WASHINGTON Let them eat tofu, the government says.
That's one of the new food products being offered under a major overhaul of the Women, Infants and Children program. But primarily, the Agriculture Department wants more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on the plates of poor women and children and less milk, cheese, eggs and juice.
The department calls the change the first major revision of the program in 30 years. The changes will be effective next February, and state agencies will then have 18 months to implement them. The program serves about 8 million people.
Eric Steiner, the department's associate administrator for special nutrition programs, said WIC recipients typically have diets deficient in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. He said there's also a prevalence of obesity among the population.
The USDA based the changes on suggestions by the Institute of Medicine with the caveat that the revisions not increase costs.
The reductions of other products, such as dairy, were made both to keep the cost of the program from rising and to improve nutrition.
"The revised packages have less saturated fat and cholesterol, and this is accomplished by reducing the quantities of milk and cheese," Steiner said. Under the WIC program, people receive vouchers for specific foods, averaging about $39 a month in 2007. Under the revisions, vouchers for fruits and vegetables will be $6 for children, $8 for women and $10 for fully breast-feeding women with the goal of encouraging more women to breast feed.
Products such as tofu, soy beverages, tortillas and brown rice are being offered as alternatives to meet the demands of more culturally diverse populations.