Cookbook author and blogger Michelle Smith says the best thing we can do for our health is eat foods that have minimal processing and are dense in nutrients.
"All these different diets have made it so complicated for average people," she commented. "They are so hard to follow -- so we don't."
Smith, a Livermore resident, describes herself as a child of the '80s food culture, whose favorite food was bread and cheese. But she had bad allergies, adult acne and other health problems and thought perhaps she would feel better if she ate differently.
"We started cleaning up our diet just because we wanted a better way to be doing things," she said. "We started doing paleo."
As she became more knowledgeable and began to discover what worked for her and her family, Smith began to blog about her eating and culinary journey at www.thewholesmiths.com, and in 2018 put together "The Whole Smiths Good Food Cookbook: Delicious Real Food Recipes to Cook All Year Long." It was endorsed by Whole30, a 30-day nutrition program that encourages eating more plants and healthy fats, and eliminating sugar, dairy and gluten.
"I was never really strict with that," Smith said, "but I'd been having far too much dairy, sugar and grains. Paleo helped me reset that ratio. Now I will eat healthy proteins, more fruits and vegetables and I might sprinkle it with a little goat cheese."
Smith, 41, grew up in Pleasanton and graduated from Amador Valley High School, class of 1998.
"In my 20s, I was in business development and startups and sales, and lived in San Francisco doing that, but I've always been a lover of food," she said. "Once the kids were born, I stepped out of the corporate work force."
Soon she saw the importance of finding a way for her active family -- husband Brad and daughters Teagan, 9, and Camryn, 11 -- to eat well while keeping preparation quick and easy. She said she designs her recipes with the average home cook in mind.
Smith not only prepares healthy food, but she teaches her daughters the value of good nutrition.
"Most of what we eat at home is very healthy, but I want them to learn to make choices," Smith said. "I present food not in terms of how it's going to make us look but how it's going to make us feel. We want to fill our bodies with food that fuels us."
"I am acutely aware of not demonizing any foods," she added. "We will have pizza or get ice cream to celebrate."
Smith realizes people do not always have a lot of time to prepare meals or cater to each individual. Her latest cookbook has chapters of "five ingredients or less," "one-dish wonders" and "30 minutes or less."
"We eat healthy but I do try to keep in mind the meals should be family friendly," she said. "I take things we like and know and incorporate the ingredients into healthy recipes."
Her "Grain-free Sheet Pan Eggplant Parmesan" is such a dish.
"It is flavors we know and love," she said. "It all melts together really well."
Smith's new cookbook came out Dec. 29, "The Whole Smiths: Real Food Every Day," with the tagline, "Healthy recipes to keep your family happy throughout the week." It includes another family favorite, her version of a burger bowl.
"It's lettuce and spinach, grass-fed ground beef, and sauteed onions in a bowl, like a burger salad," she said. "I focus on the quality of ingredients, too, and talk about that in the beginning pages."
Smith is now doing a weekly podcast, "Get Wellthy."
"Podcasts are rapidly becoming my passion. I love talking with all these experts," she said. "I just talked to Dr. Judson Brewer and his 'Unwinding Anxiety' program."
"Diet is so important but there are other things -- stress, anxiety, brain health, cognitive decline," she noted.
Grain-free Sheet Pan Eggplant Parmesan
1 globe eggplant (about 1 pound), sliced into 1/2-inch-thick disks
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons tapioca flour
1/4 cup crushed gluten-free crackers
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups marinara sauce
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Flaky sea salt
Place a sheet pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Sprinkle the eggplant slices with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Set them aside on paper towels to drain a bit.
Combine the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, almond flour, tapioca flour, crushed crackers and garlic powder in a shallow bowl.
Dredge 1 slice of the eggplant in the eggs and let the excess run off. Immediately coat the eggplant all over in the flour-cracker coating. Set aside on a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices.
Once all of the eggplant slices have been coated, remove the hot sheet pan from the oven (make sure to use oven mitts!) and lay the coated eggplant slices on the pan in one layer. Return to the oven and bake the eggplant slices for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through, until they are lightly browned.
Remove the sheet pan from the oven and top each slice with a generous spoonful of marinara sauce. Top with a slice of the mozzarella and a sprinkle of the Parmesan. Bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the cheeses have melted.
Remove the eggplant from the oven and sprinkle the basil over the top, along with flaky sea salt, and serve.