What It's Like To Be On WIC, and How To Support Families Who Need It


photo of a parent and kid smiling at each other

WIC is a supplemental nutrition program that provides food and nutrition support to pregnant people and families with children up to 5 years old. It’s an essential nationwide program that helps families get the food they need. WIC works alongside with other food security programs, such as food stamps (FoodShare or SNAP), as an additional benefit for pregnant people and people with small children.  

Getting Approved

To qualify for WIC benefits, you must:

  • Live in Wisconsin

  • Be pregnant or caring for a child younger than 5 years old
  • Make less than a certain amount of money—see the DHS website for details. In general, if you are eligible for other programs such as Medicaid or FoodShare and have children under 5, you likely qualify for WIC

If you meet these guidelines, you can apply for WIC on our website. Any legal guardians can apply for WIC for their children.

Getting Benefits

Wisconsin provides WIC benefits on a WIC card, which is similar to a credit card. To redeem your benefits, you have to attend a WIC appointment over the phone or in person. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Wisconsin WIC appointments have been phone only.

At your first appointment, you will meet with one of our dietitians to talk about your nutrition goals for you and your family. If you are breastfeeding, our lactation consultants and peer counselors will support you in your goals. We can also help you adjust to having a new baby at home, and give you referrals for things like housing, child care, and dental/health needs.  

After your first appointment, you will receive up to 3 months of cash benefits which are good for certain foods at participating grocery stores. Your benefits expire every 30 days, so if you don’t use up the benefits for one month, they do not roll over into the next month. You will also receive the details of what foods you can get depending on what you qualify for. In general, WIC provides a certain amount of produce, whole grains, cereal, beans, canned meat, and dairy.

Shopping for Groceries

Once you have your benefits loaded, you can go to a WIC-approved grocery store to buy food. You can use the shopping guide or the MyWIC Wisconsin app to figure out which groceries you are able to buy. Then, you can check out. You should plan to separate your WIC groceries from the rest of your groceries in order to check out. You might not be able to use a self-checkout station and currently you cannot order groceries online.

WIC Could Be Even Better
table from the wisconsin wic shopping guide showing the specific brands and sizes of bread that are allowable on WIC.

The WIC benefits package is helpful to families, but it can also be complicated. Below are a few examples of some of the restrictions:

  • If you have a loaf of bread on your benefits package, you can’t just pick up any loaf of bread at the store. Instead, you have to get 100% whole wheat bread of a specific size, and it has to list whole wheat flour as the first ingredient (see table to the right).

  • If you’re pregnant, you can only buy 48 oz bottles of juice. But if you have a two year old, you can only buy 64 oz bottles of juice. You can’t substitute for different sizes, even if they are smaller.

We know these rules can be hard to manage while making ends meet on a limited income and either being pregnant or caring for young children. As a local health department, we have to follow the state WIC program guidelines. But we are here to help you get in the groove and get used to your benefits! If you have trouble at the store, you can always call us at 608-267-1111 and we will help answer your questions.

The Bottom Line: Families Deserve to Eat

WIC is an essential program to promote healthy beginnings for families. We can all do our part:

If you believe you qualify for WIC

Apply! We can help you through the program and make it as easy as possible to get your benefits. We want you to get the food you and your family need.

If you are currently on WIC

Reach out to us! We are here for you if you run into any issues receiving your benefits or need support.

If you want to support families on WIC

  • Be patient at the grocery store. Know that this program is complex, and families are doing their best to get what they need. The last thing people need is an angry face behind them as they try to get their card to work.

  • Consider donating or volunteering at your local food pantry or organization that support families. WIC is only a supplemental program, and families often need food support from multiple places.

The WIC program is currently accepting feedback on their new proposed benefits package through February 21, 2023. You can leave your own comment if you have thoughts of how the program could be improved!

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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