The following is an article that I have on page 3A of today’s edition of The Monroe Evening News:

By Paula Wethington

If you were given a card that allowed your family to purchase specific foods meant to sup­port a nutritious diet, would you know how to find those items in a supermarket and serve them in a budget-minded, kid-friend­ly way?

That’s the goal of Shopping Matters for WIC Parents, a work­shop that features a hands- on tour through a grocery store with educational materials such as a fresh produce season chart and easy recipes. One of the tours took place Thursday morning at Meijer in Monroe, which has supported the effort with $10 gift card incentives for participants to use for fruits and vegetables.

Monroe County was the first health department in Michi­gan to adopt Shopping Matters as one of the nutrition educa­tion choices for its nearly 3,200 Women Infants Children cli­ents. The national curriculum from Share Our Strength, where it has been put into practice, is typically adopted by Head Start programs and food pantries. The health department staff ex­plained its involvement started with a $500 grant received early this year, with the first classes starting in March.

Based on the initial response, Emily Bien and Stephanie Gar­rett, who are registered dieti­cians with the Monroe County Health Department, gave a pre­sentation in May at the Michi­gan State WIC conference about its success. Tatyana Ivanova, M. D., community health and public health preparedness di­rector, added the county applied for a second $ 500 grant to con­tinue the class. WIC is a federally funded pro­gram aimed at lower- income families with children age 4 and younger, or pregnant or breast­feeding women. It is adminis­tered in Michigan by the De­partment of Community Health. The program combines specific foods selected for their nutri­tion value, with breastfeeding support, health care referrals and nutrition education. Clients use a Michigan Bridge Card at checkout to access the WIC ben­efits and “purchase” their food choices.

While the list of WIC-allowable foods expanded in March, 2011, a key component of the program has long been a specific list of grocery items. Michigan clients are provided a handout that shows how to read the codes on their shopping list, and pic­tures of supermarket foods that match up to those codes.

In some cases, such as with rolled oats, only one brand and size on the shelf at Meijer this week qualified as a WIC pur­chase. Only certain varieties of cheese, dry beans and cereals are permitted. And in the case of fruits and vegetables, most fresh produce is allowed as a WIC purchase, including organic. But white potatoes are not eligible at all.

The goal of the Shopping Mat­ters program is to show clients how to use the food purchase rules to a family’s benefit.

“ The moms that go on the tours really interact with each other and share tips. It gets the conversation going,” Ms. Garrett said.

That was certainly the expe­rience among Thursday’s par­ticipants. When the tour group went through the dry goods aisle, class participant Kimberly McNeil of Newport said beans and collard greens were one of her family’s favorite dinners; and Brandon Shotwell of Mon­roe said brown rice with ham­burger is a popular dinner with his children.

Ms. Bien also explained how to select breads that meet the “whole grain” requirement, such as “whole wheat white bread.” This is a whole grain product whose taste and appearance is similar to white bread.

Another restriction is that the WIC-allowed milk selections are typically 2 percent, 1 percent or skim milk rather than whole milk.

Ms. McNeil of Newport, whose household includes her daugh­ter and three grandsons, said the boys tend not to drink much milk. She will use milk instead as a cooking ingredient, and ex­plained whole milk works bet­ter in many recipes than even 2 percent.

In that case, Ms. Bien sug­gested buying 2 percent milk for whatever is likely to be used as a beverage.

But for families whose com­plaint about lower fat milk is in the difference in taste, Ms. Bien suggests introducing the prod­uct gradually.

The grocery tour and handout also discussed how to use unit pricing to determine the best value when buying food.

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