Encourage smart snacking

It can be tough to make healthy choices when vending machines and fast food abound, but it's possible. Encourage your teen to replace even one bag of chips or order of fries a day with a healthier grab-and-go option from home, including:

  • Grapes, oranges, strawberries or other fresh fruit
  • Sliced red, orange or yellow peppers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Baby carrots
  • Low-fat yogurt or pudding
  • Pretzels or graham crackers
  • String cheese

Watch portion sizes

When it comes to portions, size matters. Encourage your teen to scale back, eat slowly, and stop eating when he or she is full. Try using smaller plates. Add more fruits or vegetables to meals. An occasional indulgence is OK, but even then there's no shame in sharing a meal, ordering a smaller portion or skipping dessert.

Count liquid calories

The calories in soda, fruit juice, sports drinks and specialty coffees can add up quickly. Drinking water instead of soda and other sugary drinks might spare your teen hundreds of calories a day — or even more. For variety, suggest calorie-free flavored water or seltzer water.

Make it a family affair

Rather than singling out your teen, adopt healthier habits as a family. After all, eating healthier foods and getting more exercise is good for everyone — and research suggests that family involvement has a significant effect on childhood weight management.

For example:

  • Stock up on fruits, veggies and whole grains. Keep these foods in plain sight.
  • Leave junk food at the grocery store. Healthy foods are possible for any budget.
  • Keep food in the kitchen. Eat at the kitchen counter or table — not on the couch while watching TV or playing computer or video games.
  • Limit screen time. Trade screen time for family activities, such as playing catch or hiking. Avoid eating family meals while viewing an electronic screen; it keeps you from being aware of how much you're eating.
  • Don't focus on food. Make physical activity a topic of family conversations, rather than what or how much anyone is eating.

Be positive

Being overweight doesn't inevitably lead to a lifetime of low self-esteem. Still, your acceptance is critical. Listen to your teen's concerns. Comment on his or her efforts, skills and accomplishments. Make it clear that your love is unconditional — not dependent on weight loss.

If your teen is struggling with low self-esteem or isn't able to cope with his or her weight in a healthy manner, consider a support group, formal weight-control program or professional counseling. Additional support can give your teen the tools to counter social pressure, cultivate more positive self-esteem, and take control of his or her weight. The benefits will last a lifetime.

Nov. 27, 2014 See more In-depth