Jacqui Saldana on Food & Family
For Jacqui Saldana, the kitchen has always been synonymous with family. As a young girl, she recalls sitting in her abuela’s kitchen in Costa Rica, as her grandma dumped large bags of dried black beans on the table.
In her signature uniform — a red bandana and white apron with “Costa Rica” emblazoned on the front — Jacqui’s grandma would show her how to quickly sort the beans by scuttling small fragments to the side. Even now, many miles away from her family’s home country, a bite of Arroz con Pollo or Gallo Pinto transports Jacqui back to that kitchen, next to her grandma.
“We frequently make these meals not because they are what we know, but because when we do we can feel my grandma’s spirit,” says Jacqui.
A longtime storyteller and lover of food, she started her blog after the birth of her first son, Ryan. She documented the foods they cooked together as he transitioned to solid foods. Sadly, in 2014, tragedy struck when she suddenly lost her son, Ryan. She turned to her blog, Baby Boy Bakery, to discuss her loss and help others who were also experiencing grief. Today, she’s still cooking and helping families embrace the joy of food together.
What does food mean to you? How did you fall in love with cooking?
Food, to me, means memories. I have such fond memories of my grandma and mother cooking with me in the kitchen. It was those memories that fueled me to cook with my own children. Even at their young age, the time spent in the kitchen is wonderful. It’s messy, but it’s also truly fun! I love when you take a bite of something and it immediately transports you to “that one time when”. Food can bring you back to the happiest of times. And I will say, it all starts when we are babies. Food is love and from love comes the best moments of your life.
What advice would you give to parents who are looking to get their children more involved in their kitchen?
I would say to start with the simplest things. Bring them in when making toast and jazz it up by layering it with peanut butter and sliced bananas. Have your child try spreading the peanut butter or laying the banana slices onto the bread. Have them stir batter or cut out cookies. Try prepping all your ingredients before bringing your child into the kitchen and have them put it all together. For example, pre-measure and prep all your fixings for a hearty salad. Then bring your children in and have them pour in each ingredient, then toss together. Remember, things take a bit longer when cooking with children, so patience is everything. The mess is inevitable. Though you can clean up the mess, the memories will last a lifetime.
How do you design the recipes for Baby Boy Bakery?
All my recipes stem from one of two things. Either they are inspired by a memory or they are a simplistic take on a household classic. I always find ways to get the whole family involved. I love creating things that are easy to make but also have steps that allow your kids to take part.
What is one of your fondest cooking memories with Mila?
I started cooking in the kitchen with my son Ryan when he was just 8 months old. We would blend together his baby food. I wanted to inspire others to do the same. When my son passed away, I soon understood that in order to keep his spirit alive within our home, I had to jump back in the kitchen and continue creating food. Shortly after becoming pregnant with Mila, I created my cooking kit for kids called “We Cook.” It is a monthly subscription that brings our favorite recipes to your door and helps parents and their children cook together. We Cook was created with my son in mind, but since has become so much more. My favorite cooking memories with Mila have involved the recipes from these We Cook kits because each recipe has so much meaning behind it. (Also, homemade pizzas with Mila has been a highlight for sure!)
How often do you cook? What does a normal week look like for you? How do you make it work when life is busy – any fun meal hacks/ meal prep?
We cook dinner every weekday night together and our weekends are open for our favorite takeout or burger joint. We also make pizza on Fridays and some sort of pasta. We love grilling chicken and tossing it with baby spinach and other toppings. What we put together isn’t difficult and takes less than an hour to prepare. I am a busy mom who runs my own business and my husband is a personal trainer. So when it comes to dinner time, we tend to lean on quick, healthy versions of pasta and tacos. As I mentioned before, we swap ground beef with diced sweet potatoes when making tacos. We love using brown rice pasta. Quinoa pretty much pulls any dinner together. I try and make dinner fun by laying things out and having my family help me put it all together. And truthfully… dessert after every meal is something we indulge in. Because why not?! You can search ‘recipe’ on my blog for tons of dinner (and dessert) ideas.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?