Healthy Happy Santas

Richard Eckfield - Sustainable SantaHealthy Happy Santas?

Is Santa a Health Promoting Professional? Apparently, he has aspirations!

Good old Saint Nick is getting with the program - eating healthier, slimming down and opting for surfing over sleigh rides—and he and the missus are eager to share their energized lifestyle with children and their parents.

Richard Eckfield's Sustainable Santa is a "real bearded Santa" who lost more than 80 pounds through exercise and diet. Now his ambition is to "refocus America's kids from wolfing down fast foods and treats to the joy of eating whole foods"—and he wants to switch up the place for taking your picture with Santa "from the mall to the farmers' market." 

Eckfield travels around the state to community gatherings such as farmers' markets, seed shows and concerts, where, in a Santa suit often worn with red tennis shoes, he presents to children a fit, contemporary contrast to the image of the blithe fat man wreathed in smoke conjured by the poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." 

Santa and Real Food Kids"He's 191 years out of date," says Sustainable Santa of the traditional Santa. "We're anxious to have Santa be the counselor who urges kids to eat healthy and live a sustainable lifestyle."

Eckfield and wife, Helen Nielsen, have developed a three-step plan to encourage fellow "real bearded Santas" to introduce healthy living concepts to kids.

Sustainable Santa Rules.jpeg


Step one encourages Santas to share three "Food Rules," inspired by food journalist Michael Pollan. Eckfield says it takes just seconds for a Santa to teach a child these simple rules, such as "If you are hungry, eat an apple. If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you're probably not hungry." So far, they've taught the rules to more than 400 Santas.

Step two is to begin the process of placing "Healthy, Happy Santas" into farmers' markets where it's easy to embolden kids to try new vegetables, fruits and even fermented foods. 

The passion Sustainable Santa feels for his mission is apparent in his voice when he talks about the positive effect a few words from Santa can have on a child.

"The bottom line is Santa is still Santa, and Santa clearly cares. If Santa says 'try this,' kids are likely to try it with an open mind." He says the aha moment he sees most frequently is when a child bites into a raw vegetable, often to the astonishment of mom and dad. "I see the child eating it, turning around and saying 'Wow, this tastes good!'"

Coca Cola Santa




Santa is not a marketing tool.

The IRN supports this important movement to take back Santa from ambitious marketers who want you to believe Santa is a jolly purveyor of sugary beverages and processed foods. The modern image of Santa was shaped by soda pop marketing.

Sustainable Santa with Dr. Robert LustigFor more information, email Sustainable Santa. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook. Santa took a road trip and wrote the world's longest blog entry.

The original version of this story was written by Kay Ledger and published in Edible San Diego. More stories to come about the Healthy Happy Santa movement.


Articles about Sustainable Santa and the Healthy Happy Santa Movement:

  • Eclectic Encinitas
  • Seaside Courier
  • Coast News
  • Christmas 2015 Issue of Nordstjernan: Feature story: “Sweden inspires Santa’s lessons” is found on pages 1, 4-5 

  • Paso Robles Magazine 2015 Christmas Issue
  • Making Farmers' Markets Sparkle at Holiday Time in Winter Issue of Heirloom Gardner Magazine
  • 2016 Real Bearded Santas Newsletter
  • International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas
  • Santa & Mrs. Claus for Healthy Kids Facebook Page

Richard Eckfield and wife Helen Nielsen



Showing 6 reactions

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  • commented 2016-03-07 21:22:00 -0800
    From Mark Wall - Great to have Sustainable Santa reaching more and more folks - what a brilliant way to make Santa more than a marketing tool — Sustainable Santa started the the Vista Farmers Market (the longest running farmers market in the county) and for the last three years Sustainable Santa has innovatively been reaching children and helping farmers . . . making it fun and healthy to see Santa at the Farmers Market. Every farmers market should get involved and feature their food rule and garden bites program. I encourage you to take Santa up on this useful and fun way to improve our communities health.
  • commented 2016-02-06 18:23:03 -0800
    It is wonderful to see the positive reactions to this article and the work of Richard Eckfield (Sustainable Santa). We need Healthy Happy Santas everywhere to fight the good fight and let our kids know the best food is real food. And, many kudos to Helen Nielsen for supporting her husband’s passion. What an inspiring pair!
  • commented 2016-01-26 07:05:58 -0800
    In his book “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease,” Dr. Robert Lustig talks about the time when he was living in Memphis and was trying to address the difficulty which many lower-income people in this region of the US have with regard to even finding “Real Food” to eat.

    He and his associates were proposing zoning changes to limit the number of Fast Food concessions in neighborhoods which were considered “food deserts;” areas where there are no supermarkets offering fresh produce and other healthy fare. These food deserts are signified by high levels of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in the community, which result from residents buying their food from corner stores that sell processed foods, and plentiful fast food options.

    We definitely need more people like Dr. Lustig promoting healthy eating and helping communities to think outside the box in order to end the cycle of unhealthy eating. One such group that is changing food attitudes at the grassroots level are the “Real Santa’s United to end Childhood Obesity”.

    Visiting California last October we met one of the “Real Santa’s United to end Childhood Obesity” who was on a mission to help educate people about how to change eating patterns and make smarter food choices by substituting eating behaviors which promote wellness. Getting the message out in very accessible ways to the community is a great step in changing our culture’s eating habits. I applaud the Healthy Happy Santas for their guidance and encouragement! Keep it up!
  • commented 2016-01-25 20:45:11 -0800
    I sell mushrooms in Farmers Markets throughout San Diego County at which we had a Healthy Happy Santa for another Holiday season spreading his awesome info.
    The Santa’s would send the kids into the market looking to try samples of fresh healthy produce. I would give them a raw Beech Button Mushroom which comes in two colors, White and Brown. The kids favored the white one. I think because it looked like a marshmallow to them.
    Many of the children had never experienced eating mushrooms, and most had never eaten one raw. But the Beech is a nutty tasting mushroom, crunchy as well as being a cute bite size, and they loved them. To the parent’s surprise, they frequently wanted more.
    This often gave me the chance to share the different flavors and textures with the parents and kids. Also I shared cooking techniques and dishes to use, as well as talking about some of the health benefits and nutritional content in mushrooms.
    The Chinese have used certain mushrooms such as the Reishi and Chaga as proven promoters of good health for centuries. They understand that mushrooms can boost the immune system, anti-inflammatory, fight off viral infections such as the flu, combat heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease and even eat cancer cells.
    Mushrooms: another reason to join in the Santa’s efforts to promote Eating Real Foods. Did you know mushrooms were the first ornaments ever used?
    I support the mission of the Real Santa’s United to end Childhood Obesity and encourage all Farmers Market vendors of healthy produce to support their efforts. It starts with the kids and what kid doesn’t like Santa.
    Chef Fun Guy
  • commented 2016-01-10 21:06:52 -0800
    Sustainable Santa is the Santa at our local Farmers Market. And after the picture is taken he urges the children to go into the market looking for “Garden Bites.” These are slices of fresh bell pepper, pieces of cauliflower and broccoli, small mushrooms and other Whole Foods they likely are not familiar with, and surely are not used to eating raw.

    I couldn’t believe my child was eating fermented cabbage and loving it! Thanks to the efforts of the Real Santa’s United in the Farmers Markets there are now food choice favorites beyond Cheetos, McDonald’s and sodas for my Daughter.

    People say it is up to the mothers to "police what their children eat.” Well I am an investigative officer with one of the North San Diego County cities and I know how to police the rules. But with TV ads pushing the latest “happy meal”; and the resurrected Colonel Sanders pushing his “$5 Fill Up” which is breaded and fried chicken, mash potatoes and gravy, flakey biscuits, a chocolate chip cookie, a medium drink plus a pure sugar ‘dipping sauce’; and with the vending machines, even in preschool, offering a cornucopia of sugar loaded processed, and nutrition-less snacks, a mom has precious little chance to promote a healthy diet. The Fast and Processed Food Industry have stacked the odds against her.

    So thank you Sustainable Santa and the Real Santa’s United. We parents now have some strong allies who can help us stand up to the food and beverage corporations, presenting our children with healthy alternatives as we work to keep our children healthy and strong.
    I hope everyone gets a Healthy, Happy member of the Real Santa’s United in their Framers Market in 2016. They help bring the gift of “Good Health” to all children
  • commented 2015-12-31 11:56:25 -0800
    What a great role model the sustainable Santa is. I’ve seen this at the local farmers market first hand, kids learning of new foods and their health benefits. I hope to see him influence the school system as well, helping out with healthy, sustainable lunches in our local schools. Knowledge is wisdom.
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