Grocery gift cards improve the quality of kids’ diets

Feb 24, 2023

We’re inspired to learn that our new approach empowers food-insecure families to improve the quality of food they feed their children.

When I Can for Kids (iCAN) transitioned from free food provision to a grocery gift card program, we felt confident that our new approach would empower families in greatest need to buy their children healthier foods. 

We were spot-on. 

Our research with the University of Calgary shows that families prioritize the financial boost from our grocery gift cards to offset the high cost of fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, and meats. During  our direct conversations with recipients and our 2022 program evaluation, we learned that the families who access our support need help now more than ever to afford fresh and healthy foods due to the harsh impact of soaring inflation.   

With your ongoing support, we will increase the number of food-insecure kids across our city who not only get enough to eat, but also get to eat enough of what they need for optimal growth and development.   

New research confirms that diet quality is a major issue for all food-insecure populations. Adults and children who are severely food insecure experience the poorest diet quality of all Canadians and they must rely on greater amounts of cheap yet unhealthy ultra-processed foods. This news is especially important in Calgary because Alberta has the highest rate of severe food insecurity across all ten provinces. Another recent study notes that the risk of food insecurity among teenagers is nearly 50% higher in Alberta compared to Ontario, and that adolescents who live in single-parent, Indigenous, or visible minority households are 60% to 80% more likely to be food insecure. 

But we have good news! The iCAN grocery gift card program targets and services the specific groups of children and families in greatest need. Nearly 70% of the households who access our support are single-parent families, while 25% of all recipients are from Indigenous backgrounds and 63% are visible minorities. During our research interviews, one such family explained why they much prefer grocery gift cards over other charitable food options: “The food in food hampers goes bad fast and you don’t have a lot of time to eat it. With a grocery gift card, it’s just nice to choose fresh vegetables, fruit, and meat. We definitely enjoy the cards more.”

And there’s even more good news! Our research also showed that our grocery gift cards enable families to teach their children key skills such as meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. When parents can afford to buy all the ingredients to make a specific recipe, their children express more interest in getting involved. One single mother told us that her school-aged son “is very intrigued with baking and cooking. While I always had the cooking tools, I just didn’t have the money to go get all the ingredients. So now he plans meals with the grocery gift card.”

We saved the best news for last! Our grocery gift cards also empower parents to better manage their children’s health issues. Families use our gift cards to buy the specific – and often expensive – items that health professionals recommend to improve health conditions or prevent negative reactions to food sensitivities and allergies. One relieved father explained how priceless our support has been by allowing him to enhance the options for his daughter who has Celiac disease: “It’s super important that she has access to enough food, because my other kids like a lot of foods that she can’t eat. It’s so nice to be able to buy her things and not stress about the cost because I have a grocery gift card.” Interestingly, the surge in grocery prices has further intensified the struggle to afford gluten-free foods.

To join iCAN’s expanding list of sponsors and champions, check out the different ways you can get involved or donate

To learn more about I Can for Kids and their unique approach to childhood food insecurity, visit 

About Donald Barker

Donald has worked as a registered dietitian for more than 25 years. He also has a professional background in communications and has long advocated for populations who face adverse, unjust, or systemic barriers that lead to higher rates of poor social, mental, emotional, and physical health outcomes. Donald currently volunteers as an Advisor with iCAN to support our transition towards evidence-based approaches that help improve the well-being of children in Calgary who live in low-income and food-insecure households. You can learn more about Donald at

About I Can for Kids Foundation

I Can for Kids works closely with multiple agency partners to target and distribute grocery gift cards to food-insecure families who are most in need. The iCAN grocery gift card program is a more dignified and inclusive approach to dealing with food insecurity, allowing families to shop where everyone else shops and to choose foods that are appropriate for their health and cultural needs. Last year, iCAN supported more than 34,000 children across Calgary.

For more information and media inquiries, please contact iCAN Executive Director, Bobbi Turko at

More than a meal: fueling healthy child development with grocery gift cards

More than a meal: fueling healthy child development with grocery gift cards

I Can for Kids (iCAN) aims to create a world where all children have an equal opportunity to thrive. And what better way to achieve this than by empowering parents to strengthen the environment their kids need for optimal growth, development, and resilience. In this blog, we describe how our grocery gift card program offers incredible potential to boost much more than a child’s diet and nutrition.

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