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Want the job done right and cheaply? Here’s how states can help moms and taxpayers save
State agencies often are involved in programs so large and complex that it can be difficult to see the benefits for residents. But occasionally they are able to work with something simple and straightforward that has an obvious positive impact on people’s lives and also should benefit the state budget in the long-term. One such program is the partnership between the New Mexico Department of Health’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and Fresh Baby, a start-up company founded to teach women to make their own baby food.
Fresh Baby co-founder Joan Ahlers, a New Mexico resident and former WIC recipient, tells State Health Watch she and her sister started the company when they realized there wasn’t any single source of information and guidance available to help mothers learn to make their own baby food when their children were ready to start on solid foods.
"With my first child," she says, "I brought home canned foods from the grocery store and didn’t like the way they looked or tasted. I decided I couldn’t give my child food that tasted like that, so my mother helped me learn to make my own. I taught my sister when she had her first child, and we decided to put everything together in a kit and market it to help other mothers get started."
Ms. Ahlers says that while there are some cookbooks available for homemade baby food, there hasn’t been anything that puts all the answers in one box and includes hard-to-find supplies that are needed, such as covered ice cube trays that have compartments for 1-ounce servings.
"We have an instructional video; hints on how to pick good fruits and vegetables and then store them properly to preserve their nutritional value; charts on the nutrients in each food item; [and] reference cards on when to introduce different foods as well as on baby ailments and health problems — everything a mother needs to make 24 servings in 30 minutes," Ms. Ahlers says.
While Fresh Baby initially marketed its kits through stores and Internet/direct mail, Ms. Ahlers realized the information and techniques in them could be very useful to mothers receiving assistance through the WIC program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture formed WIC in 1974 to assist low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breast-feeding women, and infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk. Operating through state agencies, WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition counseling, and referrals to health and other social services free to participants. Nearly 47% of all babies born in the United States participate in WIC. In New Mexico, 51% of newborns are WIC participants.
New Mexico Department of Health WIC Nutrition Coordinator Deanna Torres tells State Health Watch that Ms. Ahlers initially asked the agency for help in reviewing the Fresh Baby kit, and the staff realized it would be beneficial for their clients. They purchased kits for each of the WIC centers across the state and will use them as the centerpiece of an educational program to teach mothers how to prepare their own baby food. The mothers also will have an opportunity to purchase a stripped-down version of the kit at a reduced price.
Helps rest of family, too
Ms. Ahlers and Ms. Torres say the key benefits of making your own baby food are that the infants receive a high level of nutritional value, while the parents spend less money than they would for processed foods. In addition, they say, the parental involvement in preparing and serving foods for those between 6 months and 12 months of age actually helps the entire family eat a more healthy diet.
WIC also promotes the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program that provides coupons families can use to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers’ markets. The program provides fresh, unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables to WIC participants and also expands consumers’ awareness and use of farmers’ markets.
Fresh Baby now is approaching other states and ultimately plans to offer the nutritional education and kits through every WIC agency nationally, Ms. Ahlers says.
[For more information, go to: www.freshbaby.com. Contact Ms. Ahlers at (505) 661-0216 and Ms. Torres at (505) 476-8805.]