With over 24 million views and hundreds of posts, the TikTok hashtag #girldinner is so hot, it has its own theme song.
“I hate this audio and can’t get it out of my head but girl dinner is a phenomenon,” writes TikToker @crumbleberrypie over several photos of example spreads, “crackers jam cheese, what else do you need?”
One of the first with the hashtag is Los Angeles-based micro-influencer Olivia Maher’s, who notes that bits of cheese, fruit, bread and pickles are her ideal meal. “I call it ‘girl dinner,’” she says, “or ‘medieval peasant.’”
Maher decided to post her dinner standing at her kitchen counter, wondering whether it might resonate with anyone else — and it certainly has. Although she’s surprised at the response, she’s enjoying reading what everyone else calls their own takes. “I saw one person say it’s charcuterie without the board,” Maher tells TODAY.com with a laugh.
“I call this provisions because I feel like I’m on the Oregon trail,” commented another user, but a lot of respondents get rodent vibes.
“I call this Mouse Meal bc I feel like this is what a little mouse in a storybook would eat for dinner,” says one, while a less delicate user asks, “Is rat girl dinner a thing? I’m eating a box of triscuits in one sitting, deli turkey & cheese straight out of the bags & washin it down w/pickle juice.”
Are those descriptions accurate according to Maher? “Girl dinner can look like many things,” she says, depending on what your needs are and what you had earlier in the day, “But what matters is the feeling it evokes. Giddiness often goes along with it, because it’s what you want. It satisfies you.”
Some do describe it as just eating several nutritionally sketchy snack foods instead of an actual meal. TikToker @siennabeluga worries that it could be used to legitimize restrictive eating, noting “some of these ‘girl dinners’ look a little suspiciously low cal to me” in her response.
TikTok has a nasty tendency to elevate such messages, especially for women, and it’s true that two handfuls of cheddar popcorn, a Kraft single and some Sour Patch Kids don’t even add up to a decent snack, much less dinner.
Although Maher coined the catchy (and controversial) turn of phrase, it’s a familiar concept to author, food stylist and content creator Marissa Mullen, and she agrees it shouldn’t be a call to skimp.
Instead of looking at a “girl dinner” as the starvation short shrift you serve yourself when your boyfriend isn’t around, Mullen’s cookbooks, “Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life” and “That Cheese Plate Wants to Party,” encourage celebration and the expression of self-care through easy assembly of meals that nourish body and soul.
Mullen’s favored “Cheese by Numbers” method is to choose a nice cheese, a savory meat, a variety of produce, something pleasantly crunchy, a flavorful di, and a beautiful garnish to round out the plate. You certainly can go by the swankiest grocer in town and shell out big bucks for gourmet goodies, but leftover grilled chicken, pepper jack cubes and the last apple in the bowl will do. Although it’s still a good idea to opt for lower sodium and less processed ingredients, thinking of it as checking key boxes like protein and veggies can help make this trend a nutritional boom instead of a bust.
Not everyone is enamored with the fad, or rather, its new name. TikTok user Sorrel Ayla Kinton is fed up with the attempted rebranding of Britain’s “picky bits” as girl dinner. “No ma’am,” she says.
Kinton has a great point: Although it’s not always considered a meal in and of itself, and often the emphasis is on families sharing a giant board rather than making a personal one, most cuisines have a tradition of some kind of no-cook, bits-and-pieces meal. The Middle East has the mezze platter, Italy has tagliere and Spain has tapas. Switch out the proteins and swap bread for rice, and you have the elements of a poke bowl or bento box.
Circling back to the U.K., we find proof that there’s no sense in mistaking the pattern as inherently feminine or frivolously dainty; in many a neighborhood pub, you’ll find “girl dinner” listed on the menu as a “ploughman’s lunch.”
But Mullen has heard from several women who feel that, far from belittling or condescending to them, this style of eating is liberating, free from pressures to cook, especially from the expectation that they should cook for men. It liberates the guys, too: Mullen has a special series she calls “Bros Who Board” which encourages the fellas to put together balanced plates that speak to their own hearts … through their stomachs, of course.
No matter who you are or what you call it, you can use this trend to take balanced eating for a spin. Get fussy if it feels fun, but perfection isn’t the goal. Think about whether your personal hodgepodge is an improvement over what you would nosh on otherwise. Saltines, sardines and sliced cucumbers are better than a fast-food burger or microwave burrito ... or, even worse, nothing.
A full belly with no hot stove, no dishes, no time, no stress, no pressure to conform to strict gender roles? Winner, winner, girl dinner. Just, please, eat more than a mouse.