How one mom makes healthy meals with all WIC-approved groceries


Sunni was pregnant. Money was more than tight.

So she applied for WIC — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Administered by the US Department of Agriculture, the program provides extra food to low-income people who were pregnant or recently had a baby, plus children up to age 5. In 2021, the program had 6.2 million participants, including 43% of all babies born in the US

Poor nutrition can have severe consequences during pregnancy. A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who did not have easy access to food in their neighborhood were 27% more likely to have a preterm birth. Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and having a baby with low birth weight are other risks for people who don’t get proper nutrition during pregnancy.

Marissa Rudd, a New York City writer and mother, who goes by Sunni, quickly identified part of the problem: The foods people are eligible to receive through WIC can be limited, and figuring out how to make a nutritious meal from them requires some culinary creativity.

When Rudd signed up in her home state of New York, she was surprised to find that she was allowed plenty of canned beans, milk, cheese and cereal — but just $8 worth of produce.

Those ingredients didn’t fit with the meals Rudd enjoyed pre-pregnancy. So she started coming up with recipes featuring WIC-approved ingredients. Mimi’s black bean soup. Veggie enchiladas. They worked so well that she began posting them on TikTok.

“As I posted those, I realized I was coming up with a catalog of recipes and it was helping a lot of people. So I tried to organize it in a way that was as accessible as possible,” she said. The result is the “WIC” Cookbookavailable on her website, www.sunnimusique.com.

Follow her on TikTok at @justsunni for more recipes and tips.

All of the above. It is meant to be a supplemental program, so in between, you’re wondering, “how am I going to make this stretch?” WIC also doesn’t give you any meat, apart from canned tuna and salmon, and those are only in the postpartum package.

Because of that, I had a very hard time finding protein options. What I’ve learned from other moms is that it is also very challenging for individuals who cannot have gluten and people who have dairy and soy allergies.

There is a lot of protein in other foods. Our culture is really focused on meat-based protein. But you can get just as much protein from beans. I incorporate a lot of beans, including chickpeas. Plus dark leafy vegetables and whole grains — whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread.

Eating seasonally is a great way to cut down on produce costs. Right now, blackberries and apples are in season. Corn is coming up. Hold off on the strawberries until spring.

Simply reducing your food waste cuts down on costs. Prepping your produce — taking it out of the bags and storing in containers — is another quick way to make your produce last.

Every morning, when I think about the day’s meals, I go right to the produce drawer. I pull out things that are about to go bad, and I start there. I pull out the spinach that’s starting to look a little wilty, the half a green pepper that I used last night, the onion I’m still working on.

I’m pulling produce out of the drawer every single meal, every single day.

I have a free produce shopping guide that’s downloadable from my bio on TikTok or my website. I have a checklist for all the fruits and vegetables I get from the store.

You can regrow your own vegetables. I do a lot of that. I get bunches of chives, and as long as they have roots and bulbs at the bottom, you can just put them in water and they will grow. You can do the same thing with lettuce.

I have discovered a lot of substitutions because, again, on WIC not everything is covered. For example, we might not get sour cream, but we do get plain yogurt. If I make a loaded baked potato with cheese, chives and a veggie, I’ll also put a dollop of plain yogurt on top.

I always say to apply for everything that you can. You can apply for both WIC and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and you can be on both programs at the same time. I would also encourage you, if you are on WIC, to use that produce benefit right away and use all of it.

If you purchase vegetables regularly and you learn to incorporate them into your diet, then they become your routine. That’s how we do things in our family, which now includes my daughter, Robyn. We start with the vegetables and build everything else around it.

If I have all these fruits and vegetables in my refrigerator, and my daughter wants a snack … the next thing you know, she’s eating more fruits and vegetables.

I always say “practice makes permanent.” It gets easier over time.

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Try one of Sunni’s WIC-approved — and vegetarian — recipes.

INGREDIENTS

1 onion, diced

3 stalks of celery, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/2 red pepper, diced

1 vegetable broth cube

2 cans of black beans

1 cup water

shredded cheese and avocado (optional garnish)

DIRECTIONS

Add diced vegetables, bouillon cube, water and 1/2 can of black beans to a large pot and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, making sure bouillon has dissolved.

Transfer mixture to a blender and blend until smooth.

Return mixture to pot and add remaining black beans.

Simmer another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to heat through.

Spoon into a bowl and top with cheese and avocado, if using.

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