You need to make sure that you eat enough food to give you energy for your daily activities and a range of different types of food to keep your body healthy. As you get older, you’ll have more choice and control over what you eat, so it’s important to understand the basics of a healthy diet.
Food gives you energy and this is measured in kilojoules or kilocalories, normally called ‘calories’. According to a 2011 Report for the National Health Service, girls aged between 11 and 18 need to eat between 2200 and 2500 calories a day. These are only averages; the amount depends on your age (older girls generally need more than younger girls) and the amount of activity you do. Generally, you need more than adult women because you’re still growing. This is important – your body needs enough fuel for this crucial time of life.
You’ll have better things to do with your life than count up your daily calories – it’s not something to get hung up about. If you have three normal-sized meals a day (breakfast, lunch and evening meal), plus a couple of snacks and drinks, it will normally work out at about the right amount.
Food is your essential fuel but eating should also give you pleasure. Make sure that you eat a good balanced diet, but don’t worry too much about eating foods that are sometimes labelled ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. You wouldn’t be very healthy if you only ever ate chocolate, but nor would you be if you only ever ate carrots. Try not to eat too many processed, ready-made foods as these tend to be high in fats, salt and sugars.
If you cook your own food you can control what goes into it. You don’t have to spend hours preparing meals – pasta with a simple tomato sauce, scrambled eggs with cheese, a baked potato and tinned tuna, even a basic sandwich, are all nutritious.
Free School Meals
You may be entitled to Free School Meals (a free, two-course meal every day at school) if one of your parents or carers receives certain state benefits. If you are over 15 (and you have your National Insurance number) you can apply online yourself. Applications are made to your local authority in England, Wales and Scotland, and local education boards in Northern Ireland. Find out more here if you live in England or Wales, here if you live in Scotland and here if you live in Northern Ireland.
If you or your family are struggling to buy food, there are places to get help. Your local council will have a list of food banks local to you and Citizens Advice has helpful information on their website about food banks, charities and other sources of help.