theGrio’s 100: Haile Thomas, chef, spreading healthy eating habits among youth

Who is Haile Thomas?

Young chef Haile Thomas, 13, works hard to engage, inspire and educate other kids about healthy eating, cooking and living. She was a guest in the First Lady’s Box at the 2013 State of the Union Address, representing “Let’s Move.” She was also invited to introduce the first lady during the 2nd Annual Kids State Dinner.

Thomas started cooking when she was five years old, but before that she saw her mom cooking and watched the Food Network with her. By 8, she was able to make her own breakfast and lunch, and by 9, she could make full meals.

When her dad was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, it changed her perspective.

“I always loved to cook in general, but at that point I realized that I had to support my mom in making healthy changes to our diet, not only for my dad but the whole family,” Thomas recalls. “And as a result of those changes, as of last year, my dad is completely free of diabetes.”

Why is she on theGrio’s 100?

Thomas works with local chefs to help them improve their children’s menus to include healthier options. She did the same as chef consultant and youth spokesperson for Hyatt Hotel’s “For Kids By Kids” menu served at all Hyatt properties in North America and the Caribbean. She was also one of 8 young chefs featured on Rachael vs. Guy Kids Cook Off on Food Network.

Thomas is co-founder of the HAPPY Organization, which partnered with the YWCA Tucson to teach youth and families about proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices. She hosts an annual Global Youth Service Day event in Tucson called H.E.A.L. Festival, short for Healthy Eating, Active Lifestyle, where children participate in fun physical activities, gardening and nutrition education.

Her job is not always easy, however. Her responses from other kids vary greatly.

“[They] vary from ‘Ew! That’s gross! Fast food is nasty’ or ‘fast food is so delicious’ or ‘I want to eat a bag of sugar!’” she says. “Usually it takes a while for kids who are only exposed to one way of eating to really care to be enlightened by some of the information I share with them on health and cooking.”

What’s next for Haile Thomas?

A joint cookbook project with cookbook author Nancy Mehagian is coming out soon.

Follow Haile on Facebook or Twitter.