Food and beverages marketed to children is a $23 billion business. According to “The Kid Food and Beverage Market in the U.S.,” 7th edition report, food manufacturers target kids in seven specific categories: dairy products, snacks, frozen foods, beverages, cereal, shelf stable meals and produce. Taste is crucial, but so is nutrition, and believe it or not, entertainment.  Hence cartoon figures and high-profile athletes and celebs are often part of kid-targeted food campaigns. Growth of kids’ foods is pacing faster than all other sectors, according to certain tracking indices. Food manufacturers consider 9-year-olds pretty established in their lifelong dietary habits and preferences, something that I am keenly aware of as a health professional and nutritionist. By the time a child is 9 years old, his palate can be corrupted for life.  An apple just won’t measure up to a bag of cheese puffs...ever!

So when I attend a food and products show like Natural Products Expo West, I am especially interested in finding foods with simple ingredient lists, few if any additives, good taste, affordability and nationwide accessibility. Most American families concerned with the obesity epidemic and its associated high rates of diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol levels, should be trying to eat simple nutritious foods that are less processed. Unfortunately reality demands quick food decisions, eating on the run and emphasizing convenience. I’d love to see home cooking as an integral part of American life – but I am forced to recognize that consumers want quick food answers.  So I plan on scouting out “the best choices” from a variety of product sectors, including cereals, baked goods, snacks and treats, soups, easy-to-prepare entrees and side dishes, nutrition bars, and nut butters, to name a few.

I also plan to check out seasonings and taste enhancements since boosting flavor is crucial to reducing sugar and fat in recipes. Adults and kids are still drinking too many “fluid calories” and so zero-calorie flavored waters and teas are also on my priority list.  Nutrition bars have become an integral part of the American diet, so I am always ready to hear about new formulations and reformulations, new tastes and the research behind the specific protein/fat/carbohydrate formularies.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy all the taste-testing that goes on at the event….heck, I wait for this all year. But as someone who covers diet and fitness, and as a health coach, this event is invaluable in helping me to track the trends being set by manufacturers in response to their perception of what consumers want. The question is – are the products healthy, wholesome and nutritious, and do the labels reflect an overall effort to provide healthier, nutritious foods with true label transparency?  

Editor's note: Amy blogs regularly at www.healthgal.com.