Sustainable Santa: Giving the Gift of Healthy Eating

Sustainable Santa is spreading the gift of healthy eating and teaching the “food rules” to children and their parents at farmers markets.

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Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com

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They are calling him the “Johnnie Appleseed in a Santa suit” as he moves between chapter meetings of the various “Real Bearded Santa” organizations spreading the seeds about three “food rules” he encourages his fellow Santas to share with the children and their parents this coming Christmas season.

He calls himself “Sustainable Santa” (SS), anxious to draw a line between the Santa, he knows is needed in contemporary society and the fellow described in Clement Moore’s 1823 poem “The Night Before Christmas.”  It’s the image which was perpetuated as the tubby red-suited guy in the paintings by Haddon Sundblom for the annual Coca-Cola advertisement campaigns beginning in 1931.

His goal is to refocus America’s youth to the joy of eating an apple or a fresh picked bell pepper, or bite of broccoli—all whole foods—instead of wolfing down a cookie, soda, bag of Cheetos, pizza, or potato chips.

“That obese, jelly-bellied, likely diabetic old guy who smokes and blows smoke rings around his head is 191 years out of date,” says the modern concerned Sustainable Santa.  And he practices what he preaches, having lost more than 70 pounds in order to shed that old Santa persona. He did it simply by embracing a whole-food, mostly vegetables diet.

Today’s Santa admits that back two centuries ago, Clement Moore possibly had the imagery correct for the time. Back then, the few wealthy Americans demonstrated their wealth by being corpulent, notes Santa. The other 99 percent worked hard on their farms or in the factories, and were fit and trim.

That 1823 image, and Coke’s 1931 depression-era image, however, is now far out of sync with the needs of contemporary society, where one in three children is overweight or obese, and diabetes and other weight-prompted diseases are showing up in elementary school; and the weight-driven healthcare costs of Americans has bloated exponentially.

To address this problem, Sustainable Santa is sharing three “food rules” with his fellow Santas who, big and small, all recognize the childhood obesity problem firsthand, having to lift 60-pound 4 year olds into their lap for that Christmas picture.

The Three “Food Rules,”

(Adapted from Michael Pollan’s book of the same name)

Rule # 1: If you are hungry, eat an apple.  If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are probably not hungry. The rationale is Americans now eat out of habit, boredom, or sadness. Kids grab a bag of potato chips or swill a Slurpee just to have something to do. If the idea of eating an apple doesn’t appeal to them, then they probably are not truly hungry, and the urge will pass. But if they find the idea does appeal, then go ahead and have an apple–best an organic one not sprayed with pesticides.  

Rule #2: Treat treats as treats. There is nothing wrong with special occasion foods, and a cookie on Christmas Eve, or a cake on your birthday are surely a very special occasion treat. But don’t make that cookie, or cake, or donut, or cinnamon bun a daily fare. Save these special treat foods, even pizza, for those truly special occasions. 

Rule #3: Follow the “S” rule: No sodas, no snacks, no seconds, no added sugars, no added salt (sodium) and no sweets, except on days that begin with the letter “S”. This is one Santa finds the mothers love as it is easy to understand and enforce. Those familiar with the book Why French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, know it goes to the fact that in most cultures they don’t go back for seconds, nor do they eat between meals. 

It is a scientific fact, notes Santa, that it takes your body at least 20 minutes to feel full or satisfied after eating. But few Americans wait that long at the table. Many don’t even eat at a table – they eat in their car. So this rule helps them break the second-helping habit, says Santa. Plus it bans the other bad things and snacking in the process … except on weekends–and even then the fact that they are thinking about it may cause them to not go for that soda or sweet, or the between-meal snack, even on Sunday! 

In addition to sharing the food rules with fellow Santas, SS ran a series of daily workshops for farmers’ market managers at the 2013 Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, Calif., showing them how to capture this spirit and make their market the place where parents choose to bring their children for that Christmas picture with Santa.

“Farmers’ markets,” SS said, “are the perfect location to introduce children to the joy of eating whole foods–and to introduce them to new taste alternatives to potato chips and sodas–we call these ‘garden bites.’” And as important as it is to learn the taste of various fruits and vegetables, children and their parents also need to learn to eat their fruit—not drink it. A glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice has almost as much sugar as a Coke, and both each far exceed the recommended daily allowance of sugar.

Between “food rule” teaching sessions and counseling the children, SS loves to work in Mrs. Claus’s garden where every day they blend into a morning “veggie shake” what she organically grows there. 

With the support of the other Real Bearded Santas, he and Mrs. Claus sincerely hope this year they can make a positive impact on the childhood obesity issues by encouraging healthy eating. Next year they plan to take on promoting sustainable living and the dangers of consuming genetically modified foods (GMOs).


Helen Nielsen, with her son, owns Carlsbad Ranch Market, a produce market in Carlsbad, Calif., which since 1984 has offered locally grown produce. Active in the Slow Food and nutrition movements, she has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Her “Savvy Seniors, Frugal and Active” column is carried in a variety of publications.