By Nora Heston Tarte

What does “healthy” mean to you? Is it a specific weight, a measureable activity level, a state of mind? From focusing on exercise and nutrition to encouraging healthy relationships, there’s more than one definition of what it means to be healthy.

Arizona parents know one thing is for sure: being healthy is a group endeavor and it’s their responsibility to lead by example. Read on to meet local families who have committed to a healthy lifestyle and get inspired to start your own fitness journey today.

The Family: Brian, Amy and their daughter Bethany, 10

Amy and Brian met and married in Flagstaff. From the beginning, it was clear they were both committed to more than each other; they were committed to living a healthy lifestyle. Together, Brian and Amy run AM Nutritional Services—a private practice of registered dietitians with three clinics in the Valley. In addition, Brian mans a track club called Arizona Track and Field Academy, coaching children and teens ages 6 to 18 in running and field events. “[Bethany] was bound to be a healthy kiddo,” Amy says.

As a family, Brian, Amy and Bethany run together, signing up for 5Ks throughout the year (including the Disney 5K). “This keeps her and us excited about running,” Amy says. As Bethany has gotten older, she is beginning to appreciate the competitive side of running, as well, and is even ranked nationally in the 1,500 M.

“She loves competing and mainly meeting all different people during her races,” Amy says of her daughter. “She was able to run in the National Junior Olympics last July in Jacksonville, Florida and couldn’t wait to meet runners from every state. We just ran the Star Wars 5K at Disneyland in January and she was the second female to cross the finish line out of 5,000 runners.”

In addition to running, the busy family is also focused on nutrition. Planning is key when you’re constantly (and quite literally) on the run. “We plan our dinners for the week every weekend,” Amy shares. “We use a lot of crock pot recipes.” Amy says preparation keeps them from turning to unhealthy food options out of desperation.

In addition to running, the family enjoys bike rides, hiking and plenty of outdoor time. Traveling (usually for running activities) keeps them busy, too.

Takeaway Advice: “Kids will do what parents do,” Amy says. “As much as we think kids are paying attention to their phone or iPad, they are paying attention to their parents and learn[ing] from them.” Parents should lead by example. Also, find balance. “We love our salads and smoothies, but we also love popcorn and Red Vines at the movies,” she says.

The Family: Debora, Eric and their kids, Isabella, 14, and Dylan, 13

For Debora, the time for change struck her suddenly during a routine trip to the pediatrician’s office when her kids were about 5 years old. She was plainly discussing their refusal to eat vegetables when the doctor said something that struck a chord: Kids will eat what you eat. “The statement still ringing in my ears, my brain spoke, ‘Well, I guess I am doomed.’” She looked at all of her daily habits in relation to health and fitness—no time for breakfast, light dinners to cut calories consumed earlier in the day and an admittedly small amount of exercise. “I realized that change was in my power,” she says.

Fast forward several years and Debora, an executive coach, resilience expert and retired general surgeon, says she sees the bigger picture. With teenagers, the importance of healthy eating habits, exercise, relationships, interaction with technology and a strong sense of resilience are all important.

“I would be faking it if I claimed to have it all figure out,” Debora admits. “I will say what has helped in this journey [is] we picked a sport that the kids like to play and made a routine.” As a family, they like to sail. “It is by far our favorite family activity—a teamwork activity that has minimal distractions and full connection to nature, a true family vacation for us,” she says.

In addition, Eric, a cardiologist, and Dylan enjoy mountain biking together, Debora is an avid runner—who most recently completed two ultra marathons—Isabella and Dylan both enjoy tennis and Dylan does karate.

Healthy eating is at the center of their journey. “Every meal has to include vegetable, protein and grain,” Debora says. In addition, they make it a point to eat together at the table, using food group plates the kids decorated at a pottery-painting store. At every meal, three food groups have to be represented, and for snacks, at least two. “I think that gave them a good visual clue as to what a healthy meal should look like,” Debora says.

In addition, the family limits processed foods and avoids turning to unhealthy options when they have a busy day. “It does require some planning but like everything else, it eventually turn[s] into [a] mindless healthy routine,” she says.

Takeaway advice: With teenagers, Debora says it’s important to prioritize healthy relationships with technology. In this regard, Eric and Debora are role models. “The kids will be the first ones to complain if we are looking too much at the phone or computer,” she says.

The Family: Jennifer and Lilliana, 4

Jennifer, who started playing tennis at 6 years old, has always prioritized health. As the tennis director and head teaching professional of Berk’s Tennis Academy at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, it’s an important part of her life. “Other than my daughter, tennis is like my heart on fire,” she says.

It is a passion she has passed onto Lilliana, who plays tennis at Berk’s. “She’s around health and fitness all the time,” Jennifer says. “It’s more of a lifestyle for us.”

For the twosome, living a healthy life is about having fun. In addition to being actively involved in tennis, Lilliana takes dance classes. Everything else they do is more recreational, from golf to park trips. “For us it’s all about being happy and I feel like we’re happy when we’re more active,” she says. Making simple swaps like walking or biking to the park on the weekends instead of driving is key. As is forgoing Internet at home to keep them motivated.

The mother-daughter duo also enjoys running and golfing. What started out as pastimes for Jennifer, as an alternative to trips to the gym, became family activities.

“I started golfing and she absolutely loves it. It’s definitely something we both do together,” Jennifer says, referencing Lilliana’s personal set of child-size clubs. Even when Jennifer participates in races Lilliana is involved. She is either in a jogging stroller making her way to the finish line or biking alongside her mom.

“I really believe that I have to be a mirror for my daughter,” Jennifer says.

 Takeaway Advice: “Less is more,” according to Jennifer. When kids sign up at the tennis academy, it’s required they spend a minimum of three to four days each week at the courts. In her experience, many parents can’t commit to this because their kids are involved in many activities, but she said when they do, the feedback is always positive. They see what staying focused on one activity has to offer their children.

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