Exclusive: Dr. Lisette Rodriguez's Abuela-Approved Cookbook is Revolutionizing Homemade Baby Food
Lisette Rodriguez knows a thing or two about the importance of having a plan.
The mother of two and full-time professor of public health has been helping mothers plan the best nutrition plan for their children since she began working as a lactation specialist in the mother and baby unit at her local hospital at the age of 18.
Years later, after having her own children, she realized there was a lack of nutritional resources available for Hispanic and Latino parents.
With her own knowledge and perfect guinea pigs—her own children—she set out to create My Homemade Baby: Food Introduction Guidebook, a step-by-step guide that features exclusive techniques that encourage Latin families to cook for their babies using natural ingredients.
"I have my own kids and I breastfed them—that was always the first realm of nutrition for us. Then we got into solids right when the pandemic started, I said, 'right now this is the best opportunity for me,' because I noticed throughout my experience [working] that there weren't a lot of resources, especially in my community, for a lot of Hispanic mothers to be able to cook for their babies," she tells People Chica. "A lot of the book is geared towards the Hispanic culture, but there are ingredients that you are going to find everywhere."
Coming from a Cuban family, Rodriguez paid homage to traditional recipes and ingredients, all abuela-approved, while making it easy for parents to remain practical with the help of her guidebook.
"I'm of Cuban descent and it's very traditional for the grandmothers to cook a big pot of potaje [bean stew] for the family where you're taking beans, pumpkin and cassava—an entire feast," she explains. "But what happens is that for the children, one pot of that can render an entire month of food. They eat the same nutrition, the same texture, they're not really exposed to a variety of different nutrients and textures."
Her guidebook features the original cook, cube and combine method, gearing away from the concept of traditional recipes where ingredients are cooked together. Instead, foods are cooked individually and blended into pairing charts for almost 40 plant-based ingredients and meal combinations.
"The concept of this book is to cook ingredients in large quantities and individually," she says. "You would freeze these ingredients in portion size and when it's time to feed, they're in the fridge and you're able to mix in pumpkin with yogurt, or pumpkin with beans, pumpkin with apples. It doesn't have to be the same mixture for an entire month."
Additionally, Rodriguez has made the process seamless, with meal planning calendars, shopping lists and step-by-step guides on how to cook ingredients on the stovetop and pressure cooker.
"For me, it had to be practical," she adds. "I delivered my second baby, defended my dissertation—I'm a doctor in public health and I'm a full-time professor in public health—so, I knew by cooking you're offering your children the best nutrition within the first thousand days of life."
The guidebook also comes at a time when warnings against heavy metals, added sugars and chemicals are becoming more prevalent in processed baby foods parents buy at the supermarket. Because of this, making homemade baby food the top feeding option has become more important than ever.
"The biggest thing right now, that's in high alert, is the amount of metals that are being found in baby food. The leading baby food companies have all had large recalls, large lawsuits, because there really was no boundary for lead in baby food," she says. "There are boundaries in the water we drink, but not in baby food. ADHD rates have skyrocketed, behavior problems have skyrocketed, cancers in young children in adults have skyrocketed."
She adds, "A lot of parents are switching and are wanting to cook from home just to diminish the amount of metals that are ingested at a young age."
In tandem with the book, parents can purchase kits that provide a tray that freezes pureed or mashed baby food for the combining concepts. For example, parents can fill full trays, or divide them between different ingredients such as apples and oatmeal. Then, when it's time to feed, all they have to do is pick out a cube that is readily available and serve it.
"The first section of the book is dedicated to how to cook each individual ingredient, how to pick it at the best time, how to puree or mash, depending on different stages and then the good thing is that it also has how to cook, be [it] on the stove [or] how to cook it in the pressure cooker," she explains.
As far as picky eaters go, Rodriguez says the methods used in this book helps parents introduce ingredients in different forms to help children recognize their diverse textures, flavors and pairings.
"There's a lot of talk on baby weaning with the concept of whether you go to baby eating raw, or you go the puree route, or the mashed route, it's all about offering individual foods so that when a child sees an avocado, they know what it feels like, they know what it tastes like," she starts. "At the same time, you can mix and use an apple to dip into a yogurt. It's all about a bit of creativity. What I wanted to offer in this book is the fact that you didn't really have to be creative. That's why the mixing and the pairing charts are there."
For her, feeding time should be a win-win situation for all. "With introduction, sometimes we set ourselves back from introducing new foods that maybe we won't eat on a regular basis, or maybe that you don't like or we're not very accustomed to eating. It's all about introducing different textures, different foods, combining them, not combining them and just offering those options. It's not about being difficult. It's about being practical so that everybody wins," she explains.
In the end, Rodriguez hopes her book will be a useful tool for mothers everywhere, sharing her best advice from her personal parenting journey.
"Everyone has their own style. You'll find your own style. You'll find your own way of being a mother, of mothering," she says. "It's a unique characteristic that everyone holds. Don't go based on how everybody else mothers, be content in your mothering and the way that you see the world. That you want your children to see the world. "
You can purchase your own version of the cookbook by clicking here.