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Mikey Likes It

Remember the old Life cereal television commercials? Two kids sit at the breakfast table, looking warily at a bowl of Life cereal that their Mom had placed before them. "What is this stuff?" one of them asks. The other, presumably his brother, says, "Some cereal. Mom says it's supposed to be good for you." "Well, I'm not gonna try it," the first one decides, sliding the bowl to the second, who suddenly perks up. "Let's get Mikey. He won't try it. He hates everything!"

The bowl goes to the littlest brother, sitting in his booster seat. He looks at the cereal, picks up a spoon and digs in. "He likes it!" the brothers exclaim. "Hey Mikey!"

Such are the tribulations that many a parent has had in trying to get their children to eat healthy food. It's a tough job, and requires a bit of cunning (note the books out that advise parents on sneaking vegetables into their kids' favorite foods). Food companies have gone to great lengths to appeal to young taste buds, but somewhere along the way, the goal became influenced by marketing, profits and the competing consumer demands of convenience and health.

The obesity epidemic, public awareness and the nation's continuing swing back to the health side of the pendulum has brought about significant changes in the food business. That's why there are 3,000 exhibit booths here at Expo West, and a surprising number of them are targeted at kids.

There are plenty of options for children on the floor, like squeezable yogurt, gummy vitamins, kid-friendly snack bars, dried fruit chips and organic baby food for the littlest ones. Don't even ask about the beverages.

It seems to be a good policy to let families into the exhibition area. Companies get to test their products out in real time, with real results; Moms and Dads get to surreptitiously write down the names of products their children seem to enjoy. The food industry is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, but it all comes down to the taste buds of one young person. The efforts seen on the show floor tell me that Mikey will find a lot to like here.