WIC Vegan Food Options In The United States
If you live in the United States and are pregnant or have a kid under 5, you might be eligible for free food through WIC. You might have heard of WIC and wondered whether there are WIC vegan food options. While not all WIC options are vegan, WIC provides my family with about $90 of free vegan food each month.
WIC stands for Women, Infants, and Children, and it’s a government nutrition program that serves more than half of all infants born in the United States, and about a quarter of all children ages 1-4.
Am I eligible?
To be eligible for WIC, you must be pregnant or have an infant or a child less than 5 years old. (Parents, step-parents, guardians, and foster parents can apply for their children.) You need to reside in the United States—any of the 50 states, 5 US territories, Washington DC, or any of 34 Indian Tribal Organizations—but you don’t need to be a US citizen to get WIC benefits (this is true even in states like Arizona where many other benefits require proof of citizenship). The household income cutoff is 185% of the poverty line, so currently that’s $37,777 in most states for a family of three, or $45,510 for a family of four (and if you’re pregnant, your fetus counts as a family member).
To be eligible for benefits, a health professional at your WIC appointment must also find you to be at “nutrition risk,” but, as over half of all United States babies are on WIC, WIC workers are clearly looking for a reason to label your family this way so they can help you get food. You know your veganism is healthy, but a WIC employee might even quote veganism as a reason you qualify for “nutrition risk.” WIC professionals will weigh you and your baby, check your iron and talk about your diet. While it may feel intrusive, this monitoring might even prove helpful if your family has an actual medical need.
So what kind of vegan food options can you get on WIC?
When you are pregnant or during your first year of nursing, the WIC vegan food options are soy milk, tofu, choice of peanut butter or beans, frozen juice concentrate, fresh or frozen produce, whole grains (such as rice, bread, and noodles), and cereal.
When your baby is 6-12 months, many of the options are the same, but you also can get jarred fruit/veggie baby food and baby cereal.
From your baby’s 1st birthday until their 5th birthday, the WIC vegan food options in the United States are mostly the same foods as when you were pregnant/nursing, just in different amounts, and the juice options switch to shelf-stable juices instead of frozen. The idea now is that the benefits are just for your child, not you.
What about organic?
Some of the foods can be organic, some can’t. Despite there being a lot of federal guidance for WIC, states still have power in how they choose to administer benefits, and many states use that power to prohibit families from choosing organic.
In my state, Washington, the organic WIC vegan food options are tofu, beans, produce, whole grains, jarred baby food, baby cereal, and we can get soy milk made from organic soy beans (though the finished product is not certified organic).
What about soy formula?
WIC is actively pro-breastfeeding, but they also provide a soy formula option for baby’s first year, for those who request it.
If you are supplementing with a different formula that you pay for yourself (for instance, after 6 months, I breastfed alongside Baby’s Only Organic Soy Formula), you can let WIC know you are continuing to breastfeed so that you keep getting your breastfeeding-parent checks.
What non-vegan items should I avoid?
At your appointments, you can specify that you only want vegan food options. They can take the dairy milk and cheese off of your checks and replace them with soy milk and tofu. They can switch the ratios around for you to give you more tofu or more soy milk. For my family, the sweet spot is 3 packs of tofu a month and 13 quarts of soy milk, as you have to give up more than one quart of soy milk for each tofu after that.
The non-vegan WIC items that currently have no vegan replacement are jarred meat, eggs, fish and dairy yogurt. You can ask to take them off your checks, and even if they are on your checks, you obviously don’t need to purchase them.
Vegans use your own discretion about cereals, which may be fortified with animal-sourced vitamins. There are hot cereal options too; in many states you can opt for oats as your vegan cereal option.
Where do I get my food?
At your WIC appointments, you’ll be given either checks with specific food items printed on them or a card that’s loaded with your benefits. Some states have WIC-only distribution centers attached to the place you get your WIC benefits, but most families on WIC get their food at regular grocery stores. Stores can choose whether to accept WIC benefits, and most big grocery stores do. My local co-op also chooses to accept WIC and, for that reason, keeps some items on hand that you wouldn’t normally find at a natural food store (non-organic frozen orange juice concentrate, for example). You have the option to put two names on your WIC checks so that two different adults are authorized to pick up the WIC groceries.
Do I need a doctor’s note to get vegan food options on WIC?
Most of the WIC vegan food options are standard, but some people report having trouble getting soy milk/tofu without a doctor’s note. Every state has their own way of dealing with WIC, but many times a difficulty you face is not state policy, but rather a misunderstanding or a prejudice that a doctor or WIC professional has. Since they often speak with authority, it can be difficult to know if what they’re saying is truly state policy.
If a WIC professional or your doctor is giving you a hard time, it’s possible they are looking at the wrong form, the one to approve WIC expenditures for specialized formulas/foods that are something besides dairy/soy. When requesting something besides WIC’s standard dairy/soy options, a doctor needs to find a medical need, but “vegan diet” or “preference” are generally enough of a reason for just soy milk/tofu/soy formula. Even in states like North Dakota (with no reputation for being vegan-friendly) soy milk is a standard option, and the medical form is reserved for options besides dairy/soy.
If someone is making it difficult for you, take a deep breath and ask to speak to a different WIC worker (you can always request to have your appointments with one who you prefer). If you do end up needing a doctor’s note, and your pediatrician is giving you a hard time about vegan food options, this may be a sign that you should switch to a different doctor who respects your family’s choices and your access to healthy benefits that work for your situation.
Are there other benefits besides food?
WIC hooks you up with other things too, if you need/want them – lactation consultants, mental health resources, parenting support groups, help signing up for food stamps, heating assistance, free kids’ programs, children’s books about fruits and veggies, and (in some locations) farmers’ market vouchers.
Are there any downsides?
At some point, someone may make things hard for you, either in the usual classist ways lower-income families encounter all the time, or by specifically trying to stand in the way of you getting WIC vegan food options.
My WIC workers have never given me a hard time about vegan food options, but I’ve cried multiple times at the grocery store when a line is forming behind me while checkers discuss whether I should be allowed the products I’ve chosen (that I KNOW are covered by WIC).
Most recently, I cried when a grocery manager told me I couldn’t have my WIC-approved tofu because it had the word “premium” on it. “You can’t get premium items on WIC,” he insisted, even though the word was just marketing, and I’d never had a problem getting this tofu before.
These sorts of situations can be emotional, but please never feel ashamed to utilize community resources to provide for your family. All of our tax dollars contribute to this program, and nourishing little ones is a benefit for everyone!
https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/frequently-asked-questions-about-wic (Who’s eligible?)
http://www.azdhs.gov/documents/director/FAQs-Citizenship-Legal-Status.pdf (Citizenship not required.)
https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-food-packages-regulatory-requirements-wic-eligible-foods (Federal requirements for each WIC food category)
https://www.in.gov/isdh/files/2015_04_55323_Children.pdf (Example of a state’s form where Vegan is listed as a valid reason to get soy options)
https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/44073/57246_eib152.pdf?v=42488 (Tons of info on where people spend their WIC checks)
https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-contacts (Find a WIC office in your state.)
Tags: Baby, children, Food, new parent advice, parenting questions, toddler, vegan food, VEGAN FOOD OPTIONS, Why Vegan, WIC