Swiss chard mac and cheese? Spinach egg rolls? Parents, you might be surprised at some of the nutritious twists you can easily add to familiar family dishes and maybe even more surprised by how much your kids will like them.

"You can get kids to eat anything if it's in a form they recognize," said Emily Noble, chef and cooking instructor at Mississippi Market in St. Paul. "If you put some Swiss chard into their pasta, they might pick around the vegetable at first, but they'll eventually try it and like it."

Bringing kids into the kitchen is also one of the keys to creating healthful habits. "It's great to empower kids to know they can prepare food themselves and have fun doing it," she said, whether by assembling veggie-filled egg rolls or using cookie cutters on fresh ravioli dough.

It's true that the palates of young children can be more sensitive to the bitter taste of vegetables, such as broccoli, but parents should be persistent because those palates will change as they grow older. Noble suggests lightly stir-frying the broccoli with onions, garlic and a little oil. "Don't overcook it; make sure it stays a little crunchy," she said, noting the additional flavors help make broccoli more appealing to kids.

Noble, who has a master's degree in nutrition, has always enjoyed the challenge of creating healthful meals. Several years ago, she worked as the chef on a tall ship and was responsible for feeding the passengers -- many traveling with children -- and the crew.

"I had such a small kitchen, but adults and kids would still come down to the galley to watch me cook," Noble said. "I started experimenting with ways to make favorites like pizza more healthy and showed them it's really not as complicated as they thought it would be."

Last summer, Noble started a "90 Salads in 90 Days" blog (, where she took advantage of the bounty of produce at the St. Paul Farmers Market to create a different salad every day -- such as Fishing in the Rain Salad, made with purple kale, or Clown Complex Salad, with beets and balsamic vinegar. She plans to do a similar blog this year.

"It's just all about making a daily commitment to change a habit. Maybe it's introducing one new vegetable into your diet every day for a month," she said. "Kids really take cues from their parents when it comes to food, so these changes could have a positive effect on everyone in the family."

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer. Got an idea for the Your Family page? E-mail us at with "Your Family" in the subject line.