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Dream big

A 13-year-old Manawatu student tells the story of how she is already well on the way to achieving her dream of running a healthy food enterprise.

"Hi – I’m Maddie and I am a Year 9 student at Palmerston North Girls’ High School. From an early age I’ve been passionate about cooking and baking. I decided to enter a food project to the Science & Technology Fair at school for the first time three years ago. In Year 7, I developed a combination of gluten-free flours that made the best cupcakes ever – nobody could tell they were gluten free! There was no grittiness or strange aftertaste and they had a lovely, soft texture. My project was then selected for the Manawatu Science & Technology Fair (MSTF) where I won a couple of minor prizes, but I realised that if I wanted to do well I must come up with an innovative idea.

I spent the next 12 months developing my project. After extensive research I was shocked to discover that 60 per cent of Kiwi kids are not eating their recommended 5+ fruit and vegetables a day. I decided to develop a healthy ice cream that contains 50 per cent vegetables but tastes like raspberry ice cream. After much trialling and sampling I came up with a product that is low in sugar and fat, with an appealing raspberry flavour, as well as being packed full of vegetables you couldn’t taste. I ensured that there were veges from all the colour groups to optimise the amount of different vitamins and minerals in the product. Now kids could snack on ice cream after school and be eating their vegetables without knowing it! This project was also chosen to be entered in the MSTF and I was so excited when I won the Premier Prize for Technology. Not only did I win $625 in prize money and three prizes, but best of all I won an internship at Fonterra’s Research and Development Centre.

My latest project has taken me hundreds of hours of research, trialling, sampling and development. I have spent all my school holidays working on it. My friends think I’m crazy! After noticing other school students eating unhealthy chips, cakes, biscuits and sweets for lunch I decided to create a ready-to-eat, nutritionally balanced lunch meal that could be sold at the school café or at the supermarket. I set myself quite challenging specifications. The product had to:

  • Contain at least two portions of a teenager’s daily fruit and vegetable intake
  • Should contain fruit and vegetables from each of the five colour groups
  • Provide one serving of protein and two servings of slow-release carbohydrates
  • Be low in fat
  • Contain no added sugar
  • Contain no artificial colourings, flavourings or additives
  • Be high in fibre without containing large ‘bits’ that kids do not enjoy eating
  • Cost under $5 to produce
  • Have a unique point of difference to other ready-to-eat products on the market, ie. targeted at teenagers, fun to eat, colourful and bright recyclable packaging

I decided to create a raspberry flavoured fruit milk jelly, a raspberry/vegetable purée and healthy dipping biscuits. The biggest challenge was making crunchy biscuits without sugar as sugar creates the crunch. I initially tried replacing the sugar with honey but this created a cake-like texture. After weeks of trialling I finally found a combination that worked and I was able to create crunchy sugar-free biscuits, packed full of oats for long-lasting energy and shaped like a spoon for dipping. Another challenge was getting a portion of protein into the product. To do this I had to add milk powder into the fruit milk jelly, but this left a horrible aftertaste. Once again, lots of trials were required to get the right combination of raspberry taste with the correct setting and consistency.

I had finally come up with a product I was happy with, and one that was enjoyable to eat. This was a well-balanced meal, low in fat, sugar and salt, and containing two portions of fruit and vegetables, one portion of protein and three portions of carbohydrates. No added sugar was used – only natural sugars from honey (fructose) and milk (lactose). It is also high in vitamin C (60 per cent of RDI), calcium (34 per cent RDI), vitamin A (35 per cent RDI) and iron (11 per cent RDI). My meal looks attractive and at $5 it is an affordable, healthy lunch option for busy working parents to provide for their children.

I was thrilled to win the Premier Prize for Technology at the MSTF once again, plus four other prizes including an engineering award for my packaging design. Although the $825 of prize money is fantastic, I was more excited about winning another internship with Fonterra. For this project I also received my Silver Crest Science Award.

My dream for the future is to earn a Gold Crest (which only one or two NZ students gain each year) and then go on to study for a PhD in Food Technology at University. I have already started work on next year’s project – another healthy food product for kids. Hopefully one day in the future I may have my own business providing healthy but tasty food options for children.

Thanks again."

Maddison McQueen-Davies

First published: Nov 2015



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