What goes in one ear and out the other and often it is those lectures we hear as adults about eating healthy and exercising more. Is it any wonder that many kids tune out such advice as they reach for another soda and a bag of chips? So, why does Haile Thomas think she has a better chance of getting through to young people?
“Kids like talking to kids,” says the 14-year-old cook and healthy food advocate. “When this information comes from adults it seems like a lecture. It’s like something their mom is telling them. When they hear it from me, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, I understand. You’re the same age as me and you get this.'”
Thomas has traveled to the White House and other notable places to share her passion for healthy eating with children and their parents. “At first, people act like they don’t need the information. But in the end when you break through their shells, they are really receptive.”
The 9th grader from Tucson, AZ creates interactive, relatable ways to break through resistance to her mission: getting kids and their entire families to pay more attention to the foods they eat. Her advice is to build a support system and “get into it as a family because it’s really hard to do on your own.”
Thomas was just nine when she started sharing the joys and benefits of making meals at home. She and her then 4-year-old sister Nia produced Kids Can Cook videos for YouTube. “I just really enjoy spreading the message and I find it really amazing to see people transform their mindsets and their way of living,” says the teenager.
The cooking lessons shared from her Tucson kitchen soon led to a chance for Thomas to meet Michelle Obama and get involved in the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. The campaign was launched in 2010 to help end childhood obesity in the U.S. Since then, Thomas has created The HAPPY Organization to empower “Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth.”
The program offers free or low-cost classes in wellness and fitness at various locations in Tucson on Saturdays. “We have nutrition experts come in along with my cooking demonstrations,” says Thomas. “The kids go on field trips to farms and supermarkets. They get a really broad exposure to different things relating to food.”
Thomas partners with the local Whole Foods to get healthy choices donated for her cooking demonstrations. She is currently getting ready to launch her in-school cooking and nutrition classes for the 2015/2016 school year, as well as working on expanding her Teen Vegan YouTube cooking series. “My passion for healthy cooking has only grown over the years. I like finding new ways to make healthy foods and have them taste good too,” says Thomas.
Her focus now is spreading the joy of making tasty meals without meat, dairy, eggs or any animal-derived ingredients. The teenager’s parents, Charmaine and Hugh, and her younger sister, Nia, converted to a vegan diet last summer. Thomas is encouraged by the weight loss, increased energy and fewer ailments she sees within her family. “It’s just a decision we made out of our hope for better health, and so, it’s definitely working. We’re finding new ways to substitute the things that we loved.” She also hopes to inspire others to adopt a cruelty-free way of living for the good of their health and our planet.
Thomas spent three years on the Youth Advisory Board of the Alliance For a Healthier Generation. Now, she is the youngest intern at the Canyon Ranch Institute started by former Surgeon General Richard Carmona. The teenager is learning about public health and nutrition science, subjects she definitely sees as possible career choices.
In the meantime, Thomas is working on a vegan cookbook that will come out later this year. Thomas hopes it will encourage other young people and their families to make time for cooking healthy meals. In her view, “Health is about the long-term results. When you say you don’t have time to make something, you’re basically saying you don’t have time for your health.”
Some of the teen’s non-vegan recipes are available in the “Supernatural Kids Cookbook – Haile’s Favorites” by Nancy Mehagian. The following recipe is Haile’s Berrylicious Muesli.
Haile’s Berrylicious Muesli
2 cups vanilla coconut yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup vanilla almond milk
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup uncooked rolled oats
heaping 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Whisk together yogurt, orange juice, and almond milk until smooth.
2. Add all other ingredients to the liquid mix and incorporate well. Refrigerate the muesli mixture for at least 10 minutes to allow the oats to soften. Enjoy!