Haile Thomas is a 16-year-old homeschooled health activist who recently became the youngest certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach from the esteemed Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Based in New Windsor, New York, her eventful and impressive career began at just 10 years old, when she helped reverse her father’s type-2 diabetes through healthy lifestyle changes. After seeing first-hand the effects that food has on health, Thomas found her passion for educating and inspiring youth to lead more health-conscious lifestyles through good eating habits. In 2012, Thomas won the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge for the state of Arizona for her black bean, corn and quinoa salad recipe and was invited to the White House Kids’ State Dinner.
Thomas’ determination and hard work caught the eye of First Lady Michelle Obama, who invited her to the 2013 State of the Union Address. Thomas later joined Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. Since then, Thomas has co-founded the nonprofit The HAPPY Organization to continue her mission of educating youth about health and nutrition in order to fight childhood obesity.
CE: If you could describe your site in three words what would they be?
HT: Fun, flavorful and nourishing.
CE: What are the biggest challenges and greatest rewards of having your own website and being such an inspiring health coach?
CE: I think one of the best benefits of being in my position of inspiring others is the impact I can make simply by posting recipes or by sharing some of my health tips with others. Being able to inspire others to take their health in their hands and hopefully empower them to make healthier decisions or educate them about healthy eating is so valuable and something that I really love.
CE: In 2013 you joined the First Lady at the 2013 State of the Union Address. Tell us how Michelle Obama discovered you in the first place and about that incredible experience!
HT: Originally, I had met her at the Partnership for a Healthier America's (annual) summit when I was 10 years old. I got the opportunity to talk with her and that was so incredible for me; she’s such an inspiration for advocating for something you believe in and being a strong and classy woman. After that, I was invited to the State of the Union address. It was amazing, not only being in a room with such powerful and inspiring people, but it was an honor to sit in the First Lady’s box knowing that she supports my work. Also, hearing President Obama speak and meeting him was just so amazing.
CE: This year you graduated as the youngest Integrative Nutrition Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Why did you decide to attend this institute? How does it feel to be so young and accomplishing this?
HT: I had heard about the school, and I knew a lot of people in the health industry who had been and highly recommended it. I was actually too young to attend and technically I still am. One of my mentors, Deepak Chopra, is a teacher at the school and he knows the founder of the school, Joshua Rosenthal, so he was able to connect me with him. They let me in, based on all the work I’ve been doing for the past five years. Being the youngest graduate is really an incredible feeling. I think it’s amazing that hopefully I can inspire other young people to go for whatever they want to do. I think what I’ve gained and learned from the school is so valuable. I’ve learned everything in depth about every single diet and how to approach health with others. Now, I’m able to refine how I’m teaching and even the recipes I’m developing.
CE: What is your favorite meal of the day?
HT: Such a hard question – geez! I guess I’d have to say dinner is my favorite meal of the day. Mostly because I love how dinner wraps up the day, and you’re able to get that final amount of nourishment. I love playing around with a lot of classic dinner staples like pasta. I’ll turn those into beet noodles or even zoodles. I’m vegan, so I do a lot of mushroom curries and I do pizzas made out of sweet potato crust and pesto. I feel bad for saying dinner, because I love breakfast, too! I love that you have the option to do sweet or savory, and I love being able to switch between doing an acai bowl, green juices or chia pudding to avocado toast and chickpea omelettes. I love the amount of diversity in breakfast...maybe I’m switching my answer to breakfast!
CE: On your blog, all of your recipes are vegan — are you exclusively vegan?
HT: Yes, all of my recipes are vegan and my philosophy behind that is—believe it or not—it’s one of the most inclusive diets because everyone can eat vegetables for the most part, unless you’re allergic. It also makes each bite environmentally friendly, and friendly for animals. I love that with each dish I make, and every bite I take, I’m able to make a difference.
CE: How long have you been vegan?
HT: I’ve been vegan for three years and it’s been so amazing for me. My upbringing wasn’t vegan at all. My parents are from Jamaica, so I always ate really incredible, flavorful food, but it wasn’t always that health conscious.
CE: What’s an ingredient that you just can’t live without?
HT: I can’t live without garlic. I love garlic so much. I love spicy and sharp foods, so I think it really adds that nice touch to any dish you make, and adds a pop of flavor. It’s nourishing as well—garlic is immunity boosting. Also, avocado is up there for me. I’m sorry. I’m very indecisive!
CE: This year I plan on eating more...?
HT: Every year I plan on eating more leafy greens, and this year I definitely plan on eating more of those and experimenting with new things. I plan on eating more exotic superfoods and ingredients.
CE: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
HT: My favorite kitchen gadget is an Airfryer. It has changed my life! I can make literally anything in it and it’s reduced the amount of oil that I use. I’ve made sweet potato fries and marinated tofu; [these] things usually take quite a bit of oil, but we’re able to use half a tablespoon for an entire portion that feeds four people. The Airfryer has been transformative for me and my family in the way that we make things, and it’s definitely helped us cut down on a lot of unhealthy fats.
CE: As a health-conscious food chef, do you still treat yourself to guilty pleasures?
HT: I love dessert. I feel like I’m so ingrained in everything that I do and believe in, that my guilty pleasures end up being healthy anyway. So maybe something will be sweet, but instead of cane sugar, it’ll be sweetened with agave or maple syrup or coconut sugar.
CE: What is your favorite late-night snack?
HT: Avocado toast. I know that’s known as a morning thing, but I love doing avocado toast or spreading avocado on flaxseed crackers and adding salt, pepper and pickled onions! So, so delicious.
CE: Who would you consider culinary icons and food bloggers?
HT: I think they’ve changed so much over the years with how I’ve changed my diet. I would definitely say my mother is a huge culinary icon for me, because she taught me basically everything that I know. I’ve learned the most from her about basic cooking and seasoning, and I’ve gained a lot of her creative skills in the kitchen. In terms of people in the media, I love Jenné Claiborne (Sweet Potato Soul); she makes amazing vegan food, and her recipes are always delicious, creative, fun and comforting. I also love Jason Wrobel. He’s a vegan chef, and he has an incredible cookbook. And I love FullyRawKristina. She has incredible raw vegan food.
CE: What’s next in your career?
HT: To always continue my work and take it to the next level each year in terms of reach and how many more kids I can inspire, whether that’s through my nonprofit, The HAPPY Organization, or, personally, when I attend talks and community events or post videos. Hopefully, a lot of international travel! I really want to take my message further. I went to Dubai and talked about veganism and health and happiness, and, in a few days, I’m going to Jamaica to cook for school kids. I’m not ready to go to college yet, but, in the future, I hope to study nutritionomics, which is the science behind nutrition and genes and how food affects our biological makeup.
CE: Finally, can you share one of your favorite recipes?
HT: I love making chia pudding. I have an orange chia pudding that’s one of my favorites — I love anything I can top with fresh fruit. I love that this pudding has a citrusy flavor, and, there’s coconut milk in it, so it had that really nice, sweet, rich taste. (Get the recipe here.)
And my pesto pizza. I call it the Perfect Pesto Pizza, because it is truly so perfect in the flavor department! I’m not being overly confident–it really is that good. It has a sweet potato crust and it’s made out of almond flour and garbanzo bean flour and pesto with cashews and pistachios and lots of greens. (Get the recipe here.)