers at a time. Here is a sample of what each voucher covers.
Fruits and vegetables: one $8 check per month for fresh (and organic, if desired) fruits, veggies or canned/frozen.You can see if your local farmer’s market participates in the Farmers Market Nutrition Program – farmer’s markets often have more affordable produce.
Soy milk & Whole grains: 2 half-gallons of soy milk, 16-oz of whole grains, 36 oz breakfast cereal.
Soy milk & Whole Grains & Juice: 2 half-gallons of soy milk, 16-oz whole grains, 2 64-oz bottled juice. The juice has to provide 120% of Vitamin C.
Soy milk & Tofu: 3 half-gallons soy milk, 1 dozen eggs (I do not get), 2 16-oz tofu, 1 16-oz beans, peas, or lentils (every other month this option is peanut butter). I love this voucher! It is jam packed with protein and good fat.
How does my daughter eat plant-based healthfully with food from the vouchers?
With my fruit and vegetable voucher, I usually am able to get about 2 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Right now (fall), I usually get a pound of strawberries (lasts my daughter two weeks) and a pound of broccoli (usually lasts my daughter 1-2 weeks). $8 of potatoes can go a long way! Note: I am privileged to live within walking and driving distance of multiple grocery stores with fresh, affordable produce. Canned and frozen are great replacements, if you don’t have access to fresh!
I use the soy milk in replacement of dairy milk at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as in baking for muffins. I usually buy whole wheat tortillas that I use with peanut butter (snack or meal), quesadillas (can replace cheese with chickpeas or starchy potatoes), or wraps (use broccoli, chickpeas, starchy potatoes, some type of green). The cereal is usually a snack, as my daughter has strong feelings about where milk and cereal should go when in a bowl (anywhere but her mouth).
I am restrictive with juice so these tend to last a long time in my house (current back-up is 5 gallons worth of grape juice) – I do not give more than 4-ounces a day to my daughter (it is diluted in water). In the summer, it is fun to freeze the juice for a cool treat.
I usually get chickpeas for stir fries or to bake in the oven as a snack. My daughter also happens to like chickpeas straight-up (cooked) with some ketchup or BBQ sauce. Alternatively I will sometimes buy lentils, although they are not my child’s favorite. Every other voucher, I get peanut butter which I put on tortillas or apples.
How much do you save with WIC?
It varies by state. I save an average of $80 per month.
Helpful tip: If you have easy access to transportation, I suggest shopping around for affordable fruits and vegetables to maximize your $8 check.
Do all grocery stores accept WIC?
If you have access to the internet, google search “WIC authorized grocery store” plus the name of your state. Each state provides a list or an app to find supermarkets that accept WIC vouchers or EBT. In my experience, not all grocery stores are published. For example, the store I shop frequently at was not listed but does accept WIC vouchers. Otherwise, call your local WIC office and they can provide a list of local chains.
Helpful Tip: When I am shopping, I make a list of my WIC purchases and place them in a separate bag at the front of the cart. I notify the cashier that the bag is for WIC.
How do I know if I qualify for WIC?
My suggestion is to call the WIC headquarters in your state. They can direct you to your local office or help determine if you or your children qualify.