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Every parent knows the difficulty in making healthy food that kids actually want to eat. But imagine for a second if you had to please thousands of kids at the nation’s biggest playland.

That was the task for a team of CALS food science students competing in a national contest sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association. The annual event challenges university students to create novel food products that are judged by a panel of industry experts. UW-Madison’s food product development team has won top prize three times since 2001.

This year’s competition featured a new twist. Students were asked to design a healthy, kid-friendly snack for Walt Disney’s consumer products division, which cosponsored the event. “The product had to have a fruit or vegetable ingredient and had to be Disney-themed,” says Andy Renaud, who led the five students on UW-Madison’s team.

Enter the Mickioli, a waffle sandwich shaped like the head of Mickey Mouse. To make the waffles more nutritious, the students used quinoa, a nutrient-packed, gluten-free grain. Between the waffles are layers of strawberry and yogurt filling.

Mickioli advanced to the final round of the competition, earning the students a trip to Disneyland to present their product to food-industry and Disney executives. Despite its showing, the Mickioli isn’t likely to turn up on the menu at Disney’s theme parks. The open nature of the student competition makes it difficult for companies to adopt the students’ ideas, says Rich Hartel, a food science professor who advises the team.

“Typically, companies don’t buy the rights to develop these products because all the information about how to make them is made public during the course of the competition,” he says.

But food companies are after something else: the students themselves. “I always get asked questions about team members by companies recruiting for product development staff,” says Hartel. “Companies are definitely interested in them.”